Four years ago we decided we wanted to live near San Francisco. More accurately – we wanted to live in San Francisco but, to avoid the ridiculously high cost of living in the City by the Bay, we drew a circle around San Francisco taking in all cities located within 60 miles, and examined which cities seemed to have a somewhat reasonable cost of living (it’s California, so that is a relative term) with decent amenities.
We chose Santa Rosa, a mid-sized city, with two Whole Foods, quite a few restaurants, and a location in the center of Sonoma’s wine region. We envisioned daily life amongst the vines and frequent day trips into San Francisco for lunch and shopping.
Then, we encountered life with the 101. For those not acquainted with California’s north–south highway route, in northern California the 101 connects San Francisco to the North Bay area and frequently achieves near standstill conditions. We only went into the city a handful of times and, after eight months in the North Bay area, we decided to move to Lake Tahoe to be closer to the mountains. In the end, we still spent about as much time in San Francisco as we did when we were living in Santa Rosa.
Even now with our nomad lifestyle, we still get back to the west coast multiple times per year and one thing that continues to amaze us is how few good/easy options exist for getting between San Francisco and Sonoma County. According to the San Francisco Tourism Board, over 25 million people visit San Francisco each year. I’m betting quite a few of them drink wine and would like to visit the beautiful wine region of Sonoma – so why is it so difficult to get there?
The one-day wine tour
If you are in San Francisco and want to just do a one day Sonoma or Napa day wine tour, there are a variety of private coach tours for about $120-$150 per person available that leave San Francisco in the morning and return in the evening. However, if you are seeking a true wine country experience, spending a day or two (or more) while casually sampling wines and enjoying the slower pace of Sonoma County, a one-day tour just won’t do.
Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by car
There are many cities where renting a car is as big a hassle as it is an expense. By the time you rent a car, navigate where you need to go, find parking, pay for parking, pay for in and outs, and pay for gas – that’s quite a bit of irritation and money that could have been used for taking Ubers or Lyfts – and nobody has to drive. For those opting for the rental car experience, once you leave San Francisco, you get to hop on the 101 and head north for a not so leisurely experience getting to Santa Rosa. While having a car in wine country is convenient, it also requires designating a driver, which if there are only two of you, takes a bit of the fun out of wine tasting.
Getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa by Uber or Lyft – Cost: About $100 for 2
In the U.S., ride sharing, namely Uber and Lyft, is our typical mode of transportation. We’ve only had a few bad experiences (filthy car, bizarre driver, and, one of my favorites, the driver got lost and wouldn’t believe the app knew how to get there and just yelled back at the phone as we drove in the wrong direction). But, those are by far the exception – we take numerous ride shares every week of the year and most are great.
That said, a long distance ride share can be expensive. A comparison of both Uber and Lyft fees revealed the ride to Santa Rosa would be about $100 + tip. Doable, but a bit pricey – so we continued exploring options.
Airporter: San Francisco to Santa Rosa – Cost: $86 for 2
When we lived in Santa Rosa and we’d fly out of SFO or Oakland, we’d use the Airporter to get to and from the airport. The Airporter picks up/drops off at the Park & Ride near the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa or at the Santa Rosa airport. A one-way adult fare to/from either SFO or the Oakland airports and Sonoma County is $34 per person. The buses are comfortable and it’s a good option if going straight to/from Santa Rosa to/from either airport.
But, what if you want to spend a few days in San Francisco then head up to Sonoma for a few more days? The Airporter doesn’t run between downtown San Francisco and Santa Rosa, so you need to get back out to SFO or OAK from San Francisco to catch one. BART fare from downtown San Francisco to SFO is $8.95 per person or a Lyft or Uber runs about $35-$50 to the airport. So for two people, the trip to Santa Rosa from downtown San Francisco using the BART – Airporter route would run about $86.
Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by the SMART train – Cost: $75 for 2
The first phase of the SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train, a 43-mile / 69-kilometer rail service between Northern Santa Rosa and Downtown San Rafael, began operating in June 2017. Over the next few years, SMART is scheduled to expand service to Larkspur on the south end of the route in Marin County and to Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale on the northern end in wine country.
But, first, you have to get to San Rafael from San Francisco. Option1 is taking a bus from San Francisco to San Rafael – not expensive, but rather slow with many stops. Option 2 is to catch the Golden Gate ferry from the San Francisco Ferry building to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, then taking the route 31 shuttle to connect to the SMART train station. The ferry cost is $11.50 for each person. Option 3 is to take an Uber or Lyft to the SMART train station in San Rafael.
Considering we needed to get from our hotel on Nob Hill to the ferry terminal or bus station and each had a large roller bag, we would have needed a Uber or Lyft to get that far, so we decided on option 3 for simplicity. The Uber to the San Rafael SMART train station cost $45 + tip. We then caught the SMART train to Santa Rosa for $9.50 per person using the mobile app. The train is about an hour ride from San Rafael to Santa Rosa. The train was clean, with plenty storage areas for luggage and bikes. Some seats on the train have tables, others are airline style.
The train was packed – standing room only. While I tried to get a bit of work done on the ride, we had seatmates at our table and the train was very loud, so it was a bit challenging. I’m not sure if it is some sort of acoustic issue or we just had a car of extremely loud talkers, but we’ve ridden trains in 10 countries this year and I’ve yet to experience so much noise on a train. The kid behind me screamed most of the way and kicked my chair while his father stood in the aisle playing with a yo-yo. In the end, we got to Santa Rosa and it was fairly inexpensive, but not what I’d call a relaxing experience.
Lyft and Uber in wine country
Once we arrived at the Santa Rosa airport train platform, we called a Lyft. Our wait time was only 3 minutes and the fare to our hotel was $10 + tip. We were a bit worried that ride share may not be plentiful in Sonoma Country but we used Uber the entire time during our three-day stay and typically only waited 5-10 minutes for the car to arrive.
That is good – no, great news. If ever there was a place to not drive, it is in wine country. Uber provides the flexibility to craft your own tasting agenda – you pick the wineries, you chose the amount of time spent at each location, and everyone can sample the wines and safely return to their hotels without driving.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Having visited Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz previously, we knew attending one of their highly-acclaimed farm to table dinners would be an amazing experience. A luxury resort and spa that also manages to be comfortable and fun, the hotel is surrounded by 300 acres of tall trees and beautiful vistas. Add to that a friendly staff and phenomenal restaurants, and a visit to the resort is a perfect spot for relaxation, some great hiking, and enjoyment of delicious food and beverages.
Invited to attend the fourth dinner of Chaminade’s 2016 farm to table series, I was instantly curious as to how it was all pulled together and asked if we could go behind the scenes for the event. Chaminade agreed and granted us full access to the event… and it was a spectacular evening of food, wine, and new friends.
Chaminade Resort & Spa’s Farm to Table Wine Dinners
Now in their ninth season, the Farm to Table Wine Dinners at Chaminade have developed a devoted following of Northern and Central Californians with a passion for the finest in locally sourced cuisine.
Chaminade’s farm to table series includes dinners spaced throughout the growing season, each highlighting the finest ingredients straight from the fields of local farms and expertly paired with wines from a nearby winery. Diners are treated to a delightful evening in an idyllic setting overlooking the Monterey Bay, beginning with a wine reception and followed by a multi-course dinner, with wine poured freely throughout.
What is Farm to Table?
While it seems like nearly every restaurant you enter these days uses farm to table or farm to fork to describe their menu offerings, the concept is more than just a trendy phrase. Twenty years ago, if you asked most five-year olds where carrots or potatoes came from, most would probably have answered “the grocery store.” Fortunately, in recent years, an appreciation for food of higher quality has resulted in a resurgence of farmers markets, farm stands and home gardening.
Obviously, produce picked, transported only a short distance, and eaten quickly is fresher and more flavorful than those harvested too early to avoid spoilage while they are transported long distances. Simply compare the taste of a homegrown tomato from a backyard vegetable patch to one that was picked greenish, then shipped for days before arriving at a store, and it is easy to understand why chefs embrace the farm to table movement.
Locally sourced ingredients are also at their peak nutritional value, healthier and support and celebrate the small farms that strive to deliver premium products.
Farm to table, when crafted by talented chefs, transforms those higher quality ingredients into artisanal cuisine. Typically presented at long tables in stunning surroundings, the farm to table dinner creates a dining experience that is as memorable as it is delicious.
The journey from farm to table
We decided to begin our behind the scenes look at a farm to table dinner by finding out just how local the food and wine that would be served during the dinner really was by visiting the featured farm and winery. We didn’t have to venture far.
The Farm: Everett Family Farm
Located about four miles from Chaminade, just outside the quaint town of Soquel, California, visitors are greeted to Everett Family Farm on Old San Jose Road with signs proclaiming, “Don’t panic, eat it’s organic” and “Buy Fresh, Buy Local Here.”
A California Certified Organic Farm (CCOF), Everett Family Farm grows fruit and vegetables on 45 beautiful, sunny acres. Rich and Laura Everett, along with their three daughters, have operated the farm since 2001. In addition to offering organic produce, the Everett’s raise chickens which provide fresh eggs, grow flowers, make an apple cider each fall, and produce an estate grown hard cider, Soquel Cider.
Pulling into the farm, lettuce grows in a sheltered building and, off to the left, a charming farm stand awaits filled to the brim with the freshest vegetables, fruits, eggs, and ciders.
The Everetts’ farm stand runs on the honor system. Visitors simply make their selections, then head over to the table to weigh their items, add up what they owe, and leave their payment in the black box.
In addition to the farm stand, the Everetts’ produce and products can be found at local farmers markets and grocers. The Everett Family Farm is located at 2111 Old San Jose Road, Soquel and is open from 10 am to 6 pm, seven days of the week except for holidays.
The Wine: Martin Ranch Winery
Martin Ranch Winery sits a short 33 miles away from Chaminade at the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
A beautiful winery with spectacular views and a peacefulness not found in many spots, Martin Ranch was created by Thérèse & Dan Martin, who were both born and raised in the Santa Cruz area.
The couple has owned and worked the ranch for over 30 years, producing award-winning red and white wines, gaining praise and a loyal following of wine club fans along the way. Dan produces under the J.D. Hurley label and Thérèse under the Thérèse Martin brand.
The sign on the winery building says, “Tradition – Passion – Excellence,” and the wines, the winery and the Martins demonstrate those qualities aren’t just words on a placard nailed to the wall. The Martins have a passion and dedication to producing excellent wines while maintaining a commitment to sustainability and preservation of the environment.
In addition to the vineyards, the winery has large, raised bed gardens and even chickens on the grounds. Very cool and definitely worth a visit! Martin Ranch Winery is located at 6675 Redwood Retreat Road, Gilroy California and is open to the public every first & third weekend of the month from 12-5 PM for tasting and barrel samplings.
The Chef: Nick Church
Executive Chef, Nick Church, and his crew created a six-course menu for the evening, celebrating the locally grown delicacies and wines.
With the exception of taking time away from Chaminade in 2014 to open a restaurant, Chef Church has been with the resort’s culinary team since starting as a line cook in 1994. Now Chaminade’s Executive Chef, he has experienced most of the farm to table dinners at the hotel since their inception.
We grabbed a few minutes of his time and asked him to reflect on how he has seen the farm to table movement change through the years and how local sourcing affects his menu development on a daily basis.
After nine seasons of farm to table dinners at Chaminade, how have you seen the farm to table movement evolve?
“The excitement is still there from everyone including the Farmers, Wineries and the staff. I think the guests receive a fantastic and unique experience while learning about the local food, wine, and ingredients. When we run the dishes in Linwood’s that are created for the farm to table events, they tend to be very successful.”
How does your planning and preparation differ for a farm to table dinner versus a typical banquet or wedding?
“Planning a farm to table dinner takes time. Everyone always asks what’s on the menu but I don’t like writing the menu until I know what the farmer can provide. The ingredients are based on what’s in season and then the menu is created. I take the ingredients and use them in all the dishes and help pair the wines as well. The main goal is to make the guests happy. With weddings and banquets, the dishes are pre-selected usually a month or two in advance and of course pre-sold to the clients. We do try to use as many local ingredients as possible when preparing for dishes for weddings and banquet events.”
For the other 360 days of the year when you aren’t doing a farm to table dinner, how do local food choices factor into your menus at Chaminade?
“This is a tough question. Farm to table events are special to me and gets me and my staff out of our routine so to speak. I am naturally a shy person so getting out in front of the farm to table attendees is exciting for me. We are always trying to use local vendors for produce for Linwood’s as well as the fresh fish when in season to create our specials.”
We arrived early to catch the staff in motion setting up for the dinner and preparing the two beautifully decorated tables where 96 people would soon gather to enjoy the evening.
Casual flowers arrangements of sunflowers, daisies, eucalyptus and purple status provided bursts of color along the long white tables. Small jars of wildflower honey from Carmel Honey Company welcomed each guest to their place setting. There’s something about a beautifully set table that evokes excitement and anticipation.
Vats of white wine chilled, bottles opened, glasses arranged, and a frenzy of activity occurred in the kitchen and prep areas. With precision, the Chaminade staff expertly pulled all the pieces together and, as the guests arrived, the makings for a perfect evening under clear Santa Cruz skies were all in place.
First Course: Reception Flat Bread, Padron Peppers, Ahi Poke, Scotch Egg, Seascape Strawberry with Blue Cheese, Sliders
As the guests arrived, they selected their choice of wine and chatted casually as an array of appetizers were passed.
From delicious strawberries with blue cheese to a mouth-watering ahi poke, the crowd loved the morsels of goodness as the reception kicked into gear. I chose to begin the evening, as I typically do, with a Sauvignon Blanc, which was delightfully crisp and bright.
As I chatted with the winemakers, Thérèse & Dan, Dan told me they use acacia wood barrels, which I found fascinating as acacia trees are what giraffes eat in the Serengeti. How cool! The conversations that occur at dinners like this are priceless.
With wines pouring, guests mingled, old friends reacquainted and new ones were made, as the fun crowd enjoyed the gorgeous late evening views at the resort which reach to Monterey Bay.
Second Course: Starter Heirloom Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella Salad
Taking seats at the communal tables, the first course of an heirloom tomato and fresh mozzarella salad arrived. A showcase of the freshness of the late summer produce, the perfectly ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella were brimming with both color and taste.
Third Course: Soup
Sun Gold Cherry Tomato Soup
A huge fan of tomato soup, I was ready and waiting for this course and it was absolutely wonderful! The soup was fresh, lively and filled with flavor.
As we progressed through the evening, our hosts addressed the group, relating their take on the farm to table experience and what it means from each of their perspectives. Dan Everett talked organic farming. Thérèse Martin brought the winemaker’s take.
And, the very talented, super nice, and uber-cool Kirsten Ponza, Food & Beverage director for Chaminade and former tour chef for the Rolling Stones, relayed Chaminade’s commitment to sustainability and toasted the crowd.
The Everetts are well-known and highly praised for their Honey Crisp Apples, so it is no surprise the fruit stole the show with this salad. The crisp, juicy apple that has a devoted, and well-deserved following, so perfectly paired with the smokey cheese and the pistachios gave the salad just the right pop of added flavor.
And, another interesting tidbit picked up from the farm to table dinner. Each of the purveyors has a “his and her” collection in addition to their joint efforts. The above-mentioned Honeycrisp is Rich Everett’s focus, while Laura targets heirloom apples for her ciders. With the Martins, each has their own wine labels, while also a combined winemaking focus.
Fifth Course: Entree
California Lamb, Oven Roasted Yukon Potato with Purple Garlic, Roasted Baby Carrots, Baby Vegetables, Syrah Reduction
Not one, but two thick, juicy pieces of lamb were the stars of the fifth course. It may have been the first time I’ve seen diners high-five over an entrée.
Served alongside Yukon potatoes, baby carrots and with a Syrah reduction, the guests were ecstatic as the dish was presented, and then a hush fell across the tables as they devoured the entrée. For the vegetarians in the group, an exquisite stuffed pepper rounded out the savory portion of the evening’s menu. Served alongside the entrée course, the Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Syrah was sublime. Luscious and spicy, it was elegant and is truly a special wine.
Sixth Course: Dessert
Who could think after all that food that we could even entertain dessert, but managed to devour the creme caramel. Rich, smooth and with great caramel flavor, it was a perfect finish to an amazing dinner!
There’s another element to any fabulous party or event – the guests!
Arriving early and staying late, the Farm to Table guests were there to enjoy the food and wine and simply have some fun – and have fun they did!
With a strong contingent from the Martin Ranch Wine Club, groups getting away for the weekend from the bay area, and Santa Cruz locals, the mix of guests made for a lively evening filled with interesting conversations and a relaxed, vibrant atmosphere.
Many of the guests have attended numerous Chaminade farm to table dinners over the years, creating an experience that feels like a comfortable dinner party given by a talented host. Guests wandered from table to table and even into the prep area, chatting frequently with the Chaminade staff and even giving some of them friendly hugs throughout the evening.
And, speaking of the staff, true hospitality is both an art and skill – and there’s one final element that must not go unmentioned.
The Chaminade staff
From our previous visit and this one, we’ve observed a culture at the resort that focuses on delivering quality in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. This culture of hospitality is more than serving good food and providing efficient service – it’s what makes the food creative & exceptional and the service not perfunctory, but flawless and generous.
The Chaminade staff delivered a perfectly orchestrated dinner, executed flawlessly. The food was amazing and the service was friendly, with needs and wants anticipated and handled with care.
High praise and thanks to all that worked so hard to make a remarkable dining experience for 96 people on a picture-perfect evening in Santa Cruz!
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Chaminade Resort & Spa for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As the crowd swayed to the soulful sounds of sax-man, Boney James, and sipped award-winning Rodney Strong wines, the 26th season of Rodney Strong Concerts kicked off in Sonoma County on June 18. A wine country summer ritual for many, including us, the concerts are well-known and well-loved for presenting top artists in an intimate setting amidst the vines. If you’ve never attended a Rodney Strong concert, or if it’s been a while since you visited, here’s why they deserve a place on your summer schedule.
Four-time Grammy nominated Boney James has an amazing stage presence and delivered a fabulous show in the early evening Sonoma summer sunshine.
Performing from his latest release, Futuresoul, along with some longtime crowd favorites, Boney continues to bring a fresh sound to his R&B and jazz style.
Backed by a phenomenal band, the clear evening sky was filled with sultry sounds and an energy that had the entire crowd participating in the experience.
Perhaps it’s the venue, perhaps it’s relaxed wine country atmosphere, but artists appear to enjoy the Rodney Strong Concerts experience almost as much as the crowd.
Having seen B.B. King, George Benson, Mindy Abair, Michael McDonald and more at the concerts of the years, each evening has always been an unforgettable experience.
After 26 years of hosting concerts, Rodney Strong has the process down. The events are professionally produced, with great sound quality and concert-goers’ needs considered and wants delivered. Local jazz radio station, KJZY sponsors the event and on-air personalities, such as Scott Mitchell, are on hand to MC the concert, enjoy the music and have been seen capturing a few shots themselves before and during the concerts.
One of our favorite concert venues anywhere, the Rodney Strong Concerts are hosted in a casual, intimate setting surrounded by vineyards. If that sounds ideal – it is and makes for a perfect summer evening!
Concert goers have the option of bringing low chairs or blankets for general admission or purchasing VIP tickets, which provide reserved seating in the front on white folding chairs provided by the winery. Regardless of which option you choose, the location is small and once the music starts, it’s all about the experience. We’ve had VIP seats up front and it was great. We’ve sat on the ground under a big shade tree and it was perfect. We’ve stood at the back for an entire evening, chatting with new friends, sipping wine, watching the crowd and grooving to the sounds – also, a fabulous evening.
Great music is only made better when a glass of amazing wine is in hand.
We usually start a summer evening with a crisp white, so we began the evening with a Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc. We fell in love with the Davis Bynum wines early this year when we were on the Rodney Strong Master Blender experience and, since then, that’s what’s in my glass many an evening.
Moving on to red, the line up was deserving of a sampling of more than one. We started with the Alexander Valley and ended the night with a bit of Symmetry.
While the winery is closed during the concert, the Rodney Strong tasting room is open daily and offers a complimentary tour of the vineyards and winery, subject to availability.
The tours are a perfect way to learn about the winery’s history and catch a behind-the-scenes view of how the wines are made, so be sure to either visit the winery earlier in the day before the concert or the following day after brunch.
The July – September Rodney Strong Concerts 2016 lineup
The legendary Smokey Robinson is next to appear in the 2016 concert series on July 23.
On August 13, Dave Koz and David Sanborn will perform together and on August 21, Huey Lewis and The News take the stage.
The B-52s close out the season on September 17.
Making the most of your Rodney Concert
Doors open an hour before showtime, however, the gates may open earlier. General admission attendees may start lining up hours before the doors open.
What not to bring
We’ll start with things not to bring to the concert since the list is shorter. No glass, video camera or alcohol can be brought into the venue. High back chairs and umbrellas are also not allowed.
What to bring
Concerts are held regardless of the weather, hot, cold, rain or shine. It can be warm, okay hot, in the late afternoon sun, so wear/bring sunscreen, comfortable clothing, and a hat. Toward the end of the show, it can cool off, so bringing a light jacket or sweater is always s a good plan. Bring a rain jacket if rain is in the forecast.
For those in the general admission area, chair legs cannot be taller than 12 inches and the overall chair should not exceed a maximum height of 32 inches. Otherwise, bring a blanket to sit on.
Water is provided free during the concert, so bring a plastic cup or water bottle (no glass) to fill. Coolers, ice, food and non-alcoholic beverages can be brought into the concert area. Beverages, including wine, can be purchased on site and local food vendors are on hand. Rodney Strong’s beverage sales locations accept cash or credit cards. The food vendors typically only accept cash.
Rodney Strong Vineyards is located at 11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Rodney Strong Vineyards for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
We visit San Francisco every few months and, while it has a firm grasp on the #1 spot as our favorite city in the United States, it is expensive. When overnight hotel parking runs $50, a couple of martinis $30, and a bowl of soup $10, a chance to save some money without compromising on the experience is always welcomed.
Having discovered CityPASS while in Chicago, which saved us both time and money, we now begin destination planning with CityPASS at the same time we book the hotel and other travel arrangements. While CityPASS always saves on top museums and attractions, in San Francisco, there’s another really big advantage – CityPASS includes a week’s worth of Muni transportation, including riding the cable cars.
Saving 49% (or more) with CityPASS San Francisco
CityPASS calculates the savings for each city by taking the regular price of a ticket if you purchased it at the attraction, adding all the tickets provided together, and subtracting the cost of the CityPASS booklet. For San Francisco, that works out as…
A 7-day cable car and MUNI pass – $40
California Academy of Sciences – $34.95
Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure – $30
A choice of the Exploratorium at $29.95 or the de Young Museum at $10
A choice of the Monterey Bay Aquarium at $49.95 or the Aquarium of the Bay at $29.95
The CityPASS booklet runs $94. If you go to all of the highest priced attractions, it would cost $184.85, so that’s a 49% savings. Even when you choose the least expensive options, as we did, it is still a 35% savings over purchasing the attractions individually at the regular price. However, a single one-way cable car ride is $7 and it costs $2.25 for one Muni bus or rail fare, so you can imagine how fast the CityPASS savings rack up versus just hitting the streets and hopping on and off cable cars and buses as you work your way around San Francisco.
CityPASS San Francisco attractions
7-day Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport
No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on an iconic cable car. Invented in San Francisco in 1873 by Andrew Smith Hallidie, the beloved cable cars are both an attraction and a means of transportation and San Francisco has three lines…
California Street Cable Car Line, which runs east/west from Van Ness Avenue to the Financial District
Powell-Hyde, which transports passengers back and forth from Ghiradelli Square to Market Street
Powell-Mason, which runs between Fisherman’s Wharf and Market Street.
The F Line of streetcars also travel along the Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro District. For the rest of the city, a network of Muni buses, light rail vehicles, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, and electric trolley coaches get you where you want to go.
CityPASS includes a seven-day Muni pass, so once you’ve exchanged your CityPASS voucher for a CityPASS booklet, simply show the booklet as you enter any cable car, streetcar or other Muni method of transportation and have a seat.
California Academy of Sciences
Home to nearly 40,000 animals, the California Academy of Sciences is a museum, an aquarium, a planetarium and it even has a rainforest. As you climb the ramp of the glass-enclosed four-story rainforest, butterflies and birds fly, frogs chirp and huge fish swim below. Other museum highlights include the Steinhart Aquarium, a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, the African Hall, the Foucault pendulum, the world’s deepest indoor living coral reef, the Shake House earthquake simulator, a colony of African penguins, and an 87-foot-long blue whale skeleton.
The CityPASS booklet includes general admission to all of the California Academy of Sciences exhibits. The museum was the first attraction we visited, but the CityPASS booklet vouchers don’t have to be used in any specific order, just sometime within 9 days of their first use.
Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
There’s no better way to experience the City by the Bay than to head out on the bay on a cruise. CityPASS has a couple of Blue & Gold Cruise Adventures options – a one-hour bay cruise or a spin around the bay aboard the RocketBoat, a thirty-minute speedboat thrill ride.
We opted for the bay cruise, which leaves from Pier 39, sails to the Golden Gate Bridge, then turns back and passes by Alcatraz, before heading back into port. The narrated ride is a wonderful way to view and photograph the San Francisco skyline, the waterfront, the Rock, and the Golden Gate up close and underneath. The Blue & Gold Cruise Adventures are large and have both indoor and outdoor seating. Reservations are not taken; simply present the CityPASS voucher at theBlue & Gold Cruise ticket booth at Pier 39, select the time of the cruise, and you receive a boarding pass for the cruise.
Exploratorium or de Young Museum
The next option was to visit either the Exploratorium or the de Young Museum. We opted for the de Young, as the Exploratorium was closed on Mondays, the day we had scheduled for Embarcadero & Fisherman’s Wharf activities.
The de Young, which is located directly across from the California Academy of Sciences, is a beautiful museum and CityPASS admission also includes access to Hamon Tower at the Young, as well as entrance to the Legion of Honor at Lincoln Park. Together, the two museums form the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, home to one of the largest art collections in California.
The de Young’s collections include over 27,000 works of art with American art from the 17th to the 21st centuries, photography, paintings, costumes, textiles, and art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Also located at the Young, Hamon Observation Tower offers 360-degree views of San Francisco. The Legion of Honor showcases over 124,000 works of art and is well-known for its European collections of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts.
What did we miss? The Exploratorium, which is located at Pier 15 and is a place of exploration – as the name would imply – and home to the glass-and-steel Bay Observatory and numerous science, art, and human perception exhibits. If you have the time, here’s how you can experience both the de Young and the Exploratorium for only a few more dollars. In the back of the CityPASS booklet, there’s a page labeled, “CityPASS Coupon” with a heading “Why choose one attraction when you can see both?” The Exploratorium is regularly priced $29.95, so use the CityPASS voucher for that attraction. Admission to the de Young is only $10 – a bargain because it is a stunning museum. But, with the coupon page, you get $2 off, so it’s only $8.
Aquarium of the Bay or Monterey Bay Aquarium
The next choice is either the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 in San Francisco or the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, which is a couple of hours away. We love Monterey, and if you have the opportunity to add on a day or two to your San Francisco visit, the Monterey Bay Aquarium should definitely be on your agenda.
However, if you want to stay in the city, Aquarium Bay is awesome. Visitors walk through 300 feet of clear tunnels while viewing over 20,000 marine animals native to the San Francisco Bay area. Sharks and rays swim overhead and inches from you in the tunnels – it feels like you are diving or snorkeling, but without getting wet! At the Touch the Bay exhibit, you can touch sharks, rays and sea stars and then watch the river otters play. A very cool place to visit, the CityPASS booklet provides general admission entrance to the aquarium.
CityPASS San Francisco – Is it worth it?
Always a fan of CityPASS for saving money, in San Francisco it makes even more sense because of the 7 day Muni pass. A 7 day Muni pass is $40 so that only leaves $54 in admission fees to break even. If you plan to do at least two of the more expensive attractions, like a bay cruise, you should definitely look into getting a CityPASS.
Where do you get a CityPASS San Francisco?
You can purchase a CityPASS voucher on the CityPASS website that can be exchanged for a booklet at any of the attractions, you can have the CityPASS booklet mailed to you or you can purchase a CityPASS booklet at any of the attractions when you visit.
Disclosure & disclaimer: We received complimentary CityPASS San Francisco booklets for this review. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Driving up Laguna Road toward Martin Ray Winery, the first thing you’ll notice is a water tower soaring high above the vines against a perfect Sonoma sky. As you turn down the long drive, vibrant flowers and olive trees welcome you to the beautiful, historic winery just west of Santa Rosa.
While we’d tasted Martin Ray’s wines over the years, this was our first visit to the winery and we quickly realized we’d uncovered a gem. Serene and lavishly landscaped, the winery is one of those where you grab a glass, find a chair near the vines or a table next to the gardens, and casually enjoy the wine country experience.
We visited on a Saturday afternoon during Grill 116, a tasting event hosted by 12 wineries along Route 116 in West Sonoma County where attendees sampled their way through wines and grilled specialties along the route.
As visitors meandered about, enjoying the food, wines and a glorious Sonoma afternoon, we caught up with Andy Barker, Director of Consumer Sales & Hospitality, who gave us a tour and shared a bit of the winery’s history along the way – and quite a history it does have.
The oldest continually operating winery in Sonoma County
Oh, the stories the vineyards surrounding the winery could tell. Martin Ray is the oldest continuously operating winery in Sonoma County and one of the oldest in all of California.
Back in 1881, Twin Fir Winery set up a vineyard and winery on this spot in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. In 1902, an Italian immigrant, Rafael Martini, purchased the winery and, in the years following, Martini further developed the estate, building a stable and bunk house where Italian immigrants stayed during harvest. Today, the Martin Ray Tasting Room is housed in this very structure.
Tanks were crafted from old-growth redwood in 1904 and, soon thereafter, Martini turned the operations over to his sons. The Martinis produced wines that put the winery on the map. Enduring prohibition by producing sacramental wines, the winery survived and the Martinis resumed making wines for the public after it was repealed in 1933.
In 1950, Enrico Prati joined the Martini family, and the new Martini & Prati label produced wines at the location until the winery was sold to Courtney Benham in 2003.
Courtney Benham brings Martin Ray Wines to Sonoma County
One of the reasons I love visiting a winery is hearing the history of the vineyard, the winemakers and the winery while walking the grounds and tasting the wine. Somehow, from then on, when the wine fills your glass, the provenance, the terroir, and the winery visit converge in your glass along with the juice, bringing the wine country experience to you as you taste the wine, wherever you may be in the world.
By the time Courtney Benham acquired the Martini & Prati location in 2003, the winery had seen better days and was on the decline. Benham, who had acquired the rights to the Martin Ray brand in 1990, purchased the Martini & Prati vineyards and winery in 2003 and set about renovating the property, bringing it to modern standards, while still embracing its history and tradition.
Today, the winery is a great example of form and function coexisting. The beautiful barrel room serves as a stunning backdrop to parties and events but, when harvest rolls around, the tables are cleared out and the room is used as a production facility.
State of the art storage facilities are housed in buildings that once were home to over 1.5 million gallons of the old redwood storage tanks. Utilizing a variety of production equipment and fermentation methods, the Martin Ray winemakers have at their disposal the tools required to produce the award-winning, artisanal wines for which they are known and respected.
Leaving the barrel rooms and production facilities, we wandered over to the serene setting of the pavilion located under the water tower, which is available for corporate retreats and also used for winery events, such as wine under the stars evenings.
Speaking of wine, it was time to do some more tasting – next stop, the tasting room.
The Martin Ray tasting room
Welcomed by a knowledgeable and friendly staff, the low-key tasting room is just what you’d expect in such an inviting atmosphere.
Martin Ray Wines
We’d tasted the Russian River Valley Chardonnay & Rosé during our tour and we really liked both wines and decided to also try/take home a few of the limited release wines. For our chardonnay choice, we selected the 2014 Mill Station Vineyard-Dutton Ranch Chardonnay from Green Valley.
While I’m generally not a chardonnay fan, Greg is, so we try to find chardonnays that appeal to both our tastes. This one fit the bill, refreshing and not too oaky, with a richness and clean finish. As far as the rosé – we’d loved the 2015 Estate Grown Rosé. Bone dry, complex, crisp – just a perfect summer wine.
Next up, the 2013 Puccioni Vineyard Dry Creek Zinfandel. Robust with an earthy tone and nicely balanced. Liked it, and in the box it went.
Time to get serious, we moved on to the 2013 Martin Ray Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. A truly special wine, the Cab was full bodied, rich and simply divine. This one was a definite purchase and probably will make an appearance around the holidays.
Martin Ray has a small quantity of older vintages available in their library collection. Highly-praised by fans and pros alike, you can also find Martin Ray wines on many quality restaurant wine lists.
Certified Sommelier and general manager of Boulder, Colorado’s L’Atelier, Ryan Hull explains why he regularly features Martin Ray wines in the restaurant:
Martin Ray was legendary…one of the first to bring the French philosophies of wine making and vineyard management to California. The proof is in the pudding. This is apparent from the juice in the glass.
I was recently pouring the 2007 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass and nearly every customer opted for a second. Amazing vintage, incredible complexity and luscious fruit.”
– Ryan Hull, CS & GM, L’Atelier
Visiting Martin Ray
Getting there: Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery is located on the quieter side of the 101, about 10 miles west of downtown Santa Rosa. The address is 2191 Laguna Road, Santa Rosa, California 95401.
Hours: The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Book a tour or reserve a box lunch in advance. The winery welcomes visitors to pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful gardens while having lunch or, call two days in advance to order a box lunch for your visit. A variety of tours and tastings are available and can be reserved on the Martin Ray website.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
The 2016 Amgen Tour of California began in San Diego, California Sunday, May 15 and wrapped up nearly 800 miles later in Sacramento on Sunday, May 22. Along the route from south to north, the riders climbed mountains, traveled the beautiful Hwy 1 along the California coastline and visited majestic Lake Tahoe.
In the end, a 23-year-old Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, took home the yellow jersey, something he’d had in his possession since winning the third stage of the race and taking over the race lead in Santa Barbara County.
A couple of days before the race began, a select group of riders met with the press at the San Diego Yacht Club. A beautiful setting, the San Diego Yacht Club dates back to 1886, when local boating enthusiasts formed the club, which has been located at its current location in Point Loma since 1924.
Pre-race press conferences typically include race official speeches, sponsor promotions, local celebrity cyclists and, of course, a handful of the cyclists riding the race.
It was an all-star lineup of cyclists including 2012 Tour de France winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, Julian Alaphilippe, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, and Taylor Phinney. Chatting under the California sun, the riders answered questions and bantered amongst themselves in the relaxed southern California atmosphere.
A day off followed the press conference, then it was time for the race to begin its journey toward the north.
San Diego stage 1 circuit
The 108 mile Stage 1 began at Mission Bay, traveled through Balboa Park and various San Diego neighborhoods, moved to the nearby hills east of the city, then returned to a finish a couple of miles from the start, near Sea World.
Seven riders quickly pulled off the front of the peloton, maintaining about a four minute lead on the peloton for the majority of the day. We spent the day in a media car in the peloton, near the breakaway group of riders.
As with most breakaways, it fell apart near the end, with 2015 Amgen Tour of California winner, Peter Sagan of Tinkoff taking the stage 1 win.
I’m very happy to be here again, to catch a first victory here, in the first stage. Thank you to all my teammates. Today was a good day. I came here the first time in 2010…it was a very nice race, very good organization, very nice hotels, food. Also, the level of the race is very good, and it’s also very good for preparation because it’s good weather. Now it’s the Giro and Tour of California. And I prefer to come here to train and prepare. And also I like California for the fans, and I’ve won a lot of stages here, and I’m very happy always to return here.”
– Peter Sagan
Stage 2: South Pasadena to Santa Clarita
Day two began in South Pasadena near Rose Bowl Stadium, the site of the finish of the 2015 race. Located only six miles from downtown Los Angeles, South Pasadena is a picturesque community in San Gabriel Valley known for its tree-lined streets and historic homes.
Leaving South Pasadena, the riders spent the day covering 92 miles that included visits to Big Tujunga and Little Tujunga Canyon in Angeles National Forest, before ending in Santa Clarita, which has hosted the most stages in the history of the race.
Remember the above statement from stage one that most breakaways fall don’t make it to the finish? Yeah, well, sometimes they do.
Ben King (Cannondale) and Evan Huffman (Rally) survived the stage 2 breakaway with King taking the win in Santa Clarita. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) took third along with the peloton 8 seconds later.
The win also placed King in the overall race lead, taking the yellow jersey from Peter Sagan heading into stage 3.
I knew Evan was a pretty quick sprinter. He smoked me in both of the King of the Mountain sprints, so I was hesitant to let it come down to a sprint, but I couldn’t drop him on the climb, so in the end we both fully committed to make the breakaway stick to the finish, and in the end, Evan let out the sprint, and I was able to come around him in the finish.”
– Ben King
South to Central California
Stage 3: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County
Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) dominated on the Queen Stage of the Amgen Tour of California, taking the win on Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara County and the overall race lead.
The goal at the start of the day was to be in a good position in the final kilometers and I was there thanks to the hard work of my teammates, who protected me throughout the day. I felt good, left it late to attack and from then on put in a strong effort. Now I’m in yellow, which is great, and I’m prepared to take things day by day.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step
The race finished for the first time on the legendary Gibraltar Road, with the final 12 kilometers ascending at an average 8% grade.
At 10 kilometers to go, the day’s break had dissolved and the peloton began to fracture. Neilson Powless (Axeon Cycling) pulled away from the main group, riding solo for several kilometers, until he was joined by Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) and Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly).
With three kilometers remaining in the race, Stetina attacked. Alaphilippe quickly bridged to Stetina from the main group, then continued on, passing him enroute to the finish and the stage 3 win.
Stetina finished the day in second place, as well as in the overall race, and now sits 19 seconds back.
George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) was third for the day, which moved him into third place in the general classification, 31 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
I’m happy with my performance today. I didn’t know how my condition would be because I was sick in the spring classics. I want to thank the boys for their help today and the team for the possibility to train in Colorado to build up again.”
– George Bennett
Stage 4: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) picked up another win at stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey County. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was second and Nathan Haas (Dimension Data).
“I’m feeling pretty good after that stage. It would have better if we could have won a stage already but in the end it was a good day for us and I’m pretty happy with my form after coming back from my crash in Flanders. I think Brent and Rohan had a really good day in GC and everything went pretty well.
For me, on the uphill sections I tried to follow as if you know there is a good finish for you, you can always hang on longer. So, I tried to get over the climbs and the team did a really good job today keeping the pace pretty high. In the end, there was a little bit of gambling about how the finish would go. I’ve beaten [Peter] Sagan a few times already but this time he won so next time I will have to try and beat him again.”
– Greg Van Avermaet, BMC Racing Team
Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) retained the overall lead, now 22 seconds in front of Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) and 37 seconds ahead of George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo).
Stage 5: Lodi to Lake Tahoe
Toms Skujins (Cannondale) survived the breakaway to win stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California at Heavenly Mountain in South Lake Tahoe. Adam De Vos (Rally) was second and Xabier Zandio (Team Sky) was third.
To get into the break, you have to try at least a couple of times. I knew that the altitude was going to make people suffer, and I knew that even if it wasn’t the steepest hills that the race would be blown to bits. It was a good day for the breakaway. I was really happy I could get into the move, and of course, I was happy to take out the win.”
– Toms Skujins
No change in the top of General Classification, with Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) holding onto the overall race lead by 22 seconds over Peter Stetina (Trek Segfredo) heading into the stage 6 time trial in Folsom.
Stage 6: Folsom Individual Time Trial
Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) won the stage 6 time trial in Folsom with a time of 24 minutes 16 seconds, but Julian Alaphilippe remains in yellow. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) was second at the ITT and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) was third.
I was fairly confident as I crossed the line that I had set the quickest time for the rest of the race. I was in a fair bit of pain, the main thing I remember was that I had that taste of metallic in my mouth for the last four or five kilometers from the lactate so it was good to get a drink and wash that out.
The wind was definitely getting stronger and stronger throughout the day which actually played into our favor a little bit with Alaphilippe because he is a smaller rider and would have been blown around a little bit more. In the end it didn’t make too much of a difference with the stage win, that was my goal for the day as well as trying to take time out. So, it was still a good day, even if we didn’t get the yellow jersey.”
– Rohan Dennis
The ride moved Dennis into second place in the overall standings, now 16 seconds behind Alaphilippe with two stages remaining. Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team) is in third 38 seconds back.
Of course I’m really happy, and a small surprise for me to stay in yellow today, because the time trial is not really my specialty.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step
Stage 7: Santa Rosa to Sacramento
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Team) took the stage 7 victory in Santa Rosa, edging out Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky).
We had to chase hard and still in the end Peter Sagan was right there with me even though he had been out there by himself all that time. Unbelievable. I was happy to be able to hold him off. I think if he had saved some energy from earlier he would have beaten me. I had wanted to see how I felt after the climbs before I put my team to work, but once we came across the last one I could tell I was OK. I was tired, but I knew everyone else was also tired. The guys all did such a good job. It’s always good to finish it off with a win and it shows I am going the right way for the Tour de France.”
– Alexander Kristoff, Katusha Team
Julian Alaphlippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) held on to his overall lead, which should send him to the race win at stage 8 in Sacramento.
Reflecting on the 2016 race, Alaphilippe recognized the importance of his time trial performance in his overall success, while pointing to his stage 3 victory on Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara county as the highlight:
Victory is always something special. Yesterday was a good performance for me because I’m really not a specialist and I never train with my TT (time trial) bike….I know for only 20k’s (kilometers), I can do something good.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step
Stage 8: Sacramento
Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step) became the youngest winner of the Amgen Tour of California, winning the 2016 race in Sacramento at the age of 23.
It was stressful today, because everyone wanted to stay at the front and fought for a better position. Usually, I’m not nervous, but today things were different, as the victory was closer and closer. Thankfully, I had a powerful team around me, which was always in charge, and as soon as Tom Boonen hit the front with me safely tucked behind him, it was like being on a holiday. Now, we’ll celebrate the win, but once we will return home, I’ll be back on my bike, training and looking to further improve.”
– Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx – Quick-Step
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) picked up the final stage win of the race, edging out Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Team) for the win in a sprint finish.
Its been a tough week, Nathan was third the other day, but we really wanted to get this stage win. It was a windy day, so we had to take on the race. The guys rode out of their skins, Jacques rode the whole day on the front, and then everyone was just really going for it. We had to use our whole lead-out to catch the break, so in the end it was a bit a case of free styling. I was on Sagan’s wheel and know this finish really well. I’ve won here before and knew that, if was in the right position I should win here.”
– Mark Cavendish, Dimension Data
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Quietly tucked away amongst the vineyards just off the 101, Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa treats guests to a luxurious and relaxing wine country retreat when visiting Sonoma.
A four-diamond luxury hotel owned by Don and Rhonda Carano of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, the wine country inn exudes casual elegance.
Our Vintner’s Inn stay was in conjunction with the Rodney Strong Master Blender experience, one of our all-time most enjoyable adventures, with fabulous wine, amazing food, vineyard visits led by the winery’s viticulturist, sessions with Rodney Strong’s winemakers to learn about the winemaking process, a blending seminar led by Rodney Strong’s head winemaker, and luxurious accommodations at Vintner’s Inn.
As we opened the door to our upstairs fireplace room, sunlight flooded into the warm, inviting spot we would call home during our time in Sonoma wine country.
With a big Cal King bed outfitted with a featherbed and down bedding, two overstuffed chairs, an electric fireplace, flat screen TV, desk, a small refrigerator, and a complimentary half bottle of wine, the spacious room was a delightful haven.
French doors led to the balcony with a table and chairs that overlooked the gardens – and prompted me to pop a bottle of wine into the fridge for late afternoon enjoyment.
The large bathroom with a vanity separated from the shower and tub was furnished with white fluffy towels, olive oil themed toiletries and bathrobes.
Arriving early afternoon, we had plenty of time to explore the hotel before dinner.
The 44 rooms and suites at Vintner’s Inn are set in three buildings encircling a fountain and connected by brick pathways.
Such a beautiful Sonoma afternoon behooved a stroll, so we set out on the two-mile hiking and jogging path that winds through the 92 acres of vineyards.
Along the way, we met up with some local residents, who seemed to be enjoying the gorgeous weather as much as we were.
Arriving back at the hotel, we stopped by the Bocce ball court – a beautiful area with an assortment of tables and chairs under towering redwoods.
Quiet enclaves are scattered about the lavishly landscaped gardens and courtyards, perfect for sharing a glass of wine, stories from the day, and plans for the next.
For those that don’t believe a day of wine tasting is a form of exercise, a fitness center is located near the edge of the vineyards, along side a hot tub and lounge chairs.
Arriving back at our room, the wine was chilled, the doors of the balcony were open, and it was time to enjoy a bottle of Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay. Cheers!
The restaurants and bar
John Ash & Co. and the Front Room Bar & Lounge
When we lived in Santa Rosa briefly a few years back, we’d become frequent patrons of John Ash & Co. and the Front Room Bar & Lounge. It quickly became our go-to-spot for happy hours, birthdays, holidays – any excuse is a good one to head to John Ash.
A showcase of the best of Northern California cuisine, John Ash & Co. prepares fresh, local, creative food in a gorgeous setting.
From appetizers in the Front Room (the rosemary nuts and fish tacos are amazing) to dining excellence at John Ash & Co., the restaurant delivers some of the best food found in Sonoma County.
After an amazing evening at John Ash, only made more enjoyable by dining with the Rodney Strong team including winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld, we walked back to our room admiring how pretty the grounds at Vintner’s Inn look in the evening.
Vintner’s Inn Café
After enjoying our morning coffee from the coffee service, which is available in each of the hotel buildings every morning, we headed over to the hotel’s main building for breakfast.
A great place to have a coffee or tea, read, or spend time with friends, the lobby has multiple seating areas in a cozy environment.
Various items are available for sale in the lobby, such as hats, cookbooks, and the estate’s award-winning olive oil.
Also located in the lobby is the Vintner’s Inn Café, which serves breakfast weekdays and brunch on the weekend.
Diners can enjoy a wide variety of breakfast specialties and beverages to start their day in the cheerful indoor dining room or on the heated terrace overlooking the gardens.
Vintner’s Inn is located in Santa Rosa, California. From the 101, take the River Road exit and head west to Barnes Road. Turn left on Barnes Road and Vintner’s Inn is on the left.
Vintner’s Inn, Santa Rosa
Location: 4350 Barnes Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Design: Italian architecture set in Northern California wine country
Rooms: With the exception of service animals, pets are not allowed.
Toiletries: CALI from Italy
Additional services and amenities: On-site Event Center with private banquet rooms and full-service banquet kitchen that can accommodate small groups, meetings with up to 300 participants, and receptions of up to 500 guests.
WiFi: Free in lobby and public areas, for a fee in rooms
Restaurants & bars: John Ash & Co., Front Room Bar & Lounge, Vintner’s Inn Café
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Rodney Strong Vineyards for hosting us as their guest for the Rodney Strong Master Blender Experience. The content & opinions expressed in our Vintner’s Inn Santa Rosa review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Sierra at Tahoe is a resort that covers both ends of the skiing continuum, from beginner to expert and everything in between.
Gentle green runs, a great ski school, over 100 acres of terrain dedicated to beginners, and four beginner-only surface lifts make Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort a popular destination for those just getting started on the hill.
Top notch tree skiing and 320 acres of expert level backcountry terrain at Huckleberry Canyon have accomplished riders and skiers heading to the resort with frequency.
Anything for intermediates? Half the trails are rated blue, with a wide selection of groomers of varying grades and plenty of fresh corduroy.
Sierra at Tahoe: Skiing and snowboarding
With 2,000 acres and a 2,212 ft vertical drop, Sierra at Tahoe’s 46 trails cover some ground across the mountain.
Three high-speed quads, five cozy doubles, and one triple whisk skiers and boarders up the mountain, with several separate areas on the mountain primarily defined by how they are accessed: Grandview, Huckleberry Canyon, Backside, Nob Hill and the West Bowl.
The Grand View Express lift, located behind the ski school, serves the east side of the mountain, delivering skiers and riders to spectacular views of Lake Tahoe.
At the top of the lift, 360 Smokehouse BBQ is a great spot to grab lunch, head up to the rooftop deck for a photo opp of the lake, and check out Huckleberry Canyon.
On the front side of the hill, skiers and riders will find a wide variety of terrain including bumps, groomers, and glades.
Just under the Grand View lift are some nice advanced runs or for a gliding groomer, head off toward the west to tackle the longest run on the mountain, Sugar n’ Spice, a 2.5 mile green run that winds down from the top of Grand View Express all the way to the lodge.
The Huckleberry Gates
A short hike from the top of the Grandview lift, the Huckleberry Canyon backcountry terrain can be accessed from five gates.
The 320 acres of Huckleberry Canyon delivers some of the most challenging inbounds backcountry skiing and boarding at Lake Tahoe.
With cliff drops, chutes, bowls, glades, and cornices, it’s steep, it’s deep, and it’s definitely an experts-only adventure.
For two days, more than 50 of the top freeride skiers and snowboarders from around the world competed for Freeride World Tour qualifying points and a share of $5000 in prize money. It was an awesome display of tricks, thrills, and spills on the natural, rugged terrain. Be sure and mark your calendars for the annual event!
Heading off the back of the mountain from the Grandview lift, the Backside has some fun trails and is home to Sierra at Tahoe’s boarder cross features. Located on the south side of the mountain, the sunny Backside is best skied in the morning once spring rolls around.
Popular with riders of all levels, Nob Hill departs near the base area and delivers skiers and riders to a variety of challenges, including access to the very wide and somewhat steep intermediate run, Lower Main, that ends in the base area.
Moving to the west side of the mountain, West Bowl is a great place for intermediate and advanced skiers to play.
The high speed quad, West Bowl Express, accesses terrain ranging from long, fast cruisers to beautiful glade runs amidst the magnificent Red Fir trees for which Sierra at Tahoe is so well known.
Sierra at Tahoe has six terrain parks, the Smokey BoarderX course, and a halfpipe.
Designed with an emphasis on advancing skill levels in appropriate conditions, Sierra’s Burton Progression Park was created with first-timers in mind. From there, freestylers can tackle jumps, boxes, rails and build their trick repertoire at the various parks located throughout the resort.
The kiddos love Sierra at Tahoe’s on-mountain themed adventure zones. With animated characters, educational signs and pint-sized terrain features, children are entertained as they learn their way around the snow.
Sierra at Tahoe Ski school
Along with a highly-friendly environment for those just finding their way around the slopes, Sierra at Tahoe has a great ski and snowboard school for riders of all ages and all abilities.
Parents rave about the Wild Mountain children’s program, which both gets kids on skis and entertains them at the same time. Located next to the Main Lodge, programs are grouped by age and ability and are designed to encourage children’s love of the sport and their progression through skill levels.
Sierra at Tahoe: Dining & drinking
Sierra has some tasty options for dining and drinking, both on-mountain and at the lodge…
At the Main Lodge & Solstice Plaza
Java Junction – Serving a wide variety of coffee selections, as well as breakfast and lunch items
Mama’s Kitchen – With fare from breakfast burritos to soups, sandwiches, pizza and mac and cheese
Aspen Café – Grilled items and a variety of lunch options served with one hour of free WiFi access
Golden Bear Terrace – Located outside the Main Lodge, specializing in burgers, sandwiches, craft beers and goggle tans
Solstice Eatery – Specializing in tasty wraps, salads and whole wheat and gluten-free pizzas
Sierra Pub & Deli – Serving sandwiches, nachos, and pizza – a great spot for après with live music, happy hour specials and “local bar” atmosphere.
And perhaps the best beer bargain around – join the Sierra Pub Club and get happy hour prices all day long.
Baja Grill – At the foot of the West Bowl Express, the spot for fresh fish tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tacos
360° Smokehouse BBQ – Located at the top of the Grandview lift at 8,852 feet, specializing in soups, BBQ and stunning Tahoe views (they have a veggie burger as well)
Where to stay
A wide variety of hotels and resorts are available in South Lake Tahoe which is about 17 miles from Sierra at Tahoe.
The complimentary South Shore Shuttle provides transportation from South Lake Tahoe to Sierra at Tahoe – shuttle times and information can be found on the Sierra at Tahoe website or by calling 530-659-7453.
Getting to Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Sierra at Tahoe’s address is 1111 Sierra at Tahoe Road, Twin Bridges, CA 95735.
Sierra at Tahoe is located 74 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, from the Reno Tahoe airport. From Sacramento, Sierra at Tahoe is 91 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, on Highway 50.
From the San Francisco airport (SFO), Sierra at Tahoe is 188 miles or about 3 1/2 hours.
Know before you go
Check on the Sierra at Tahoe website for discounts before you head to Sierra at Tahoe – the resort is known year after year for affordable lift tickets and great discounts on first timer lessons.
Reserve lessons and day care in advance. The kids programs are very popular, so reserve a spot for the little ones in advance. On the day of the lesson, drop off parking is available directly in front of the school.
Plan on traffic on the weekends and holidays. Sierra at Tahoe draws a big Sacramento and Bay area crowd, so arrive early to spend more time on the slopes and less in your car. Or, better yet, come midweek for no lift lines and plenty of untouched pow.
The content & opinions expressed in our Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
On a bluebird Saturday morning just south of Lake Tahoe, more than 50 top freeride skiers and snowboarders from around the world gathered in Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra-at-Tahoe to compete in the first Sierra-at-Tahoe Huck Cup.
The 2 star International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA)/Free World Qualifier (FWQ) had the top-tier athletes pulling out their best tricks at the two-day event held February 26-27. The top finishers earned qualifying points for the Freeride World Tour and shared $5000 in prize money.
The Freeride World Tour consists of a series of skiing and snowboarding events where freeride athletes compete on natural, rugged terrain at legendary freeride venues in Europe, North America, South America and Oceania.
Held in what was formerly an out-of-bounds area, Huckleberry Canyon is now 320 acres of steep and deep inbounds terrain with chutes, glades, boulders and precipitous drops accessed via five gates at the summit of Sierra-at-Tahoe.
How tough is it? Standing on the ridge looking down at the massive rocks jutting out from the snow will get your heart pounding. Heading over its steep edge in a plummeting descent, navigating spines, flying over cliffs and tackling the canyon’s rugged curves – calling it intense is an understatement; insane is probably more accurate. It’s definitely something straight out of an extreme skiing flick and it puts the expert in expert terrain.
During the inspection period before the competition began, riders tossed snowballs over the edge looking for a line and could be overheard discussing their strategies for attack with a combination a subdued nervousness and excitement.
The women snowboarders and skiers kicked off the day, followed by the men in both categories.
The riders brought their best big mountain riding skills, with thrills, spills and some highly-creative approaches to tackling the snow-covered rock face.
Throughout the day, spectators took in the action from points around the canyon ridge and on the rooftop deck at the 360° Smokehouse, cheering on the riders under the warm, early-spring skies.
Are you a fan of big mountain skiing with no lift lines? Then Kirkwood Ski Resort is the place to go. With 2,000 feet of vertical drop from a summit of 9,800 feet/2987 meters and 2,300 acres of terrain, Kirkwood delivers a day of challenges, adventure, and pure skiing pleasure.
But, don’t let the term “big mountain” make you think Kirkwood isn’t a great spot for all levels. Kirkwood has plenty of diverse terrain for skiers and boarders of all levels, from gentle greens, to wide blue groomers, to legendary steep chutes and cornices.
Kirkwood’s high elevation also delivers some of the driest skiing in the west, creating plentiful powder stashes throughout the mountain.
A bit off the beaten path, Kirkwood is located 80 miles south of Reno and 34 miles south of South Lake Tahoe – a little extra drive that is rewarded with less crowds, great skiing and boarding, and an unpretentious atmosphere.
Kirkwood Ski Resort: Skiing and snowboarding
Starting with the beginners’ areas, 12% of Kirkwood’s trails are rated green and are primarily located near each of the base areas off of the Snowkirk and Bunny lifts. Kirkwood’s greens are gentle and the terrain near the Bunny lift is all green, making it a perfect environment for novices to gain skills and confidence without dodging faster, higher level riders.
For intermediate skiers, 30% of the runs are blue, with most of the trails spread across the resort at the mid-mountain level. A great intermediate plan of attack – take the Snowkirk lift out of the Village, then turn left and head over to the Caples Crest lift.
At the top of Caples Crest, take Herringbone Straight off the back, then head up the Chair 4/Sunrise lift. Enjoy the stunning views as the sun begins to warm the day, then head down Elevator Shaft or my favorite, Happiness Is.
After a morning of play near the Sunrise lift, the Sunrise Grill is a great on-mountain spot to grab a burger and a beverage, soak up some rays in one of the Adirondack chairs, and marvel at the views.
When you are ready to explore further, take the Ironhorse lift to connect to any of the blues back to the Village, then hop aboard Solitude.
At the top of the Solitude lift, turn right and then watch for Home Run on the left on the descent, which will deliver you to the Timber Creek Base Area.
The tree-lined trails off the Timber Creek lift are an intermediate playground, with multiple blue trails and loads of tree skiing fun.
Famous for its advanced (38%) and expert (20%) terrain, Kirkwood has it all for skiers and snowboarders looking for a true challenge.
From chutes, to cornices, to glades and bowls, Kirkwood has some jaw-dropping descents. That said – expert is really expert at Kirkwood, so don’t underestimate the extreme terrain and overdo it, putting yourself and others at risk.
Kirkwood has two terrain parks – Bandit at Timber Creek (closed for the 2015-2016 season) for beginner-level boxes, jumps and rails and Outlaw off the Solitude lift, with three box and rail features and three table top jumps.
How about some cross-country skiing? Kirkwood boasts 80 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails amidst fabulous scenery – even a one-kilometer loop adorned with animal cutouts called the “Kiddy Kilometer.” The cross-country center is located near the Kirkwood Inn and offers lessons as well as equipment rentals.
Ski and ride school
The Kirkwood Ski & Ride School is a great place to begin a visit to Kirkwood. With lessons available for beginners, intermediates, and experts, even a one day lesson provides tips and tricks that enhance your time on the snow.
In addition to the ski school, Kirkwood offers online equipment rental, a demo center, a tuning center and ski shops at both villages with a full range of equipment from skis and boards, to boots, to soft goods.
Kirkwood Ski Resort: Dining & drinking
A variety of shops, restaurants, and bars are located around and on the mountain, providing a wide variety of choices whether you’re seeking something to grab and go or a slopeside patio.
In addition to the Sunrise Grill, one of our favorites is Off the Wall in the village, with an authentic lodge feel indoors or spectacular views on the patio. Try the blackened shrimp and avocado quesadillas – they are tasty!
Where to stay
Accommodations near Kirkwood are primarily townhouses and condominiums rented through property management companies and/or the owners. A wide selection of hotels are available in South Lake Tahoe, which is located about 55 minutes away. If staying at South Lake Tahoe, be sure to check into the Kirkwood shuttle that provides roundtrip transportation for $20.
Getting to Kirkwood and parking
Kirkwood’s address is 1501 Kirkwood Meadows Drive, Kirkwood, CA 95646.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort is located 80 miles from the Reno Tahoe airport, or about 1 hour 40 minutes. From South Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood is 34 miles or about 55 minutes. From San Francisco (SFO), Kirkwood is 184 miles or about 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Understand the symptoms of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness most commonly occurs above 8,000 feet/2400 meters due to the lower oxygen levels. If you live at a lower elevation and travel quickly to a high elevation, you are more likely to experience some form of altitude sickness, which can include tiring easily, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and other symptoms. Drink plenty of water, limit alcohol consumption and take it slow when you arrive. If you fly into Reno, which sits at 4,415 feet/1,346 meters, consider spending a night or two in Reno to acclimate before heading to the mountains.
Located in quiet Homewood, CA across the street from Lake Tahoe, Homewood Mountain Ski Resort offers spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, over 2,000 acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain, one of the best value ski and snowboard school deals around, and a family friendly, low-key locals’ vibe.
Not glitzy like the nearby larger resorts, Homewood is relaxed, where it’s about the skiing experience. Friends and families gather at large tables over lunch, laughing and sharing stories about their day on the hill, then it’s back up for some more fun on the snow.
Homewood Ski Resort: Skiing and snowboarding
Homewood Ski Resort’s 64 trails and 6 terrain parks are accessed via 8 lifts. Situated on the west shore of Lake Tahoe with a variety of terrain, Homewood is big enough to keep it interesting, but small enough to maintain its laid back appeal. And, with views that skiers and boarders visiting from both near and far stop to capture.
Combine receiving an average of 450 inches of snow per year with being notoriously uncrowded (especially on non-holiday weekdays) and you have an authentic day of skiing with plenty of secret stashes to be found – all the way into the afternoon.
Protected from ridge-winds by Ellis Peak’s unique position, the wind is far less of an issue than at other resorts, keeping lifts turning.
Half of the trails at Homewood are rated intermediate, with plenty of wide cruisers and paths to explore and 35% of the runs are advanced, with some incredible tree skiing and exhilarating terrain.
The base elevation at Homewood is 6,230 feet/1,899 meters, with the lift-accessible terrain topping out at 7,880 feet / 2,402 meters. Above the lifts, an additional 750+ acres of terrain can be accessed on one of the Homewood Snowcat Adventures guided tours, which provides snowcat access for groups of 10 skiers and/or riders maximum to the top of the mountain, which reaches 8,740 feet/2,664 meters.
Homewood Snowcat Adventures participants gain access to over 750 acres of backcountry terrain on Ellis Peak, ranging from bowls to glade skiing.
While only 15% of the terrain is for beginners, Homewood has four surface lifts and a great beginners area for new skiers and riders.
Homewood is an affordable place for families to learn and play together. Homewood offers Value Days throughout the season (tickets must be purchased in advance – check the Homewood website for dates & pricing), free skiing for active military on non-peak days, and kids under 4 ski free.
Homewood Ski and Snowboard School
Homewood’s ski and snowboard school offers classes from beginners to advanced and has one of the most affordable ski/snowboard deals around. The 2016 Homewood Learn to Ski or Learn to Ride package is available on non-holidays, Sunday-Friday, for $52 and includes a half-day lesson, all day equipment rental, and a beginner lift ticket – an incredible bargain. Learn to Ski or Learn to Ride packages must be purchased online at least 2 days in advance of the lesson date.
Equipment rentals are available at the North Lodge rental shop, as well as retail items and waxing services.
Homewood Ski Resort: Dining & drinking
There are two-day lodges at Homewood, with the North Lodge at the north base area and one at the South Lodge at the southern base area. At the South Lodge, The Southwest Grill serves up southwestern fare and the Fireplace Tavern is a full bar with daily drink specials.
Upstairs at the North Lodge, the 89 Bar & Grill is a popular spot with a full bar and restaurant offering burgers, soup, and salads.
Downstairs, the Madden Cafe is a great spot to grab a quick coffee or pizza and enjoy it at one of the plentiful outdoor tables at the base of all the action.
Just below the top of the Madden Triple Chair is the Big Blue View Bar, with burgers, hot dogs, a full bar, and incredible lake views.
Homewood Ski Resort: Where to Stay
The West Shore Café & Inn is located directly across from Homewood with five guest rooms & suites and two villas. Additionally, a variety of lodging options is available in Tahoe City about 7 miles away.
Homewood Ski Resort: Getting there
Homewood Ski Resort’s address is 5145 W Lake Blvd, Homewood, CA 96141.
Homewood is located 58 miles, or about 1 hour 10 minutes, from the Reno Tahoe airport, and approximately 213 miles from San Francisco. From Highway 80, take the CA-89 S (exit 185) exit and continue on Highway 89 for 21 miles to Homewood, California.
Parking at both of the lodges is free, close and convenient – but limited. The Homewood Shuttle is an on-call service for guests from Incline Village to The Rubicon. Homewood Visitors who take Tahoe Area Regional Transit (TART) receive a voucher for $5 off a lift ticket.
Stay hydrated. Remember you are at elevation, which causes you to lose water through respiration, so drink extra water while in the mountains.
What to bring/send with your child to ski school. To get the most from any day in ski school, dress in layers to stay comfortable throughout the day’s changing temperature, wear waterproof jacket and pants, bring gloves or mittens, wear warm socks, and always wear a helmet when on the snow.
The content & opinions expressed in our Homewood Ski Resort Review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When one of our favorite wineries, Rodney Strong, called a couple of months ago to see if we’d like to come out for a few days to learn more about the winery and attend a blending seminar, we only had one question – when? Whatever the date, we would clear our calendar to attend such a unique experience.
Our Master Blender experience was scheduled for the first week of February and when we received the final agenda the week before – wow! Amazing food, wine tastings, luxury accommodations, visits led by the winery’s viticulturist to locations few get a chance to ever see, sessions with Rodney Strong’s winemakers to learn about the winemaking process, and a blending seminar led by Rodney Strong’s head winemaker, Rick Sayre.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 1: Arrival and welcome dinner
We arrived early in the afternoon at the Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa where we would be staying during the event. A four-diamond luxury hotel, the Vintner’s Inn is the epitome of wine country elegance, with stately rooms, elegant gardens, and one of our favorite restaurants, John Ash & Co.
With such a beautiful Sonoma afternoon at our disposal, we set out for a hike on the two-mile trail around the property while a bottle of Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay chilled in the fridge – the perfect post-hike refreshment upon our return!
Our welcome dinner was at John Ash & Co. with winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld, Rodney Strong’s social media manager, Laura Perret Fontana, and the four additional event attendees, Marlynn Jayme Schotland, Jana Seitzer, Annabelle Pericin and Robert Larsen.
As we worked our way through savory courses accompanied by Rodney Strong wines, Justin provided the background and details on each of the wines. Originally from Colorado, Justin graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2006 with a B.S. in Viticulture & Enology and has been making wine in Sonoma county since 2005, and at Rodney Strong since 2010.
Off to a great beginning to a fascinating week, we were eager to explore the vineyards and learn more about the winemaking process.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 2: Vineyard tours, barrel tasting, and an abundance of spectacular food & wine
Winegrower relations manager, Ryan Decker, was our guide for vineyard tours for the morning of day two. Our first stop – Chalk Hill in Windsor.
As we enjoyed a delicious breakfast prepared by Rodney Strong Winery Chef Tara Watchel amidst the vines, Ryan explained the unique properties of the Chalk Hill area, where the soil appears “chalky” due to ash deposits from a long-past volcanic eruption.
An excellent start to the day – learning about the vines that produced the very Chardonnay that was in my hand just the afternoon before.
First released in 1974, Alexander’s Crown was Sonoma’s first single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, quickly gaining acclaim, including being named the highest rated Cabernet Sauvignon in Robert Parker’s first issue.
Situated on hills that rise 360 feet above the valley floor, 66 acres are planted at Alexander’s Crown, with Block 1 at the top of the hill producing the prime, most intensely flavored grapes. Listening to Ryan describe the meticulous grape growing processes, it became obvious there are no shortcuts in creating a spectacular bottle of wine.
Each detail is constantly analyzed in an effort to gain even a fraction of improvement. Grapes are picked in 1/2 ton sections to isolate the best blocks or sections of vines. Cross arms were added to the stakes a few years back to “add shade with dappled sunlight” as overexposure can result in too much tannin. And the list goes on, in pursuit of producing an even more perfect bottle of wine.
The Alexander’s Crown property is also the home of Rodney Strong’s owners, the Klein family, and the location of a former home of Rod and Charlotte Strong. Ryan explained that Charlotte bred Bull Mastifs and would frequently take the dogs down to play in an area between Alexander’s Crown and the Russian River. That same area, where she spent so much time, now produces a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, called Charlotte’s Home.
Rockaway at Rockaway
As we drove through the back roads of Sonoma County on our way from Alexander’s Crown to our next destination, Rockaway, Ryan would point out highlights along the way. Given that his family first settled in the Alexander Valley in 1858, it’s understandable that he knows the area like the back of his hand.
Along the way, Ryan explained that the Pine Flat vineyards next to Sausal Creek produced some of the best Merlot of all the vineyards and it was one of the few that could be dry farmed, meaning no supplemental water was required. Dry farming requires a high vigor, deep rooting stock.
Entering the Rockaway vineyards, we began to climb up through the rolling, vine-covered hills which rise to an elevation of 750 feet. Rodney Strong purchased the property, which grows mostly Bordeaux varietals, in 2003. It produces the grapes for the single vineyard Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
As we passed a few olive trees, just barely visible from the road, Ryan explained there were more – he’d found an olive orchard on the property. Following his discovery, he’d torn out the brush and pruned the trees and, in 2014, they produced their first batch of oil from the orchard.
Arriving near the top of the hill, we left the car and climbed to the summit, where sweeping views of the Sonoma Valley and a bottle of Rockaway awaited our arrival.
Such an appropriate ending to our morning vineyards tour – sipping an amazing wine at such an amazing place. Standing atop Rockaway, gazing out over the Alexander Valley with its many vineyards, farms and ranches, it re-emphasized the importance that Rodney Strong places on location in artisan winemaking.
From such a vast amount of potential spots to grow grapes, narrowed down to the very place where we stood, then artfully created into a spectacular wine that made its way back again to this spot to be enjoyed with this stunning view – Rockaway at Rockaway is not your average morning.
Lunch at Catelli’s in Geyserville, California
Lunch was just a few minutes down the road at Catelli’s in Geyserville. Originally opened by Santi and Virginia Catelli in 1936, the restaurant is now owned and operated by third generation Catellis and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, and specializes in local and organic creations served in the historic location.
A variety of appetizers, salads, and bottles of wine quickly appeared at the table, including our first sampling of a Davis Bynum wine. Rodney Strong acquired the Davis Bynum winery in 2007, and the commitment to preserving Bynum’s passion for quality winemaking is apparent throughout Rodney Strong.
Ryan recommended the kale salad with blood oranges, which was delectable, and then we selected the award winning 10-layer layer lasagna with the slightly spicy Domenica’s sauce. Pasta perfection. For dessert, Catelli’s delivered “grown up” root beer floats to the table. One taste and Annabelle exclaimed, “That will put chest on your hair!”
An afternoon wine tasting touring with Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld and Ron Washam
Arriving back at Rodney Strong Vineyards after lunch, it was time for a winery tour and some wine tasting. Our guide for the afternoon was Ron Washam, whose 35 years in the wine industry have included twice being named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers’ Association and who also judges at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Each step of winemaking at Rodney Strong is a combination of art and science, with industry-leading techniques deployed where appropriate to assist in crafting world-class wines. Meeting up with winemaker Justin Seidenfeld in the tank room, Justin walked us through the conversion process that brought square fermentation tanks to the winery.
The square tanks allow more wine to be stored in a given space as compared to traditional cylindrical tanks. The tanks can be monitored and controlled by an app on a smart phone or tablet, complete with alerts, from anywhere in the world.
Additionally, the interior surface of the square tanks is easier to clean, reducing water waste, which supports Rodney Strong Vineyard’s commitment to protecting the environment. Rodney Strong Vineyards operates the winery with a carbon impact of zero, making it the first carbon neutral winery in Sonoma.
Next stop, the barrel rooms and barrel tasting of the Symmetry 2014 and the 2014 Rockaway. Barrel tasting is like getting to open a present before it’s actually your birthday. Sampling from a barrel provides a glimpse of the future wine – a glimpse in that the wine changes as it matures and the winemakers may adjust the blend as well. While the primary purpose of barrel tasting by the public is for purchasing futures, a private barrel tasting in the warehouse is an entirely different experience and a great chance to learn more about the winemaking process.
Following our barrel tasting, we headed to the tasting room to do some finished works sampling, which culminated with a side by side tasting of the three 2012 Rodney Strong single vineyards wines: Alexander’s Crown, Rockaway and Brothers.
With 2012 having been an excellent vintage for Sonoma County, all three are remarkable wines. Which was best? As head winemaker, Rick Sayre, would comment the next day – it’s about taste preference. Describing a side-by side tasting, he stated favorites were nearly always split 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.
Dinner at Jackson’s Bar and Oven with Winemaker Greg Morthole
After an hour’s rest at the hotel, our ride picked us up for a dinner at Jackson’s Bar in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.
Owned and operated by Chef Josh Silvers, Jackson’s is a casual, wine country eatery, serving comfort food crafted from seasonal, organic Sonoma ingredients. Our winemaker host for the evening was Greg Morthole, who oversees the Reserve and Single Vineyard wine making.
The evening was a wonderful blend of wine, food and conversation, ending with amazing beignets served with chocolate sauce, vanilla anglaise, and a fresh raspberry sauce.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 3: Blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre
Just when you think it wouldn’t be possible to eat or drink anything ever again, the next day dawns and breakfast sounded pretty good.
The group met at the Vintner’s Inn Café for a healthy start to the day, then it was off to the winery for a blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre, who joined Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1979 and Rachel Voorhees, director of education for the winery.
Morning blending seminar with head winemaker Rick Sayre and director of education Rachel Voorhees
Heading into the blending seminar, we had no idea what a cool morning we were going to experience. Rounding the corner to the room, each place was set with tasting glasses of each of the varietals used in the 2012 Symmetry, and a glass of the actual 2012 Symmetry. Historic vintages of wines lined the walls of the room, including some bottles with hand written labels by Rod Strong dating back to 1970.
Symmetry is a Meritage (pronounced like heritage), with the wine being crafted like a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A Meritage must not contain more than 90% of any one single grape type.
Rachel and Rick walked us through a brief overview of Rodney Strong Vineyards, the history of Meritage, and the properties each grape brings to the blend. Then it was time to blend some wine.
Armed with bottles of the varietals, beakers, and pipettes, we each set out to blend our own version of the wine. When finished, Rick tasted our creations, commenting on our blends, and awarded an overall winner.
I called mine “A Secret.” As in, “What are you drinking?” “It’s A Secret.” I went with the 80/20 rule, as in 80% Cab and 20% of the others (it donned on me later that I should have named it Pareto). My blend consisted of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot.
My blend ended up 2nd runner up, with Annabelle’s winning the day. The experience was fun, educational and truly a cool adventure!
Lunch prepared by Rodney Strong winery chef Tara Watchel with head winemaker Rick Sayre
Our time at Rodney Strong ended with a lunch with Rick Sayres in a dining room above the tasting room.
The lunch, prepared by winery chef, Tara Wachtel, was exquisite, served with perfect wines and some of the olive oil from the orchard Ryan had discovered at Rockaway. The group chatted about fishing in Alaska, Sonoma county, and Rodney Strong’s history, savoring the time remaining in our amazing visit.
Huge thanks to Laura Perret Fontana, Justin Seidenfeld, Ryan Decker, Greg Morthole, Ron Washam, Rachel Voorhees, Tara Wachtel, Rick Sayre and everyone at Rodney Strong Vineyards for such a wonderful experience.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.