When people tell us they are going to Sonoma and ask for winery suggestions, we hardly know where to begin. “Which part?” we ask. The town of Sonoma? The coast? The Sonoma Valley? The Carneros? The Russian River Valley? Or perhaps the northernly town of Healdsburg, gateway to the Dry Creek, Alexander and Knight’s Valleys? As you can tell, it gets complicated. But what a delightful complication to have. [Visit this map of Sonoma wine regions to see that our list barely scratches the surface of the county’s wine offerings.]
On our most recent trip, we started in the town of Sonoma. At the southern end of the county, it’s an easy drive from San Francisco. We spend so much more time these days in the far reaches of northern Sonoma County and beyond, that we thought it high time we stopped through the actual town of Sonoma again and reacquainted ourselves.
We arrived in late afternoon on a warm, summer Sunday and found the town square bustling. Why wouldn’t it be? There are many wonderful wineries within a short drive and a number with tasting rooms right on the main square. Oh, and there are lots of fun shops and restaurants, too. Several years ago, I had eaten at The Girl and The Fig, in the heart of town, and had a wonderful memory of that meal ever since. I was excited to take Kip there to enjoy it with me.
Proprietor Sondra Bernstein strives for “a balance of quirky and elegant.” If we had to choose just two things we’d most like to see in a restaurant (besides great food and wine), quirkiness and elegance would be at the top of our list. The combination makes for a fun environment in which to savor and appreciate the meal and the moment. Focusing on sustainable, locally grown, seasonal ingredients, every dish at the restaurant (at least every one we tasted) reflects creativity and passion. In short, this was a perfect place for a Thirsty Kitten adventure.
Once settled at our table on the patio, our server helped steer us through the wine list. So many great choices from so many small wineries, most of which were local. We were in heaven! We chose the Petrichor 2009 “Les Trois,” a blend of two different Syrah grape clones and Grenache, made in the refined style of the French Rhone wines. We had never heard of the winery before, which is no surprise given that the 2009 is their first release and only 140 cases were produced. We’ve come to rely on the fact that we’ll discover gems like this on the wine lists of restaurants like The Girl and The Fig, who give such thoughtful care and attention to their food that we know they’ll do the same with their wine.
Though unfamiliar with the winery itself, we were very familiar with one of the the names associated with it. As it turns out, Lee Martinelli Jr. manages the vineyard for owners Margaret and Jim Foley. Yes, Lee is of the Martinelli family that has farmed and made extraordinary wines in Sonoma County since the late 1800s. Their wines, some of which border on legendary (i.e. the Jackass Hill Zinfandel) are are special treats in our cellar. As we sipped, we were impressed with the skill of winemaker Duncan Arnot Meyers, who we learned makes his own wine under the small Arnot Roberts label, yet another new discovery we excitedly added to our list of wines to try.
Petrichor means “the scent of rain on dry earth”— a notion we found charming and perfectly fitting for this wine that evokes the character of its terroir so well. On a ridge of the Mayacaymas Mountains where Sonoma borders Napa, the vineyard sits 1,100 feet above the Russian River Valley. We were delighted to find that the Petrichor showed all the intensity and complexity we’ve come to know and love about high elevation wines. Dark purple color, aromas of earth and smoke with a hint of berries, flavors of pepper, earth, raspberries and currants with a lovely dose of acidity. Restrained but not austere, the wine sipped beautifully with our food.
And since we know you’re dying to hear what we ate, here goes: fig and arugula salad (a house specialty) with chévre, pancetta, toasted pecans and a fig-port vinaigrette; Tomales Bay king salmon with yukon potatoes, summer beans, arugula and smoked paprika beurre blanc; day boat scallops with grilled summer squash ratatouille, goat cheese polenta croutons and corn créme fraiche. We finished with pistachio vanilla bean cheesecake with roasted cherries. Divine!
At the end of our dinner, we asked our server where we should have breakfast the next morning. It’s never too early to think about the next meal. And we know that when we’re at a place with wonderful food and service, we’ll get very reliable recommendations for other such places. The next morning, as we enjoyed every single bite of our biscuits, grits and eggs at the Fremont Diner, we toasted with our coffee mugs to the amazing dinner the night before, the exquisite wine list, and the fabulous server (whose name I am so sad I didn’t record) who not only made our evening but made our morning, as well.
So this week, we raise our glasses to Sonoma, where one good thing leads to another.