Love at First Sight-Sonoma County

We arrived at nearly midnight, weaving up Plum Creek Road, the canopy above blocked our view below. We entered through a porte-cochere, hidden again, and after a brief tour of the essentials, gave in to pull of the pillow after a long day of travel. As I went to sleep, I wondered what I would see when the inky sky gave way.

Traveling west, rising early is to be expected. The wonder built to anticipation. We quickly dressed, opened our curtains and gasped. Perhaps a bit of a cynic in me arises when people talk about love at first sight between two people, but I am a believer when it comes to places. The vineyards folding down to my left, the golden hills swaying in the wind, the tall evergreens and teeming fruit trees. I instantly fell for Sonoma.

My First Glimpse, 2004
My First Glimpse, 2004

Recently, I was invited to attend an event to promote Sonoma County. We sampled wines, learned more about the commerce and topography, shared stories. We learned about specific growers and winemakers, tourism programs, and how each host came to fall in love with Sonoma. We discussed the great lengths the growers and winemakers are committed to going to preserve Sonoma for generations to come. Their goal is to be 100% sustainable by 2019.

At the end of the evening, they presented each guest with a token of Sonoma. In my bag, I found Saxon Brown 2013 Chardonnay from Sangiacomo Vineyard, Green Acres Hill in Carneros and a 2013 Martin Ray Pinot Noir from Dark Star Hill in the Russian River Valley. I knew just when I would open them.

For three years, during Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, we would head west with our favorite foodie friends. To celebrate my WSET 2 exam, they were coming for dinner. The forecast was cool, probably the last for the season. I planned a menu to highlight the wines and the weather.

We began with a Goat Cheese Cauliflower Gratin (recipe below) on toasted baguette and the Chardonnay. Golden lemon in the glass, yellow apples and vibrant minerality, warm vanilla and toast. It paired perfectly with the gratin.

The cooler temperatures and Burgundian wines meant it was just the right time to try Julia  Child’s Beef bourguignon. I could start it in the morning, take my exam, and let it cook all day. The Martin Ray Pinot was lovely. Brilliant purple and ruby, herbaceous raspberry and cranberry on the nose. Bright red cherry, rosemary, good acidity softened with a touch of oak. It played off the rich thyme and savory stew perfectly.

What began as an instant connection has grown with every visit. The more we’ve explored, the deeper it grows. A dozen years and nearly that many visits later, my heart still quickens. Riding bikes around the town of Sonoma, picnics in the park. Farmers markets and music in the town square. Driving along the rocky cliffs of Jenner, lazing at Bodega Bay. A glass of Sonoma’s finest and barbecued oysters as the sun sets on the beach. Strolling the streets of Healdsburg and on the way to Dry Creek. The chill of an August morning gives way to golden light and temperate nights. It is magical. It is a place that calls to me. It was love at first sight.

Goat Cheese and Cauliflower Gratin

Boil and puree cauliflower (I used a bad of organic frozen)

Add 4 oz. goat cheese

1-2 oz. blue cheese (depending on taste)

1 clove of garlic

A few sprigs of thyme leaves

A splash of sherry

Mix and put in baking dish.

Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 350 until golden on top, 15 minutes or so.

Serve with crusty warm baguette and apple slices.

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Being a stay- at-home mom can leave one thirsting for a taste of the outside world, a world in which sentences are composed of more than three words. Being an educator means one is always seeking an opportunity to explore and learn. Being a woman with a need to connect can be a challenge when adult conversations are rare. In wine, I find the marriage of art and science, agriculture and storytelling provides limitless areas to explore. But it is the people that keep me engaged. The tenacity needed to keep the family dream alive, the risk to start anew, the trials and principles. I love the history of the vine, the impact of a season, the sentiment in the bottle. That is why I write. I write to tell their stories, to share a piece of mine. I write to learn as I teach others. I write to connect with new friends, to disconnect from the world. I write to celebrate what makes each of us unique, and that which ties us together.

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