A hop, sip, and a jump: traversing California’s Sonoma and Livermore wine regions
If you’re not familiar with Sonoma and Livermore Valleys, we understand. Often overshadowed by its more promulgated big sister Napa, Sonoma and Livermore are the fetching, yet unpretentious siblings you may not notice at first, but after a double-take, you can no longer ignore their charms.
Napa is no doubt glamorous and renowned; a place to see and be seen at least once. It is also known to be rather pretentious, overpriced, and aloof. Sonoma, on the other hand, welcomes you with open arms. Its character is authentic and its people talented, ambitious and approachable. Visitors become family at first handshake, and the reception of unhurried warmth will captivate.
A food and wine lovers’ paradise, Sonoma is home to over 425 wineries, redwood forests, rivers, and 55 miles of untamed Pacific coastline. A one-hour drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma wine country is nestled between two rolling mountain ranges. Discover quaint villages, sustainable farms, bustling downtown districts with diverse shopping and dining, historical missions and museums, art galleries, music festivals and outdoor adventures galore. Santa Rosa is its sophisticated hub, while Healdsburg and Petaluma are foodie magnets. Guerneville and Monte Rio are river adjacent resort towns popular with outdoor enthusiasts, while coastal communities such as Bodega Bay promise relaxation amid a California dream seascape.
Characterized by distinct regions and micro-climates, Sonoma has few boundaries when it comes to variety. Dry Creek Valley is famed for its cabernet sauvignon, Carneros for its chardonnay, and Bennett Valley for merlot. In total, there are five distinct American viticultural areas, more commonly referred to as AVAs. Not only do they comprise one of the world’s richest winemaking regions, but it is also the legacy of the founders and families that own and operate the vineyards that give this region a unique character, texture and bouquet that is unlike any other.
Benziger Family Winery
Sonoma’s living legends. Benziger is about three things: family, great wine and healthy vineyards. For more than 30 years, they have farmed their ranch on Sonoma Mountain and searched for the most distinctive and expressive vineyards. Once found, they tended these sites using certified biodynamic, organic and sustainable farming methods. The consequence is a portfolio of authentic and memorable wines known for a traditional palate and elegant profile. The Tribute Estate Tour & Tasting is a must that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the biodynamic estate vineyard and wine caves and finishes with an exclusive wine tasting. Family is everything here, and no guest is left unsatisfied.
Imagery Estate Winery
Founded by members of the Benziger family, Imagery takes a modern and avant-garde approach. Born from the drive to experiment, Imagery is devoted to crafting rare wines from uncommon varietals and character-rich vineyards, with a spotlight on interesting varietals that disappear among more grandiose blends. Imagery Winery infuses art throughout your experience, from unique artwork replicated on every label, to the tasting room. The on-site gallery showcases label artwork commissioned from some of the world’s most notable contemporary artists. The entire collection has over 500 artworks by over 300 artists.
Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857, Buena Vista is California’s first premium winery, and its history is as colourful as it is present. Today, the legend is being reborn under the vision of Jean-Charles Boisset. Just outside the town of Sonoma, the original winery is now a California Historic Landmark, and home to a winery, tasting room, and visitor centre, all in celebration of a pioneering past.
You may feel like you are in Tuscany, but both feet are still firmly planted on California soil. Located in picturesque Dry Creek Valley, Ferrari–Carano and is one of California’s finest. Here visitors may taste highly acclaimed wines, stroll lush gardens and enjoy spectacular vineyard views. Ferrari–Carano owns over 1,200 acres of certified sustainably farmed vineyards throughout some of California’s most prestigious wine grape-growing appellations.
Ram’s Gate Winery
Striking architecture meets understated sophistication. Wines are crafted from grapes locally sourced, imbuing each sip with a sense of place. Food and wine pairing options are available, from a simple chef-packed picnic to pair perfectly with the wine choice, to the Behind the Gate experience that’s part-tasting and part-culinary workshop.
Ledson Winery & Vineyards
Explore a dramatic edifice known as the ‘Castle’, nestled among 20 acres of vineyards. Taste highly coveted, estate-grown, handcrafted wines and enjoy a picnic from the Gourmet Marketplace in the majestic Oak Grove.
Where to stay
Experience the magnificent wine country lifestyle. An intimate, four-diamond, 78-room certified green hotel conveniently located in the heart of Sonoma County. Surrounded by 92 acres of lush vineyards and beautifully landscaped grounds with courtyards and fountains, your deluxe guest room will become an elegant retreat from which to enjoy a wide array of activities and adventures. Explore the many charming communities just steps away.
The Lodge at Sonoma Resort & Spa
Showcasing the incredible beauty of the valley, the accommodations combine authentically artisan surroundings with contemporary facilities to create a haven of informal elegance. The award-winning Raindance Spa offers the ultimate pampering amidst a gentle landscape.
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
A superlative oasis with a spa, golf and a Michelin award-winning restaurant, bestowed with natural mineral hot springs. The resort’s signature restaurant Sante is designed as the emblematic California wine country experience.
El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen
Set on the historic downtown Sonoma Plaza, this boutique hotel reflects the simple charm of the wine country combined with urban sophistication. Sample world-class dining at the El Dorado Kitchen, plus a wealth of the area’s myriad local activities.
Single Thread Farms
One of the most bespoke experiences in Sonoma, if not all of California. In the heart of Healdsburg, one of the country’s most accomplished chefs Kyle Connaughton, along with farmer and wife Katina Connaughton, have opened Single Thread Farm–Restaurant–Inn, a 55-seat fine dining restaurant with five exclusive suites. The farm, located on five acres between the Russian River and the historic San Lorenzo Ranch, supplies vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, honey, eggs, and olive oil to their restaurant kitchen. Guests of the restaurant are treated to a tasting menu, showcasing the seasonal bounty from the couple’s farm.
While it’s not exactly isolated, Livermore is a bit of a detour from Sonoma that is well worth the effort. A 35-mile drive from San Francisco, Livermore feels like its worlds away. It’s the home of the first California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, as well as the first petite syrah. Home to more than 50 wineries that produce over 30 varietals, Livermore may not be as familiar by name, but your wine tasting buds have likely sampled its abundant fruit. In fact, 80 per cent of both the cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay vines planted across California today can be traced back to Livermore.
In 1883, James Concannon established Concannon Vineyard, making it America’s oldest continuously operating winery under the initial family label and stewardship. In this exalted surrounding, the tradition of casual grace and warm hospitality lives on today. Delight in the award-winning wines in the rich coloured and refined tasting room. Concannon is the founding family of California cabernet sauvignon and released America’s first petite syrah.
Garré Vineyard & Winery
Old-world hospitality with new-world advances. The winemakers draw upon the Garré family winemaking tradition while utilizing current technology to produce unique small-batch wines. This fusion of elements is present in all its facilities, from the traditional Bocce Ball Courts and award-winning Mediterranean-themed restaurant to elegant weddings and meeting spaces.
The oldest continuously operated, family-owned winery in the country. The wines are 100 per cent estate grown and sustainably farmed. The winery is owned and managed by the fourth and fifth generations of the Wente family, who are recognized for their influence in making chardonnay the best-selling varietal in the country. The Wente family is proud to be recognized as ‘California’s first family of chardonnay.’
Above all, wine is about community, connection and continuity. The ability to savour moments with loved ones, and the chance to meet new friends and learn at a fun, yet relaxing pace. The Livermore Wine Trolley offers an all-inclusive wine-tasting tour to various wineries throughout the year in the Livermore Valley. On the tour, you will visit three wineries, enjoy a delectable lunch, learn about the region, and be treated with the highest quality of customer service. You will also receive discounts at wineries and local restaurants.
Where to stay
Purple Orchid Resort & Spa
The Purple Orchid features ten rooms and suites designed for ultimate comfort. Experience the tranquillity of the property in the modern country rooms, complete with fireplaces and private Jacuzzi tubs. Stroll through the rose gardens before relaxing and socializing in one of many common areas.
AC Hotel Pleasanton
A handwritten welcome note, a perfectly crafted gin and tonic, and a sleekly designed guest room are among the details that mark the AC Hotel Pleasanton experience. Exceptionally located next to Workday, the West Dublin BART station, and Stoneridge Mall, the newly transformed hotel focuses on the essentials with flexible, open spaces with purposeful design. One hundred and seventy-one spacious rooms and suites feature hardwood floors, spa-style showers, mini-refrigerators, and ergonomic workspaces.
The Rose Hotel
A European-style hotel and offers a gourmet continental breakfast. All guest rooms are equipped with a spa bath and free wifi. A flat-screen TV with cable is featured in all rooms. Guests can relax with a cocktail from the mini-bar or coffee with a French press, plus a deluxe breakfast is included.