The annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a weekend wine extravaganza. And it’s coming up Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28. Wineries go all out for Passport Weekend, now in its 30th year. If you love wine, you need to know about this favorite wine event.

Passport Weekend 101

This casual, upscale weekend is about immersing yourself in the good life of Sonoma Wine Country. There are hundreds of world-class wines to taste, including newly released and limited edition wines. But the party just starts there! 

Each winery creates its own unique theme for the day, from Americana to baseball to French market. And the wineries celebrate with food, music, and entertainment. Passport Weekend guests get to savor inspired creations prepared by Sonoma County chefs, and enjoy food and wine pairings, and even sit-down meals. Lots of wineries have live bands, playing Mariachi, bluegrass, blues, Beatles hits — there’s something for everyone. It’s a good idea to do your homework about this year’s wines and themesso you’ll know which wineries you want to be sure to visit.

How it works

Purchase your ticket for the entire weekend or Sunday only. Decide which winery will be your first stop because that’s where you’ll collect your wine glass, Passport booklet, and wristband for the event. From there, explore any of the 40+ participating wineries sprinkled throughout Dry Creek Valley in Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, and in between.

Beyond wine tasting

In addition to the revelry, $25 will reserve you an enlightening grape-to-glass experience in the vineyards. Learn about vineyard basics, grape varieties, and sustainability from the wine experts themselves — legendary winemakers and owners. Expand your understanding of winemaking as you sample the different personalities and styles of wines made from the vines just within your reach.

Ways to extend your weekend

If you want to visit Wine Country a day or two early, check out the Vintage Soiree on Friday night at the Ranch at Lake Sonoma. Top-rated wines join with Michelin-starred cuisine, spectacular views, live music, and dancing. Or, if you act soon, you may get a spot at the table for an intimate winemaker lunch hosted at one of the wineries.

For a deeper dive into Wine Country, reserve one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals. We can help you plan your itinerary for Passport Weekend and set you up with your own, private driver so you can focus on fun. We curate bespoke adventures just the way you want it. Contact us if you want some more ideas for an unforgettable vacation in and around Healdsburg and Calistoga.

Passport Weekend 2019

Saturday, April 27, 11:00am to 4:30pm
Sunday, April 28, 11:00am to 4:30pm

2-Day Passport: $150 (plus sales tax & ticketing fees)

Last month family members gathered from across the state to celebrate my mother’s 80thbirthday. We decided early on to rent a vacation homein Sonoma/Napa Wine Country. But what to do on her special day with a group of people aged 20 through 80 with interests as diverse as skydiving and crocheting? We landed on the idea of a cooking class.

The epicurean adventure turned out to be ideal— a way to be together while focused on a collaborative activity. Not only was it a way to bring out only the best of our family dynamics, cooking classes, I’ve discovered, are a lot of fun.

Even if cooking isn’t necessarily your thing, eating delicious food likely is. And when you discover your culinary creativity, the finished meal you prepare tastes even better! Whether you’re a seasoned chef or novice, cooking classes expand your skills, show you how to tame kitchen tools, and let you practice techniques you can take home with you. Having a chef as your guide gives you the confidence to trust the dishes you make will turn out great. 

Wine Country cooking classes aren’t just for family reunions. They make a great date night. Creative collaboration brings people closer — whether it’s with your partner, a group of friends, or your work team. Then, of course, there’s the wine. Classes usually include sipping wines while you prepare recipes and enjoy the food.

Wine Country is foodie paradise, so why not add a cooking class to your vacation experience? You get to try new foods and have fun, and you don’t have to do the dishes! Here are a few local cooking schools we like.

Healdsburg cooking classes

Right off the plaza in downtown Healdsburg is the home base for Relish Culinary Center. Relaxed and friendly classes are led by well-respected chefs that include local restaurateurs, winemakers, cookbook authors, caterers, wine experts, and other food-industry professionals. The wide variety of culinary backgrounds makes for diverse and stimulating classes. 

Relish offers demonstration and hands-on classes, as well as excursions to wineries, farms, and food venues throughout Sonoma Wine Country. Hands-on classes provide you the opportunity to try new recipes and techniques under the guidance of a chef. Typically, classes run about three hours, and are recommended for ages 12 and older.

Most classes conclude with a full meal of menu items prepared. Guests leave with copies of all recipes and new techniques and ideas. And if you prefer, they can plan a private event designed to your party’s tastes and interests.

Napa cooking classes

For an intimate culinary experience, check out Cooking with Julie. Certified Culinary Professional (CCP) Julie Logue-Riordan has been teaching for more than 25 years and opened her school in Napa in 2005. 

Her hands-on cooking classes feature seasonal menus with ingredients from local farms. You’ll learn culinary techniques to cook delicious meals with confidence. From pasta to pastry, classes are interactive fun.

In addition to the regular class schedule, she offers private day or evening demonstration dinners or hands-on classes for small groups of up to eight people. You can even arrange for Julie to come to your location for a private lesson.

Classes include a three-course meal paired with wine, in addition to nibbles and wine to enjoy during class. You’ll leave with a recipe booklet and an apron. Classes sell out, so plan ahead.

Malcolm de Sieyes is the owner and main chef at Silverado Cooking School, just a mile from the center of Napa. An interesting lineup of classes cover cooking techniques — for example, braising, roasting, and grilling — and a range of cuisine styles, like French and Italian. You learn to prepare delicious, seasonal meals and how to use handy culinary tools.

The class menus pull from produce grown at the school’s own two-acre farm, Stone Tree Farm. Almost all the produce is started in their greenhouse from locally source, non-GMO heirloom seeds.

In class you prepare dishes that everyone sits down and shares together at the table. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

The school also will custom-tailor a private cooking experience — half-day to a full weekend — and wine tasting flight to complement your menu.

You don’t have to let the calendar tell you when it’s time to express your feelings to the one you love. Valentine’s Day is a fine time to do something special, don’t get me wrong, but so is every other day of the year. Gestures that say “I love you,” when unexpected, may be even more meaningful. And you don’t have to spend a boatload of money. The value is in sharing a romantic experience. Here are a few ideas for keeping the romance alive.

 

Romantic idea #1 — better than a pedi

The practice of foot bathing is rooted in ancient customs of hospitality, where hosts would often wash away the grime of travel from the feet of their guests. Now, when’s the last time you gave your partner a gift like that? If you’ve been missing out on this delicious experience, don’t wait any longer. Fill a large bowl or tub with warm water scented with herbs or oil. Use your whole hand to stoke the foot. No poking! Feet are extra sensitive so it’s essential that you move slowly and gently to avoid the risk of tickling. Gently squeeze the heel and then press your thumbs into the soles with an upward movement from heel to toes. Squeeze each toe individually, massaging the cuticle.

So where’s the romance? For a foot bath to be enjoyable, you have to build your partner’s trust. We can be prickly about our feet. Make a snug and comfortable place for your partner to sit. Plump their favorite chair with pillows and, depending on the time of year, set it up in the living room by the fireplace or outside in the garden. Bring them a glass of wine or cup of tea to sip while they relax and let you pamper them. The actual bath doesn’t take long, perhaps 15 minutes total. Once the water begins to cool, set it aside and towel dry the feet, patting rather than rubbing. If you want to give a little extra, use moisturizing lotion to massage their ankles and calves. Foot bathing, once you both give yourself to it, is a surprisingly intimate — and romantic — experience.

Romantic idea #2 — takeout with a twist

No question about it. Preparing a 3-course dinner for your partner is a generous expression of love. But the reality is that shopping and cooking all day can leave you feeling spent. When one person is tired from a day on their feet in the kitchen, it can get it the way of enjoying the moment. For an easier meal, why not take in Thai? If cooking isn’t your forte, or you want to be on the same tempo energetically, save the home cooked meal for another time. Try Asian takeout from one of these Sonoma County restaurants:

Goji Kitchen— Santa Rosa, Vietnamese

Thai Orchid Cuisine— Healdsburg

8 Dragons— Healdsburg, Chinese

Calistoga Thai Kitchen— Calistoga

Bangkok 9— Sonoma

So where’s the romance? Its’ all in the presentation. Transfer the prepared dishes into your own bowls and plates, set the table with cloth napkins, and add a small bouquet of flowers. Turn the lights down low and bring out the candles. The focus isn’t the food; it’s all about sharing beautiful moment. Oh, and don’t forget the best part. Serve a chilled champagne and make a special toast. Champagne with Asian takeout is the perfect complement, and it raises the romance meter a lot.

Romantic idea #3 — tiny bubbles

Even if your partner is a regular bath taker, there’s something about having a bath drawn for you that brings out the romance. Fill the tub to the rim with as-hot-as you-can-take-it water and use double the bubble bath. You may add a few drops of scented oil. Have a jar of body scrub, a back scrubber or loofah sponge, and a fresh washcloth at hand. Put on some soft music and light candles. Be sure the bathroom is warm. And this is super important: clean the bathroom first. Nothing will harsh a mellow faster than a ring around the faucet or drips on the floor.

So where’s the romance? Pamper your partner. Give them a shoulder massage with lightly scented bath oil or wash their hair for them. Having your hair washed for you — in the tub — feels like a decadent indulgence. And here’s an idea: before you fuss over your partner, let them relax for a few minutes in the warm water. Give them a few quiet minutes to unwind from the day. Then, afterward, have a couple plump, fresh bath towels for drying off.

 

If you want to go beyond, next time plan a vacation with The Wine Stay. We can help you arrange for some over-the-top romantic experiences. Express your love with a massage for two or enjoy personalized yoga instruction, a wine and food pairing, or a dinner prepared by a 5-star chef — all in the privacy of your vacation home. We’ve got plenty of romantic experiences to share with you. And here are our top picks for a romantic dinner in Healdsburg and some of the best restaurants in Sonoma County.

Don’t miss Wine Road’s 2019 Barrel Tasting event in Sonoma County. This is your chance to sample wines from the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys. But this isn’t like your typical wine tasting experience.

Barrel tasting happens only once a year

Each spring, the grapes that were harvested the prior year, usually late summer through fall, are ready for sampling. Winemakers regularly taste test their barrels during the wine’s maturation, checking for levels of fruit, acidity, and tannins. This essential step in the winemaking process helps winemakers determine the best time to bottle the wine. Sampling also ensures the wine hasn’t gone bad or can help to decide whether the wine may be best used in a blend.

Although wine is sometimes aged in stainless steel, it is the oak barrel that really contributes to distinctive characteristics. Oak “breathes,” and the oxygen affects the wine.

A different wine tasting experience

During Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting in March, wine lovers get to experience young wines just like the winemakers do. Of course, barrel samples don’t taste like the finished wines you’re used to. These wines are still evolving, so you have to look for underlying, less obvious characteristics — hints of a soon-to-be a fine wine.

Ilona Thompson, of PalateExposure, puts it well in her in-depth article: “Barrel tasting [is] a great palate exercise. Discerning what the wine may taste like when the oak resolves itself and recognizing its subtler flavors makes you feel like a wine Jedi.” And it’s the sleuthing that makes barrel tasting so fun. There’s a gamble, and you get to wager on the winners!

Chance to bet on futures

When you find a wine you think has promise, you can buy it in advance at a discount, sometimes a deep discount. You can invest in futures. And for small-batch wines, futures may be your only chance to purchase. The risk comes when you pick up your finished, bottled wine 12 to 18 months later. Did it evolve like you thought it would?

Fortunately, you don’t have to make the decision in a vacuum. Barrel tasting isn’t just a lot of fun, it’s an educational experience. At the wineries, you will have the unique opportunity to talk to the winemakers. Here’s a chance to learn about the winemaking process and find out from the experts how they think a particular wine will evolve.

Discover new wineries

If this sounds like a fun wine tasting adventure, buy your tickets and plan out your route. You can design your tour around wineries that you know you like, but this is also a great opportunity to check out ones you’ve heard good things about. The best approach is be flexible and keep it easy. Figure on about a handful of wineries per day. Each winery offers at least three samples, while some offer twice that many. Each one-ounce sample is measured into your glass using a “wine thief,” the device that draws wine from the barrel.

You can buy your tickets at any participating winery on any day of the event, but if you want to save, pre-purchase your wine tasting pass. Advance ticket sales end February 25.

And if you want to read more about barrel tasting, take a look at one of our previous blog posts.

Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting 2019

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 1 – 3 and March 8 – 10
11am – 4 pm
Tickets on sale now
https://www.wineroad.com/events/barrel-tasting/

Every year in early March, restaurants in Sonoma County invite you to join in a culinary experience, one you don’t want to miss. So mark your calendars and book your vacation home rental now for the 10th Annual Sonoma County Restaurant Week, March 2 — March 10, 2019.

More than 120 eateries will be participating this year, from Petaluma to Geyserville. Savvy food lovers know to take advantage of this opportunity to sample a variety of original menus made with fresh, local ingredients.

Restaurants feature 3-course dinners at prix-fixe prices of $19, $29, or $39. Many establishments also offer a 2-course, prix-fixe lunch, at either $10 or $15. (Prices do not include tax or gratuity.)

Enjoy a fantastic meal at as many participating restaurants as you want. There are no tickets or passes required. Let adventure be your guide. Find participating restaurants and preview their menus.

Reservations are strongly recommended. When you reserve your vacation home at The Wine Stay, just let us know if you’d like us to help with restaurant reservations.

Consider a getaway for Tuesday through Thursday of Sonoma County Restaurant Week. You’ll avoid the weekend rush and enjoy a better rate on your vacation home.

Our favorites for Sonoma County Restaurant Week

Healdsburg

DRY CREEK KITCHEN
Cozy and stylish venue located on the downtown plaza. Excellently prepared meals.

BARNDIVA
Sustainably sourced ingredients and exquisite attention to detail.

Sebastopol

LOWELL’S
Locally grown and always fresh California cuisine that varies with the season.

HANDLINE
Very casual, hip, order-at-the-counter restaurant featuring local seafood.

Santa Rosa

JACKSON’S BAR AND OVEN
Quality comfort food in a casually sophisticated venue located in quaint Old RXR Square.

THE SPINSTER SISTERS
In the trendy SofA district, this corner café serves hearty, globally inspired dishes.

Sonoma

THE GIRL AND THE FIG
Unpretentious French-inspired cuisine with a comfortable atmosphere.

Tasting wine from Healdsburg-area vineyards makes for an enjoyable adventure any time of year, but in spring things really liven up. If you’ve never experienced wine straight from the barrel, you don’t want to miss Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting. This hugely popular event extends for two weekends in March and includes over 100 wineries throughout the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys.

Barrel tasting — it’s different

To sample these young wines, you get to go behind the scenes into chilly, musty-smelling cellars where they siphon wine  into a glass for you to taste. Be warned: these young wines won’t be what you expect. They will still age for more than a year. But tasting wines before they’re put  into bottles is a fun way to get an insider’s view of the wine industry. Plus it allows you to preview the season’s vintage.

Barrel tasting — it’s an adventure

Bet on your favorites by buying cases of “futures,” often at a discount. It is a gamble. Once the wines are bottled 12 or 18 months later, the balance may have shifted. Still, there’s no question that you can snag some extraordinary wines and limited releases. Tasting straight from the barrel is often the only way to sample wines that are in such limited production that you’ll never see them on the shelf anywhere. They’ll sell out by the end of the second weekend.

Barrel tasting —it’s a party

Barrel Tasting in March can get pretty intense at times, with so many people seeking out sips of some of the best. Go on Friday for a calmer experience. Take your time to savor the flavor and learn from the tasting room staff. Tickets will go on sale January 17, so mark your calendar. People in the know are reserving their lodging now. Rooms fill up fast, so it’s wise to lock in your Healdsburg digs so you won’t miss out on the fun.

Wine Road Barrel Tasting


Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 3—5 and March 10—12
11—4 pm
Tickets on sale January 17
https://www.wineroad.com/events/barrel-tasting/

Scopa
Hands down, this is our favorite spot in town for atmosphere and knockout Italian food. It’s very small and intimate, yet the bistro atmosphere is lively and electric. It’s right downtown on the plaza and always packed, but the food and ambience transport you into your own private world. Try the Tomasso’s Suga Calebrese for an amazing taste experience. Truth is we’ve never had a bad dish here; it’s impossible to go wrong. The food is simple but perfectly prepared every time. The staff is fantastic as well! Be sure to make reservations at least a couple weeks in advance. And if you can, check out Winemaker Wednesdays where local winemakers not only bring their best bottles, they actually serve you. It’s great fun!

http://www.scopahealdsburg.com
Check out the Zagat review: https://www.zagat.com/r/scopa-healdsburg

Chalkboard
This downtown eatery specializes in small plates inspired by what’s fresh on its three-acre organic garden located at Chalk Hill Winery. The stylish atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Everything on the menu comes a la carte. I ordered the steak on special that night, and when my plate arrived we were stunned to see a mere six bites of meat. But when Iwe took the first bite, it melted in our mouth. It was like nothing we’ve ever tasted before. Imagine smoky velvet — pure sensual delight! In a way, the small portion invited me to thoroughly enjoy each morsel. They have a terrific wine list and original cocktails too.

http://chalkboardhealdsburg.com/
Check out the Zagat review: https://www.zagat.com/r/chalkboard-bistro-wine-bar-healdsburg

Barndiva
Just off the square in downtown Healdsburg, Barndiva’s rustic décor and good vibe make for a perfect dinner for two. It’s a wine bar, cocktail lounge, art gallery and bistro all in one. If you can, get a table in the garden where the fountains and twinkling overhead lights create a charming atmosphere as evening settles. The food is out of this world. we strongly recommend the wine-pairing menu. The wines may have stood fine on their own, but it was the way they complemented the food that was so exquisite. The staff really knows their wine and food, so take their suggestions! The pours were generous, service excellent and the food fantastic.

http://www.barndiva.com
Check out the Zagat review: https://www.zagat.com/r/barndiva-healdsburg

Sonoma County’s grape harvest is right around the corner and should be in full swing in the next 45 days. Harvest usually begins in August, with light-skinned grapes such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc ripening first, and often continues into October, with grapes like Cabernet and Syrah ripening up last. This is a busy and bustling time in wine country. Be aware of crowds and be sure to reserve lodging, wine tours, restaurants’, and other activities as early as possible as everything books up quickly.

Knowing when exactly to pick the grapes is both an art and science. Harvest depends on the weather, as well as the sugar content of the grapes. So far, we have had an excellent year: warm days, cool evenings and no rain.

Tucked in between three valleys, Healdsburg is the perfect location for growing—and enjoying—many wine varietals. During the harvest season, the wineries get incredibly busy with locals and visitors alike who want in on the action. Grapes are unloaded early in the morning and continue to arrive during the day, and the best wineries buzz with activity.

During this busy season, it is helpful to have tasting reservations at the wineries. This not only helps the tasting room staff, but also allows you to maximize your experience by getting front row seats to all the action.

At the Wine Stay, we recommend our guests take advantage of our concierge services to ensure a fabulous wine tasting adventure. Whether it’s horseback riding through the vines or stomping grapes just like Lucy and Ethel, our Concierge service designs your adventure and takes your harvest experience from good to exceptional!

This is a busy and bustling time in wine country. Be aware of crowds and be sure to reserve lodging, wine tours, restaurants, and other activities early as they book up quickly.

Luxury home rentals

Luxury vacation rentals experiences. We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. Enjoy from wine tasting tours to a personally tailored guided hike. Contact us for more information!