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.

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.

It’s no surprise that tourism is a huge global industry. People love to experience new surroundings, from basking on tropical beaches to exploring ancient ruins. There’s a new trend in travel — ecotourism — that appeals to those who want to submerge themselves in the natural environment.

Ecotourism in Sonoma

What is ecotourism? According to The Nature Conservancy, “Ecotourism is distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation.” In other words, ecotourism is about respecting natural environments and keeping them intact.

More and more businesses describe themselves as offering ecotours, but you don’t have to join an official tour to be an ecotourist. All you need to enjoy ecotourism is an appreciation of nature’s beauty and the desire to leave a small footprint behind. Feel the sunshine, breathe in fresh air, be part of the local habitat, and when you leave take your trash away with you and leave everything as you found it, for the next person — and generation — to enjoy.

Ecotourism in Sonoma and Napa offer a bounty of unspoiled countryside and opportunity for outdoor fun. Wine Country and ecotourism go hand in glove. There’s a large movement toward environmental awareness in Northern California; people want to preserve the beauty. There are plenty of opportunities to get close in to nature and dive into the ecotourism in Sonoma.

Ways to Experience Wine Country au Naturel

Take a hike  

The nonprofit organization, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, was founded on the principles of ecotourism in Sonoma long before the term was even coined. They partner with California State Parks, offering eco-classes and managing the preservation of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, more than 800 acres of majestic Coast Redwoods, and the nearly 6,000 acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area. This pristine natural habitat includes shady redwood forests and meandering streams. Austin Creek offers twenty miles of trails and magnificent vistas as you traverse the rugged hillsides. An eco-paradise for hikers — and equestrians.

Saddle up

Gorgeous Lake Sonoma spreads across 2,700 acres of rolling, oak-studded hills in northern Sonoma County, just a short jaunt from downtown Healdsburg. Check out The Ranch at Lake Sonoma to enjoy the area on horseback. They provide all the gear and lead you on guided rides along gentle trails. Wine Country horseback riding is a one-of-a-kind experience of untouched countryside that you just can’t see any other way.

The Ranch at Lake Sonoma

Kayak coast and river

Want to submerge yourself in Wine Country’s natural environment? Rent a kayak and experience life outdoors. Guaranteed to slow down your pace and relax you, skimming the waters of the Sonoma Coast and Russian River offers a unique perspective of the environment that’s not to be missed. Keep your eyes open for egrets, deer, seals, and a large variety of wildlife as you quietly paddle through the water — a sublime eco-experience!

Smart Tours

WaterTreks EcoTours

Cycle the backroads

To fully engage yourself in your surroundings, hop on a bicycle and peddle the roads of Sonoma, Calistoga, Napa, and Healdsburg. And there’s so much to see — lush vineyards, bright sky, undulating hillsides. Bicycling puts you up close and personal with the environment. It’s low-profile ecotourism that always satisfies. Rent the bike you like, and hit the roads. You can take a guided tour or explore on your own. Cycling barely disturbs the environment, but be sure to leave nothing behind for a lightweight footprint.

Calistoga Bike Shop

Sonoma Valley Bike Tours

Visit a working farm

Sonoma County’s Farm Trails invites you to learn from local farmers. Every year, Farm Trails farmers open their gates to offer a behind-the-scenes peek at life on the farm. This year the farms are open to the public during the weekend of October 13 and 14. But at other times of year, many of the farms let you schedule an appointment to visit the farm in person. Their website has a detailed map that you can filter by product or region. Visiting farms makes for a fun experience for the entire family. It doesn’t get more eco and educational than visiting an active farm — often organic, always local, with high-quality produce of all types, from fragrant lavender to the plump berries.

Luxury home rentals

We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. The Wine Stay can help you plan experiences,  from wine tasting tours to a guided hike. Contact us for more information!

For the first morning in a very long time, you wake up to the sound of birds chirping outside your window, instead of a blaring alarm clock.

A gentle breeze wafts in, carrying in the scent of freshly mown grass. You hear the friendly sounds of pots and pans from the kitchen below at your chosen vacation home, heralding you to a home-cooked breakfast that is sure to have you reaching for seconds. A day of wine tours and relaxing beckons you.

This is not a dream scenario. This is what awaits you if you give yourself the chance to enjoy a luxury weekend vacation.

Give yourself the perfect gift

Truth is we don’t need month-long vacations to rejuvenate ourselves. All we have to do is find a place that indulges our senses, and offers calm and quiet, and we’ll feel refreshed in no time.

That’s where ideas such as vacation rentals in the luxurious Wine Country come to mind.

Taking the luxury weekend vacation

Vacation rentals are your best bet when it comes to taking weekend vacations. Far less expensive than your average hotel room, a vacation home lets you enjoy all the comfort of home — and more!

For example, let’s say you choose a vacation home in classic destinations like Napa Valley, Sonoma, or Healdsburg. At The Wine Stay we provide you with just the right Wine Country vacation home that suits your needs. Plus, we offer concierge services — driving, cooking, day trips, wine tasting — so you can have an extra special getaway, and won’t need to worry about a thing.

Wine and dine in the wine country

Of course, with a weekend vacation surrounded by vineyards and fabulous wine, you can expect an unforgettable wine tasting experience.

Visit a few boutique wineries — there are numerous wine tasting rooms dotting the countryside between Napa and Healdsburg, and beyond. You’ll easily be able to plan a full day touring the Wine Country, meeting winemakers, and tasting select vintages that you wouldn’t get to sample at your local wine store — the perfect touch to your already luxuriously comforting holiday.

Vacationing the weekend away

You’ve worked hard to live the life you have. Isn’t it time for a relaxing getaway? Let your life stand still for a moment and take a breather. Go to the Wine Country and rent a luxury vacation home to give yourself the relaxing mini-vacation you so richly deserve!

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!

Everyone knows Sonoma Wine Country for its rolling hills lined with grapevines and fertile valleys. But don’t forget the coast! More than 55 miles of spectacular shoreline form the western border of Sonoma County.

If you want to take a break from the inland heat and experience unparalleled beauty, head out River Road (off Hwy 101 just south of Healdsburg) to the coast. In less than an hour’s drive, the cool Pacific awaits, and you’ll find easy access to beaches up and down Hwy 1.

Carved out by nature among rocky bluffs, the Sonoma Coast State Park beaches run from just north of Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific, to Bodega Bay and afford breathtaking ocean views, dramatic bluffs, well-maintained hiking trails and a total of 17 miles of beaches scattered with driftwood and seashells. These aren’t warm, white sandy beaches — but they are incredible portraits of natural beauty.

Search for seashells, fly a kite, spread out a picnic, hike the Kortum Trail or simply watch the waves splash the shore. There’s a good chance you’ll see white plumes in the distance. Whales migrate from Alaska to Baja from December through April, but you may see whales spouting offshore any time of the year.

Wrights, Portuguese, Schoolhouse beaches — each beach with its distinctive name also has its unique appeal and all are worth stopping at. Pull your car over, breathe in the fresh air and explore the Sonoma Coast on foot. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites.

Sonoma Coastal Beaches

Goat Rock Beach

This northern SoCo beach lies where the Russian River meets the sea. Search tide pools for sea anenomes or find jeweled abalone shells. Goat Rock is home to numerous seals and pups who you can hear barking near the mouth of the river.

Shell Beach

If you’re in for a gentle hike along the bluffs, park at Shell Beach. From here you can head either north or south on the Kortum Trail, named for a local coastal preservationist. The trail is marked and even has stretches of boardwalk to span marshy areas.

Salmon Creek Beach

Salmon Creek spills into the ocean and separates this beach into two. South Salmon Creek Beach with nearly two miles of sand and dunes is ideal for flying kites or long shoreline walks.

Bodega Head

The rocky point that forms the entrance into Bodega Harbor has trails along the headland. There’s level walking if you head south from the parking lot; head north for a more robust hike. Abundant wildflowers color this area in spring and early summer. The high cliffs present great views of the coast and opportunities for whale watching.

Although the Sonoma Coast presents unbelievable photo ops, it’s best to keep your distance. The waves can be unpredictable, sometimes taking you by surprise even when the water appears calm. Cold water temps, sleeper waves and a strong riptide add to the dramatic feel of the rugged coastline. Don’t plan on swimming or even wading in the shallows. There are no lifeguards. Although not good for swimming, the beaches of Sonoma Wine Country brim with vitality of nature.

One last thing to keep in mind: summer days typically begin foggy on the coast. But don’t be dissuaded. It usually burns off by midday. The weather is variable, so bring layered clothing and enjoy your date with the great Pacific.

Check out this handy list with descriptions of dozens of Sonoma coastal beaches here.

Healdsburg is the place to taste world-class wines, enjoy locally sourced gourmet food, browse antique and art galleries, and sample the good life! The good news is that you can indulge and feel fit at the same time. Take a look at these opportunities for nearby walking and hiking – your Healdsburg getaway just got even better!

Walking Trails Healdsburg

You only need to go just beyond downtown to immerse yourself in the tranquil beauty of Sonoma County. Just off the Dry Creek freeway exit, discover the Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Reserve.

Recently opened to the public, this preserve offers a few miles of easy to moderate hiking trails. Beautiful views abound as you walk through oak-studded grasslands and chaparral. This is the perfect refresher before or after an afternoon of wine tasting.

Find out more about Healdsburg Ridge and download the trail map here: http://sonomahikingtrails.com/parks/healdsburg-ridge/

The best way to explore Healdsburg is on foot. The Foss Creek Pathway is a lovely footpath that’s fully paved, making it wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly. It’s landscaped, has benches and is dotted with public art. This town knows how to get it right!

About 1.25 miles long, the trail follows the old railroad tracks through downtown, from Grove St. on the north end to Mill St. on the south end. Park at the skate park on Grove Street and ramp up your daily step count.

If you want to get in your walk, see downtown Healdsburg and go wine tasting too — you can have it all! About three dozen tasting rooms are situated in and around the center of town — each within walking distance of the other.

Sample a wide assortment of stellar wines from the area’s appellations. Visit Wine Walk Healdsburg and download their map to plan out your route. http://www.winewalkhbg.com/

Stop in a local eatery for lunch, browse boutiques and galleries and taste some of Healdsburg’s best wines, all while logging a couple miles of healthy walking!

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!

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/

You want your vacation to be great, and you know the place you stay can make all the difference. But how do you know whether the property is in line with what you have in mind?

Vacation rental, choose the right one

Clarify your priorities
Do you and the others in your group agree that a pool or spa is a must? Is cooking a pleasure you want to enjoy at the rental home? Will you lounge around outdoors? Is a TV in a separate room for the kids on your must-have list? Spend time visualizing your dream vacation home. Imagine what you want to do, how you’ll spend your time at the house and what the ambiance is like.

Study the description
Read the description of the property and its amenities very carefully to be sure all the things that matter to you are included. Does it mention a microwave, dishwasher, cookware? If you imagine a family dinner outside, be sure the listing says there’s an outdoor BBQ. Are there extra linens, pool towels, toilet paper? If the description is detailed and thorough, that’s a pretty good indication that the property owner or manager will be attentive as well.

Scrutinize the photos
Don’t be swayed by first impressions. Zoom in on the details in the photos. Look for clues about cleanliness. Crisp linens, sparkling shower, well-kept landscaping? Also look for the view through the windows in the photos? Do they look onto greenery and rolling hills or the neighbor’s backyard? Create the layout of the property in your mind, following the photos from room to room. If there’s no pic of the second bathroom, you should wonder why. You can always ask the owner/manager for more photos.

Listen to the reviews
Read ALL the reviews, and check for consistent comments. See whether the items on your priority list are mentioned. Take heed of criticisms, too. A disgruntled guest can vent, but watch for the same issue mentioned by multiple reviewers. You can always inquire to clarify whether that particular complaint has been resolved, and that’ll give you a clue about the quality of the vacation experience. Writing a review takes time, and it’s a good sign when guests go out of their way to praise the property, atmosphere, location, its amenities or the owner/manager.

Get a feel for the owner/manager
If it’s green lights so far, then contact the owner or manager. Notice whether they respond promptly to your inquiry. Are they helpful, friendly and happy to answer all of your questions? With a welcoming and professional connection, your chances are good that you’ll have a quality vacation experience.

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!