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/

Celebrate the 27th Annual Winter WINEland with two glorious days along Wine Road in Northern Sonoma County. To begin with, taste current vintages grown in Sonoma County and even try a few verticals!

Then, meet winemakers and taste limited production wines, new releases or library wines.  All participating wineries will highlight a Vintage, Varietal or Vertical tasting for the weekend.  The ticket price includes a wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the weekend.  Travel from winery to winery and visit only those on your preferred list.

Finally, all Wine Road events are for adults 21 and over only – no babies or children of any age.

For more great holiday food and wine pairings, check out our blog post here.

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.

You can’t get too far in Sonoma Wine Country or Napa Valley without hearing about a wine’s nose and legs. And, people in the know like to throw around the word terroir. The rest of us may avoid it, not knowing exactly what it means, or even how to pronounce it (say “tare war” like you have a mouth full of marbles). What is terroir, anyway?

Well that, it turns out, is not a simple question.

There’s no doubt among us that wines are distinct.

One bottle of Pinot is not the same as another bottle of Pinot. Although the grape stock may be the same, flavor is distinct. A wine’s unique—je ne sais quoi—quality, stems from terroir.

Terroir encompasses the habitat in which the grape is grown.

Factors like climate, soil, and terrain add up differently. Whether the average temperatures are warm or cool affect flavor. Warmer climates lend to higher sugar levels, and higher alcohol content, and influence taste. And, although it isn’t understood exactly how different soils affect a wine’s flavor, there’s no argument that rock and mineral deposits, soil texture, and soil chemistry do affect the end result. Not only the soil but also the environment in which the grapes are grown matters. Nearby animal and plant life, whether the vines are in a valley or by the sea, the elevation of the land—all these affect flavor.

Winemaking traditions also contribute to terroir.

How winemakers work together with the land is included in the elusive concept of terroir. After generations of cultivating a certain area, a person gets to know and understand their vines. Tending your grapes is a relationship—an intimate knowing.

In the world of wine, science and art are at odds.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that a lot of what we call terroir is invisible to the naked eye. The science of winemaking is pushing aside the art of the craft with new ability to detect and measure the effects of microbial life in the vineyard. Bacteria and fungi play a big role in terroir as well. The microbes live in the grape and, ultimately, the wine. Researchers at UC Davis explain that “‘microbial terroir’ is a determining factor in the regional variations in wine.”

Terroir is not the same thing as appellation.

Wikipedia notes, “The influence of terroir means that wines from a particular region are unique, incapable of being reproduced outside that area, even if the grape variety and winemaking techniques are painstakingly duplicated.”   The idea of terroir led to the formation of grape-growing regions into distinct appellations.

An appellation is a clearly defined region on a map—an AVA (American Viticultural Area). Napa Valley was the first designated Californian appellation, which today includes many sub-appellations. Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley are two familiar AVAs of the 17 in Sonoma Wine Country that produce world-famous and highly distinct wines.

Terroir arouses a sense of place and belonging.

Ask any wine buff, though, and they’ll likely tell you that the definition of terroir means more than the region where the grapes are grown. The concept evokes the romantic, old-world art of fine winemaking. Yes, more and more we see the word used by other food producers. Terroir sells because it appeals to people’s senses, conjuring mystery, art, and magic. Perhaps the very allure of terroir is in its unmeasurable sense of place and belonging.

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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!

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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.

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