Imagine this: You’ve set the clock back 50 or 60 years and drive through the Carneros region in a gray-green Studebaker pickup. You see cattle and sheep. Tall grasses wave in the breezes off the San Pablo Bay. You may have just attended the annual Sonoma Rodeo. Orchards, grazing, and small farms…this was a picture-perfect area. Here’s the good news: Vineyards have replaced many of the orchards, but it is still picture-perfect and it still has the feel of Old California.
On the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay, the Carneros region rises gently from the wetlands and salty marshes. The soft green hills are the stuff of dreams.
The French have made a point of owning the word ‘champagne’, but champagne-style wines have cropped up around the world for hundreds of years. From the upscale cava wines of Spain to the rise of sparkling wines in California, Carneros has it all. As a matter of fact, some of the largest French and Spanish producers of sparkling wine staked their claim in the Carneros region during the 1980s and ‘90s. Domaine Carneros and Gloria Ferrer are two superior champagne houses that are a must-see. Their grounds are almost as luscious as their bubbly. But not quite…
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards—The Olive Press
Jacuzzi Winery, housed in a wonderful Tuscan-style farmhouse, sources most of their grapes to their family, the Clines, at their winery across the road. (Yes, this family is of the Jacuzzi bath fame.) Stop here to visit the home of Sonoma olive oil producer, The Olive Press. The small tasting room is the place to discover that fine oils can be as distinctive in taste as fine wines. There’s a tasting bar that features oils ranging from light to mellow to heavy, depending on where the olives are grown and the age of the trees. The Olive Press also sells oils, cookbooks, soaps, and processes their oil on the premises.
The di Rosa Preserve
The preserve, originally purchased by a writer as a quiet retreat, has become one of the largest regional art collections in the country. Spread out over 217 acres, there are more than 2,000 works of art on display. (One favorite is a cow that has floated on the 35-acre lake for 20 years). Di Rosa, the creator of this wonderland, lives on the property and collects art from the Greater Bay Area. Visiting this preserve is surreal in the very best sense of the word. Gigantic sculptures hike up the rugged hills, a car hangs from a tree, and every indoor space is crammed with visual surprises. 85 peacocks strut their stuff, squawk, and occasionally party inside a gallery. If you are anywhere within driving distance, do stop. Walk the grounds. Feel the childlike fun. The preserve is just across from Domaine Carneros—what a fabulous pairing!
Cornerstone Festival of Gardens
Just outside the town of Sonoma is Cornerstone, a crazy-quilt, spread-out collection of studios, shops, gardens and cafes. Whatever else it has, the gardens are central and a nine-acre plot of land is a showcase for dozens of renowned landscape architects. Each has designed their separate areas, and the result is incredible. And, very near the gardens, is the Artefact Design & Salvage. Selling garden accessories made from salvaged materials, such as a bar stool with giant railroad springs for legs, will make you stop and think before you clean out your garage or sideyard!