Story and photos by Charlene Peters
A drive on U.S. Route 101 or State Route 12 leads to landscapes blooming with wildflowers and cultivated gardens, rows of olive groves, and, yes… vineyards and wineries in various pockets in and outside of Santa Rosa’s city limits. The historic Railroad Square is the city’s walkable downtown area with eclectic dining options, shopping, and an optional stop inside a tearoom.
Santa Rosa is also known as the place to discover the world’s most extensive collection of Peanuts strips, and the iconic Charles M. Schulz Museum is as good a starting point as any to begin a visit. For museum lovers, the Museum of Sonoma County and Luther Burbank Homes & Garden are worth visiting.
WHERE TO SIP
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is located in Santa Rosa within Sonoma Valley. However, the winery’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of animals and ecology, is more significant in his stature as the founder of the Franciscan order that established missions and vineyards throughout California. A cast made from the original Assisi bell hangs in the winery’s tower in tribute to St. Francis.
A seat on the terrace is the best spot to imbibe the gorgeous landscape view and Estate Pairing Experience. To begin, an elegant, perfectly balanced St. Francis Sauvignon Blanc sets the stage before winery Chef Peter Janiak’s serving of an array of seasonal light bites elevates the sensory experience. Shrimp a la plancha and black-truffle-shellfish-soaked bread paired with a Chardonnay transforms the wine into a crisper and creamier version. The wow moments continue with a tasting plate of cherry-glazed short rib, truly an epicurean delight when paired with a winery-exclusive aromatic black licorice and bramble berry 2015 Montecillo Zinfandel. The Estate Pairing Experience menu changes every three weeks, so guests can return to visit and taste something new each time. // www.stfranciswinery.com
Dry Creek Valley in nearby Geyserville is where Trattore Farms Winery sits atop 40 acres of steep rolling hillsides. The translation of Trattore in Italian means “tractor,” which explains the cherry red farm vehicle’s presence inside the tasting room and retail space. Fun fact: co-owner, Tim Bucher, purchased his first vineyard when he was only 16 years old.
This winery is a must-stop if only to taste a selection of Rhone varietal wines. But there’s more. For olive oil connoisseurs, the best of both worlds may be enjoyed in one visit. With a seat at the outdoor terrace overlooking the rolling landscape of vineyards and olive groves set against the mountainous backdrop of Geyser Peak and Mount St. Helena, guests can enjoy a tasting flight of olive oils from the on-property Dry Creek Olive Oil Company. An Olive Oil Tasting menu is available for tasting pure versions such as Three Orchards Blend and the lovely Estate blend. Adventurous palates are sure to be attracted to the infused blends of Meyer lemon, basil, and jalapeño, a prime example of Spanish Manzanilla olives co-milled with jalapeños.
The best plan is to stay a while and enjoy both wine and olive oil tastings with a panini made on-site. The PB&J (prosciutto, bread, and jam) panini pairs well with a glass of what Trattore refers to as its field wine, a 2019 Stone Soup Estate that presents varied characteristics in the Rhone style.
A community milling day in November is worth noting when the olives are harvested and pressed on-site by Tim’s co-owner and wife, Maria Bucher. Olive oil enthusiasts can book a tour to ride the property to the production house where Bucher mills the olives using a relic millstone or a modern hammermill. // www.trattorefarms.com
Further into Dry Creek Valley, just outside the city limits of Healdsburg, DaVero Farms is worth a tasting stop and a walk through the biodynamic grounds to peek inside its worm farm. This squirmy method converts food scraps and organic matter into nutrient-rich, organic worm castings—a beneficial fertilizer.
Inside the wine-tasting room, a 2018 Dolcetto is a beautiful wine to best represent the Russian River AVA. And from the nearby Dry Creek AVA, the most tannic varietal, Sagrantino, is blended with Barbera and a bit of Sangiovese and Montepulciano to smooth out the 2019 Umbriana. This property also grows four olive varieties on its estate, the milder versions of which visitors may taste in addition to creamier versions from harvests further afield. // www.davero.com
Paradise Ridge Winery sits far above its 155 acres overlooking the Russian River. Its balcony is the place to perch for a commanding view of the sprawling estate. Guests can plan an art-walk tour to explore the Burning Man – the curated sculpture grove created by the father of Marijke Byck, co-owner of the winery with her husband, Walter. At the temple, among the ceremonial tea garden, visitors can leave a message for a departed loved one before heading back to the balcony for a guided private reserve tasting. Inside, a walk downstairs leads to an event space where a wall of history includes a framed remnant – the only one that survived the 2017 Tubbs wildfire – a sword connecting the estate’s Japanese history. Fortunately, the winery was rebuilt and reopened in 2019.
The estate experience begins with a blanc de blanc 100 percent Chardonnay that offers a toasty palate and citrus finish. A food and wine pairing of prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe excels with a tasting of 2021 Sauvignon Blanc aged in neutral oak with malolactic fermentation. The Brides Blush label wows the palate with its premier blend of grenache and syrah. // www.prwinery.com
A stop in Santa Rosa would not be complete without a visit to Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens for a sensory garden tour and tasting. Among four acres of its estate is a dedicated space for this coveted experience before sitting down for a tasting. A 2018 Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon is reminiscent of why this label forever trends in the wine industry. // www.kj.com
WHERE TO EAT
Downtown is filled with options for dining, such as the local’s hangout, Jackson’s Bar and Oven at Railroad Square, where wood-fired pizza is on the menu. Craft beer is a pleasant change of pace from a day spent wine tasting, and Russian River Brewing Company has a hefty menu of options, including a pork schnitzel sandwich. // www.jacksonsbarandoven.com; www.russianriverbrewing.com
Across from Hotel E on Courthouse Square is Perch + Plow, an upstairs restaurant with a contemporary, spacious design. Eclectic artwork is everywhere (there’s an octopus design on the wall), and the cocktail menu reflects in-season ingredients to make signature drinks such as Lavender Bliss. But the true focus is on its shareable not-so-small farm-to-table plates. A few bites of golden and red beets salad with goat cheese offsets (sort of) an order of truffle fries and homemade bread pudding. // www.perchandplow.com
Restaurant veteran and owner Angel Cayllahua (Roka Akor, La Mar SF) has opened Kancha Champagne Bar & Tapas on 4th Street in Downtown Santa Rosa. Cayllahua has created a wine list with an extensive selection of Champagne and other bubbly drinks from around the world, along with wine and beer to pair with Peruvian and Japanese small bites meant for sharing. Fresh oysters, seared scallops with passion fruit leche de tigre, crab cakes, ceviches, lomo saltado empanadas, octopus causa, charcuterie platters and a “very adult mac and cheese” with huancaina (a mild yellow chile and cheese sauce) are featured on the menu. // www.kanchasr.com
Warike Restobar in downtown Santa Rosa offers Peruvian tastes in its sauces and spices sure to make any tastebuds swoon in satisfaction. Enjoy dining inside at the bar or outside to people-watch from a seat at a high-top table. The culinary winner on the menu is Seco de Carne, a traditional Peruvian bean stew served with braised short rib marinated in corn cider and served with rice and criolla sauce. // www.warikesf.com
To satisfy cravings for ice cream or a slice of pie, stop at Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar for either — or both. //
WHERE TO STAY
Vintners Resort is better known for its on-site restaurant, John Ash & Co., and for its vineyard-view rooms. But lesser known is that it’s also a wonderful place to wind down after a day spent wine tasting. Let the day begin with a hearty breakfast (try the lemon ricotta pancakes with huckleberry compote) at the property’s River Vine restaurant, which is tucked next to the lobby. For a break in between vineyard stops, a game of Bocce Ball is an option, as is sunbathing and a swim in the on-site pool. For spa-goers, the Vi La Vita Spa awaits, and a low-key activity of a walk in the gardens and vineyard is great before or after dinner. // www.vintnersresort.com
Center stage in the downtown area is Hotel E on Courthouse Square, a stone’s throw from a variety of restaurants, bars, cafes, retail shops, and wine tasting rooms. The hotel’s wine bar is the main attraction for anyone interested in tasting local wines. The rooms are modest yet modern, with views of the pedestrian action below. // www.hotelesantarosa.com