SONOMA, CALIFORNIA - It started out weak, but ended strong.
I was in Sonoma County, California the other day for a far-too-brief visit to the town of Sonoma and then to check out a couple wineries.
Of course, I was driving my Dad's new Hyundai and the GPS took us on the most circuitous route imaginable; up and over steep hills and through canyons lined with live oak and deep brown grasses, there being almost no rain out here in months. We finally made it to the winery, only to find there was a post-Thanksgiving tour going on as part of a Sonoma-wide promotion. The noise inside was deafening and we could hardly hear a thing. They took pity on us and moved us into a small room and had two workers pour us some samples. They were very sweet, but didn't know much about the wines or the varieties or where they grown, which is part of the fun of wine-tasting.
We left and decided to avoid any place that had the promotion/tour going on. Luckily, the previous night I had googled "prettiest wineries in Sonoma" and had come up with a place called Matanzas Creek.
It sits on top of a hill in Bennett Canyon, which I had never visited, and has lovely views of the rolling hills. They also have a huge field of lavender out front that is aromatic and beautiful. The wines were lovely; affordable Sauvignon Blanc and tasty Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah.
There’s a great shop attached with lots of lavender products, but it’s not a tourist trap and the workers, especially Judy, seemed to know their stuff. Very cool.
There are some picnic trees and a bench or two outside under some wonderfully gnarly old trees, and the trees on the property were a lovely shade of gold and red this past weekend. It was gorgeous, notwithstanding the local drought that has left the hills baked and brown and not nearly as pretty as they are in spring, when northern California's green, rolling hills could almost be a stand-in for Ireland.
Judy told me they do an event every year where there's wine tasting, massages and lavender, which has a calming effect on the brain. Can you imagine a massage with aromatic lavender all around you after tasting some great California wine? You'd sleep for a week!
Anyway, following Matanzas we drove through Bennett Canyon and had a lovely drive back to Highway 12 (the GPS got it right this time) and stopped at Chateau St. Jean. It’s a faux French castle like something out of the Loire, with pretty, formal gardens dotted with tangerine trees and even a small boules court. The wine was pretty good but, I thought, overpriced.
Most of the wineries now charge folks $10 or $15 to taste four or five samples. The nicer workers will add some extra tastings if you know your stuff or ask politely, and more often than not your tasting fee is refunded if you buy a bottle.
We got lucky at Chateau St. Jean as a young woman from San Francisco who was next to me at the tasting bar had just taken out a club membership for frequent deliveries. That entitled her to four free tastings, so she gave me two.
We made it to Kunde Estate just down the road about 15 minutes prior to closing and just loved the place. They have a pretty fountain outside and lovely grounds, plus great wines. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blancs were both excellent, and sold for $18 and $17, respectively; very reasonable.
I loved the Merlot, which has a splash of Petite Sirah in it for extra oomph, and the Zinfandel; which is rich and full-bodied and zippy without being too sweet like some Zin’s. And Kat is a lovely server; very fun and friendly.
Kunde has 1,850 contiguous acres of property; apparently the largest such configuration in Sonoma. They also have seven microclimates, five ecosystems and seven lakes, so they can produce a wide variety of wines in different styles.
A great, great place. As is almost all of Sonoma. Napa (which I'll talk about later this week, probably Friday) has the bigger name, but Sonoma is just as pretty and considerably more diverse in terms of geography, as it encompasses the beautiful Northern California coast as well as inland valleys.
WEST JET GOES GOOFY, I MEAN MICKEY
The good-time folks at WestJet have hooked up with Disney Parks and have painted one of their planes with the likeness of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer in the movie "Fantasia."
It's said the custom paint job on what's being called the "Magic Plane" took a crew of 26 people a full 24 days to do.
Customers using the plane also will notice special designs in the cabin and, I hear, Disney-shaped cookies on board.
They flew kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary and chaperones down to Walt Disney World in Orlando today for a 3-day extravaganza.
"Bringing this vision to life has been a true collaboration between our companies and it's so exciting to see the final result -- the aircraft is absolutely beautiful," said Marlie Morrison, Managing Director, Marketing & Sales, The Walt Disney Company (Canada) Ltd. "WestJetters are the first point of contact for many of our Walt Disney Worldguests embarking on their memorable family vacation.”
"With the Magic Plane, we are soaring to new heights, offering guests of all ages the chance to share the skies with one of the world's most beloved and iconic figures,” said Gregg Saretsky, WestJet President and CEO. “We also look forward to having fun with our guests on the ground as they see the Magic Plane flying over their communities and at airports across our expanding network."