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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Strolling along, hand in hand, sharing thoughts against a backdrop of exceptional beauty, the magic of life seems to sparkle. Stopping at a café, you savor both the cuisine and the company as the world moves by. Afterward, a secluded hotel room and a bottle of wine awaits your return, where you’ll reflect on the events of the day and discuss what adventures are in store for the next.
Are you in a historic city? On an island? At a ski resort? Visiting a quaint seaside village? It could be anywhere – what makes a spot truly romantic is sharing the experience with someone you love.
While the world is full of many romantic places, some are steeped in love and romanticism. Here are our top ten places to fall in love all over again…
With its romantic canals, narrow bridges, winding pathways and stunning beauty, Venice is the perfect place to lose yourself in the charm of the city and each other. Whether visiting Venice in February or in the summer, it is one of the most romantic cities on earth.
Paris is a city for love. From a walk along the Champs-Élysées to sipping a glass of wine or coffee at a sidewalk café, to taking a Bateau Mouche along the Seine – Paris is a timeless beauty, where love is always in the air.
3. San Francisco
With breathtaking views, natural beauty, and colorful scenes that inspire romance, San Francisco earns its place as one of the most romantic cities in the world.
Lovely things to do in the city by the bay? Wander the streets of Chinatown, dine on artisanal food, head to Sonoma for wine tasting, or take a sunset cruise and share a kiss as the day disappears behind the Golden Gate Bridge.
4. Bora Bora
Relaxing together on the deck of your overwater bungalow in Bora Bora with a glass of wine in your hand as you gaze out at the serene waters of the South Pacific is sheer tranquility and the perfect place to once again steal each other’s heart.
One of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the world, Bora Bora is an enchanting destination for lovers to relax in paradise.
Picture-perfect Zürich, with its medieval cathedrals, cobblestone streets, quaint shops and excellent restaurants, is an ideal setting for a romantic getaway.
Quiet and pristine, Zürich will inspire romance as you explore Old Town, share a cocktail next to The Limmat, stroll around Lake Zürich, or indulge in some world-famous chocolate.
What’s more romantic than sipping a glass of Champagne next to a roaring fire as the snow gently falls outside? For that fireplace to be in one of the most romantic destinations in the world, Aspen.
After a fabulous day on the slopes, take a casual walk through downtown, stopping for a cocktail or two and some extraordinary shopping. Then, it’s on to dinner in one of Aspen’s fine restaurants, followed by a nightcap by the fire, ending a perfectly dreamy day for two.
7. St. Barths
Stunningly beautiful and luxurious, St. Barths is home to secluded beaches, exclusive hotels, gourmet restaurants and unforgettable sunsets.
For couples seeking a captivating getaway, St. Barths’ turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and peaceful setting creates quintessential romance in the islands.
Wandering Antwerp’s narrow cobbled streets in the shadow of baroque buildings and majestic architecture, lovers will be delighted by its unmatched beauty.
Sample chocolates or waffles, take an evening stroll by the Scheldt River, people watch in one of the city’s delightful squares, and, if your sweetheart needs a new bauble, Antwerp has been the largest diamond center in the world for over five centuries.
9. Carmel by the Sea
Located in a perfect location where land meets the sea, Carmel is a beautiful town filled with cafes, restaurants, galleries, boutiques, spas and small, luxurious hotels that will inspire romance and capture your heart.
It’s hard not to feel in love in Rome. Surrounded by charming piazzas, splendid fountains, historic ruins, and breathtaking views, Rome is without a doubt one of the most romantic spots on the planet.
The perfect ending to any day in Rome will find you on a bridge over the Tiber viewing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo as the sun sets on the Eternal City.
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.
I knew I couldn’t be an old dancer, but I could be an old winemaker.”
– Rodney Strong
In 1959, after a successful career in dance, Rod Strong married his partner, Charlotte Ann Winson, moved to northern California, and became a winemaker. The couple purchased an old boarding house and began making their first wines using bulk wine Strong purchased, then blended to his taste.
In 1962, Strong acquired a 159-acre vineyard and winery in Windsor, California, acquired additional vineyards in the Russian River Valley in 1968, and then, in 1970, began construction on a winery.
Strong was one of the first to plant vineyards in Sonoma, where fruit orchards were prominent at the time. An early advocate of single vineyard wines, his wines were were both of high quality and an excellent value.
That winery is now the site of the tasting room for Rodney Strong Vineyards – a beautiful location where visitors can sample the world-class wines for which Rodney Strong has become known over the decades, take a tour of the winery or attend one of the many events held throughout the year.
In 1979, Rick Sayre, the winery’s current head winemaker, joined Rodney Strong as a winemaker.
Tom Klein, who had met both Rod Strong and Rick Sayre in 1979 as a consultant to the winery, acquired the winery in 1989. Since that time, they have installed state of the art facilities and employed leading edge winemaking techniques in their pursuit of crafting world-class wines.
The Klein family also has a commitment to protecting the environment and operates the winery with a carbon impact of zero, making Rodney Strong Vineyards the first carbon-neutral winery in Sonoma. Additionally, the winery was officially certified by the California Sustainable Winegrower’s Alliance for its continuous improvement in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices.
Rodney Strong Tastings
From complimentary tastings to the estate and reserve tastings, Rodney Strong Vineyards offers visitors a wide variety of options for sampling their wines. Friday through Sunday, The Terrace’s tranquil setting is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy wine flights or food & wine pairings (reservations are recommended).
Rodney Strong Events and the Summer Concert Series
Throughout the year, Rodney Strong hosts a variety of events from its harvest party and grape stomp to the highly acclaimed Summer Concert Series.
For over two decades, the Summer Concert Series has entertained wine and music lovers in a spectacular, intimate vineyard setting. Learn more about the Rodney Strong Summer Concert Series »
Rodney Strong Tours
Rodney Strong 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. Tours are offered daily at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.
Getting to Rodney Strong Vineyards
Rodney Strong offers tastings and tours to its visitors daily throughout the year. Check the Rodney Strong Vineyards website for hours, events and to schedule reservations.
Rodney Strong is located just off the 101 near Healdsburg, California.
11455 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Disclaimer: 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.