During the first weekend in November we had the opportunity to experience the 14th Annual – A Wine & Food Affair ~ “Tasting Along the Wine Road,” in the northern half of Sonoma County. A wonderful experience it was.
This is one of three annual events organized by Wine Road each year. The other two are the Annual Winter WINEland (Jan. 19-20, 2013) and the two weekend Annual Barrel Tasting (March 1-3 & 8-10, 2013). Wine Road is a winery association representing 190 wineries and 56 lodging members in northern Sonoma County, including the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys. The Wine Road site is a great resource for winery discovery and trip planning as well as lodging reservations. Through Wine Road we were able to secure lodging in a wonderful restored vineyard farmhouse in the Russian River Valley at Inman Family Wines. Waking each morning in the vineyard really adds to the whole wine country experience. Sipping Kathleen Inman’s delicious single-vineyard Pinot Noir during a sunset vineyard stroll is as good as it gets.
We started planning our Wine and Food Affair excursion a couple of weeks ahead of time by using the Wine Road interactive map on their website. The map allowed us to pick out the wineries we wanted to visit and created a custom map of the wineries allowing us to minimize travel and maximize the wineries we visited. For Day 1, we concentrated on wineries in or near Santa Rosa and the Russian River Valley. Day 2 was spent touring wineries near Healdsburg and north through Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys.
Our experience started with a very efficient 11 AM check-in at our assigned winery, Kendall Jackson. There we received our wrist bands, wine glasses, a beautiful hard-bound cookbook that included all the foods to be paired with the wines offered by the 103 participating wineries and of course, our first wines of the day. The weather was perfect with temps in the 70’s and sunny. Even better, the vineyards shouted with colors of yellow, gold and red. Fall is such a picturesque time in wine country.
Most of the wineries we toured offered 3-5 different wines to sample (generous samples) and some offered two food pairings, one to go with a red wine and another for the whites. In some cases, the wineries even offered live music, tours or other entertainment to enhance the experience. Never did we fell rushed and all the wineries and their staffs were very welcoming. The crowds did seem a bit bigger on Saturday than Sunday but at no time did we feel crowded.
We took the opportunity to visit wineries we had not been to before. We asked other travelers for recommendations and even our readers chimed in with their favorites. The Wine and Food Affair is an ideal opportunity for wine country exploration.
Sonoma wineries differ from those in Napa Valley in a couple of respects. First, many of the wineries have inviting grounds that entice you to spend time relaxing. Sit with a glass of Chardonnay on the Sbragia Family Vineyard balcony and take in the massive Dry Creek Valley view or stroll through acres of gardens at Truett Hurst then sit in an Adirondack chair while witnessing the annual salmon migration in the “not-so” Dry Creek.
Second, since Sonoma County is so much bigger geographically than Napa Valley, the variety of wines available is much greater. Delicious Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Russian River and the Sonoma Coast are served next to bold Zinfandels from Dry Creek and seductive Cabernets from Alexander Valley, often from the same winemaker.
At many of our stops during the Wine and Food Affair we were greeted by the actual winery owner and/or winemaker. Such meetings always make the experience very personal since few can express the passion of the winery better than those with purple stained winery hands.
The Wine Road Food and Wine Affair is a great experience. While I have not written much about the food (wine was my main focus), it was apparent the wineries made a strong effort to create dishes that worked very well with their wines. The ingredients and offerings were, in most cases, first class, and offered unique and intriguing flavors that complimented the wines. I’m sure we will be using the companion cookbook for years to come.
A Wine and Food Affair Tips:
Eat a solid breakfast…Drink lots of water
Neither day felt crowded, however Sunday saw fewer people.
Some smaller wineries do not allow limos due to parking space restrictions.
You won’t be able to visit all the wineries…Plan ahead to minimize driving time and stop into some wineries you are unfamiliar with along with your favorites
If you see the owner or winemaker…say hello…you might make a winery love connection.
Don’t diet… Enjoy the food pairings.
Here are a few of our favorite Wine and Food Affair stops… you can visit them any time.