What could be a more perfect thing to do in Sonoma County than take a walking wine tasting tour?
No bus to load in and out of, no sober driver to stare bored into the ether and the bonus of browsing through shop windows as you stroll to decide where to come back to when the serious business of drinking is done!
The joy of Christmas festivities danced through the air as we assembled together in Healdsburg Square, the bleak wintery day threatening to force us into more tasting than walking between the venues (no one was complaining), but the skies turned out to be more bark than bite.
Harold and his wife Kirsten founded Wine Country Walking Tours after leaving their corporate jobs and taking a year off to travel the world. When they got home they realised that showing people the best of their town was far more interesting than accounting and thus began their walking venture.
Where to start
The cute little town of Healdsburg is where the tours start (tip for first-timers to Sonoma: stay here. The square is edged in cafes and shops and it’s central to many of the must-sees in Sonoma County). The whole out-and-about-walking is a really lovely way to experience wine and food, meet the artisans who produce both and experience a taste of this wine region.
I joined their Sip, Savor and Stroll tour.
We started at Mateo’s Cocina Latina, and chef Mateo arrived from foraging for mushrooms so threw a bunch into a pan with marsala wine and a little pork loin for us to sample. Just because we were there.
That’s the beauty of this bespoke tour. The characters we met through Harold’s connections you wouldn’t by just wandering in. We’d also sampled some cute miniature waffle cones filled with avocado mousse with pomegranate and a little homemade soda (it’s not booze at every stop!)
We moved around the corner to Thumbprint Cellars for a wine and cheese taste of naughty blends like Arousal, Four Play rosé and the Climax red blend. One of the ladies in our group couldn’t even say the names without blushing!
The gelato shop was meant to be for a look but several in our group decided looking with our tastebuds was far more satisfying, so in we went and put together combos of their icecreams, before moving around the square to Chris Donatiello’s wine tasting room where we went through the young winemaker’s flight of white and reds.
Did you know that the colour of a pinot does not denote flavour of depth and that you should always taste wine pairing with the food actually in your mouth? Go on, try it! Pinot is also a great match for salmon, seabass, chicken, risotto. Fatty food = pinot noir.
Then stumbling out the door we arrived at our final destination, Portalupi. They make wine in square bottles with twist off corks (as well as your normal bottles). Very cool to buy, drink and take home for a water bottle, I thought!
Kirsten joined us here for a few minutes as we tried the various wines paired with bite sized morsels and brought the couple’s two young sons in. I loved that. A true family business!
Where is Sonoma?
Sonoma is an hour’s drive north of San Francisco and actually Napa Valley’s big sister. Some might say the bigger, yet quieter, sister.
It has more than 125 soil types so you can imagine the fun (and art and science) each winemaker has producing wines that have so much depth and variety.
There are 500 wineries in Sonoma and 400 of them have cellar doors, but the county is huge so plan your tasting excursions so you won’t be travelling a couple of hours between tastes!
You might to read my previous post on 5 things to eat in Sonoma here >> or my cooking class where I rolled my sleeves up and made Christmas appetizers >> to plan some things to do here. I’ll definitely be back!