Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit - SMART train at the San Rafael station

Why is it so difficult getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County?

Cover: Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit – SMART train at the San Rafael station
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


San Francisco at sunset
San Francisco at sunset. Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

San Francisco
San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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?

View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The one-day wine tour

Drinking wine in Sonoma
Drinking wine in Sonoma, Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Sonoma County, California
Sonoma County, California Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa
Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa

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.

Uber San Francisco to Santa Rosa

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.

Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County
Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station
SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station
Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma
Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa
Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Sonoma County wine tasting
Sonoma County wine tasting Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa
Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club

Article by Kim Hull


Always in pursuit of airline points and good wine, we recently tried the JetBlue & Club W wine club.

We’d already tried the American Airlines Aadvantage Miles & Vinesse Wine Club & the Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards & Laithwaite’s Wines programs awhile ago, so we had a decent baseline for what to expect. However, while each program ships you wine and you earn points, it comes to the product quality and the service to determine the satisfaction level of the experience.

The offer

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club Review - the offer
JetBlue & Club W Wine Club Review – the offer

The Jet Blue & Club W Wine Club offer is pretty straightforward – earn 2,500 JetBlue points on your first Club W order of 3 bottles for $39. For every 24 bottles purchased thereafter, you earn an additional 1,000 JetBlue points.

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club: How it works

After entering the initial Club W information, the first step is to complete the Club W Palate Profile™ Quiz – six questions about what kind of wines you prefer so Club W can provide personalized recommendations. The questions range from what kind of coffee you like to how much you like salt.

Club W Palate profile quiz
Club W Palate profile quiz

After that, Club W will suggest a few wines or you can browse through the selection and pick your own choices, which we did. The ability to select your own wines was a good benefit – the other clubs we’d tried only let us select white, red, or both, not the specific wines we’d receive.

To receive the JetBlue bonus points, a purchase of three bottles is required. But, if you purchase four or more bottles from Club W, the shipping is free. The free shipping made the fourth bottle quite a good deal, so four bottles it would be.

Bottles ranged from $13 to $35. Finding a good $25 or $35 bottle of wine isn’t that hard – sending someone a bottle they like for $13, shipping included – that takes a bit more talent. So, we decided to only order $13 bottles.

Order placed & easy checkout; the only glitch was an email stating:

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club issue

I used the contact form to sent them a message with my number and within four hours received an email:

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club issue resolved

Perfect. A few hours later I received a message that our wine was on the way.

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club order confirmation

To avoid this issue, create your Club W account with your name exactly as it appears on your JetBlue account.

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club: Order received

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club order recieved
JetBlue & Club W Wine Club order received
Photo: © Chasing Light Media

We received our four bottles of wine in a well-packed box that also included information about Club W and tasting notes for each wine.

JetBlue & Club W Wine Club: Well-packed shipment
JetBlue & Club W Wine Club: Well-packed shipment
Photo: © Chasing Light Media
JetBlue & Club W Wine Club
JetBlue & Club W Wine Club order
Photo: © Chasing Light Media

The wines

The wines we selected and received were:

  • 2014 L’Atelier du Sud® Sauvignon Blanc: $13.00
  • 2014 Chanchito Cabernet Sauvignon: $13.00
  • 2014 Porter & Plot® Chardonnay: $13.00
  • 2012 La Forza Super Tuscan: $13.00

In addition to the tasting notes that accompanied the wine, the website has information about each of the wines, a food pairing suggestion & recipe, and a video by a sommelier or wine professional discussing each of the wines.

Next step – trying the wines.

2014 L’Atelier du Sud® Sauvignon Blanc

2014 L'Atelier du Sud Sauvignon Blanc, JetBlue & Club W Wine Club
2014 L’Atelier du Sud Sauvignon Blanc, JetBlue & Club W Wine Club
Photo: © Chasing Light Media
  • Price: $13.00, shipping included when shipment includes 4 bottles
  • Origin: Pays d’Oc, France
  • Described by Club W: “It’s a bit more weighty, round, and full-bodied on the palate than your typical Sancerre because the grapes grew in a warmer region, but no worries — we’re still delivering a classic, complex French Sauvignon Blanc, untouched by oak and fermented entirely in stainless steel.”
  • Our reaction: We liked it and rated it a 3.0-3.25 on a 1-5 scale. A nice, drinkable white for a relaxing afternoon or with appetizers in the early evening.

2014 Chanchito Cabernet Sauvignon

2014 Chanchito Cabernet Sauvignon, JetBlue & Club W Wine Club
2014 Chanchito Cabernet Sauvignon, JetBlue Club W Wine Club
Photo: © Chasing Light Media
  • Price: $13.00, shipping included when shipment includes 4 bottles
  • Origin: Vallé Central, Chile
  • Described by Club W: “Our Chanchito gets a little extra oomph from its blend of two Cabernet lots, one of which was aged in two- and three-year-old oak barrels. The oak provides structure and a bigger mouthfeel to complement the full body and dry finish, as well as the notes of black pepper, dark fruit, nutmeg, and jalapeño.”
  • Our reaction: We loved this wine and both rated it a strong 4 on a scale of 1-5. A big wine and a great value at $13. We’ve already added 3 bottles of this one to our next shipment.

2014 Porter & Plot® Chardonnay

2014 Porter & Plot Chardonnay, JetBlue & Club W Wine Club
2014 Porter & Plot Chardonnay, JetBlue & Club W Wine Club
Photo: © Chasing Light Media
  • Price: $13.00, shipping included when shipment includes 4 bottles
  • Origin: Napa Valley, California
  • Described by Club W: “This beauty distinguishes herself with bright acidity and a pleasant balance of fruit and oak, two characteristics that lend a welcome versatility with food pairings.”
  • Our reaction: I’m not the Chardonnay fan of the two of us, but we both liked this one as well. It’s not over-oaked and has good balance. We rated it a 3.25.

2012 La Forza Super Tuscan

2012 La Forza Super Tuscan, JetBlue & Club W Wine Club
2012 La Forza Super Tuscan, JetBlue & Club W 
Photo: © Chasing Light Media
  • Price: $13.00, shipping included when shipment includes 4 bottles
  • Origin: Tuscany, Italy
  • Described by Club W: “Back in the day, our first La Forza would’ve been labeled a table wine because it’s a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet — but in a nod to the change these brave revolutionaries incited, it’s now designated Toscana IGT. It’s a 2012, and you can immediately see and smell the age in its prune-like color and notes of dried fruit and cocoa powder.”
  • Our reaction: Always a fan of a Super Tuscan, this one didn’t disappoint. We both gave it a 3.5.

Summing it up

Leave it to JetBlue, who has a knack for getting things right, to partner with a great wine club.

The promised 2,500 JetBlue points had an on-time arrival in my account on Feb 6.

Club W JetBlue points
Club W JetBlue points

The wines were good to great, delivered a good value, and arrived at our business door step, saving a trip to the wine shop. We’ve already picked our next month’s shipment of wines – with seven scheduled for that delivery. We’ll receive 1,000 more JetBlue points for each 24 bottles purchased going forward (and the first four bottles counted in the 24).

Cheers!


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.

SOMM Documentary

SOMM

SOMM DocumentaryMany a restaurant will trot a guy in a suit out with a wine list under his arm and call him a sommelier.

If you have a chance to speak with anyone going through the Court of Master Sommelier examinations, or one of the 197 who have earned the designation of Master Sommelier over the last 4 decades, you will, in very short time, understand the difference. Those seeking to have an MS after their name speak of countless wines you’ve never heard of.  They can identify grape varieties, country of origin, district and appellation of origin, and vintages of the wines – by taste.  They are obsessed with wine.

And, Jason Wise has spent the last couple of years following four of them on their journey to achieving the coveted Master Sommelier designation in his new documentary, SOMM.

SOMM

Filmed in six countries over two years, SOMM is an upcoming feature documentary chronicling one of the hardest exams in the world.

SOMM is the story of four sommeliers attempting to pass the Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. On Nov 7, 2012,  SOMM will premiere at the historic Napa Valley Opera House in conjunction with the Napa Valley Film Festival 2012.

Here’s the preview trailer…

More on SOMM

Following the Napa Valley premiere, SOMM will begin distribution across the country. Keep up with the latest from SOMM on the SOMM Facebook page and by following SOMM on Twitter.

Photography & video courtesy of Forgotten Man Films.

Aspen Food and Wine Classic

I’m a Riesling girl

Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits
Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

I confess, I used to think of Riesling in that one word: sweet.

Then, a miraculous thing happened.

We went to the Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival and the heavens parted (it did rain, so only a slight exaggeration) and lo and behold, there were Rieslings that were another word: dry.

Life as a Riesling disciple

Friday afternoon when we were sitting at Ajax Tavern planning our Saturday agenda at Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, I stated to our son, “Oh, there’s a Riesling tasting. You know they’re not all sweet.

Sometimes I forget he’s a certified sommelier – so yes, I got the smirk, eye roll and the, “You think?

He then told me that Paul Grieco was leading it, so yes, it was a good choice.

Two roads sometimes lead to the same path.

A man with a grape mission

Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

An evangelist of the Riesling grape, Paul Grieco will, within 45 minutes, convince you that there is no reason for a white wine list to contain anything but Riesling and the juice should have your uncompromising devotion.

Okay, while you may not be instantly converted as a Riesling disciple, Mr. Grieco delivers his message with such mischievous, authoritative conviction that it is hard not to quickly exalt the Riesling with great admiration.

Reasons to love Rieslings: The Wines

The Riesling seminar was a walk through Rieslings from around the world, from dry to that other word, sweet.

When asked the price point of one of the wines, Mr.Grieco simply stated, “They’re all priceless.”

The wines tasted included…

How do you define greatness?

Mr. Grieco lists six criteria that define greatness in a wine – complexity, balance, delicacy, longevity, a sense of place and yumminess.

The take-away: A great Riesling is a complex, delicate wine that balances acidity and sweetness, with no one element outshining the others, that makes you smile.

AcidHounds Unite

I’m now a Riesling girl and I have the tat to prove it.

Ok, so that tatoo will wear off in a few days (I think), but the love of Rieslings won’t.

Cheers!

Related

Aspen Food & Wine Classic

 

Aspen Food and Wine Classic

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Three days in Aspen with 5,000 friends, enjoying 80+ cooking demonstrations & wine seminars and a Grand Tasting Pavilion with over 300 wines & luxury lifestyle brands. And, that was just the daytime activities.

Throw in evening and after-hour parties on nearly every corner (and quite a few houses), concerts, dinners, and a 5K charity run, and you have a weekend in Aspen like no other.

Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: Food

Kim Hull and Bobby Flay, Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Kim Hull and Bobby Flay, Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

With a who’s who of top chefs gathered in Aspen, you never knew when you were going to wind up chatting with Bobby Flay or mingling with Gail Simmons.

The hottest chefs were in attendance – delivering their latest culinary creations, leading cooking demonstrations and seminars, signing cookbooks, and mixing and mingling with attendees – all making for a fabulous foodie experience.

The who’s who chef line up: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Giada De Laurentiis, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, Danny Meyer, Gail Simmons, Jacques Pépin, Michael Symon, Ming Tsai,  Paul Qui, Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless, Tim Love and more.

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: Wine

Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Exceptional wines from around the world, and at all price points, were on hand to be discovered, tasted and enjoyed at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

Seminars with wine experts & sommeliers provided opportunities to explore and gain a greater appreciation of wines from different grape varieties and wine styles worldwide.  A perfect chance to learn from the oh so entertaining Anthony Giglio or the evangelical guru of Rieslings, Paul Grieco, the seminars offered up-close, in-depth wine experiences with wines yet undiscovered by most wine-drinkers, but most likely to be acquired in the future.

The who’s who of wine experts: Bobby Stuckey, Josh Wesson, Steve Olson, Mark Oldman, Antonio Galloni, Paul Grieco, Anthony Giglio and more.

In addition to the seminars, hundreds of wines from winemakers spanning the globe awaited sampling at the Grand Tasting Pavillion

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: Grand Tasting Pavilion

“Wow, that Doña Paula was good.”

Chris Ford at Godiva is so cool and the ice cream truffles, divine.”

Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

“My favorite was the crostini with cranberries, pesto and goat cheese.”

“That Malleolus was, to use a term learned in a wine seminar, yummy.”

“You have to get a Patron popsicle!”

And, the list of overhead exclamations goes on and on.

Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Aspen Food and Wine Classic
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

The Grand Tasting Pavilion, hosting five tastings throughout the weekend, featured over 300 wines and countless culinary delights, and served as the epicenter of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where attendees raved about the selection, creativity and vast selection to be savored.

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: Plan ahead

Tickets go on sale in December for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2016 and will be available on the Food & Wine website, so mark you calendars for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2016 to be held June 17-19, 2016.

While you’re at it, mark down Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2017, to be held June 16-18, 2017.