Savour­ing SONOMA

DINE and Destinations - - CALIFORNIA - By Adam Wax­man

“Il faut cul­tiver notre jardin”

—CANDIDE

in one hand I hold a Meyer lemon scone with cran­ber­ries and white chocolate, in the other, a warm foc­ca­cia with shi­take mush­rooms, roasted gar­lic, Jack, Swiss and smoked Gouda, and in my eyes I see warm sweet sticky buns. “Sonoma is not monochro­matic. It’s kind of a rain­bow,” shares Margo Van Staav­eren, renowned wine­maker of Chateau St. Jean. Thus be­gins my ride along the Bo­hemian High­way. Sour­dough thrives in Free­stone be­cause of the qual­ity of air. At Wild Flour Bak­ery 800 loaves are baked and de­voured ev­ery day. Ev­ery­thing is or­ganic. Why is it so good? I ask one of the bak­ers as I shame­lessly de­vour a pink lady ap­ple and ched­dar scone. “We’re all really in love with the bread that we make, and with each other, and with the fam­ily that we build, so there’s a lot of soul in ev­ery­thing we do.” Next door at the Free­stone Ar­ti­san Cheese Shop I sam­ple the most lux­u­ri­ously spread­able Mt. Tam triple cream from Cow­girl Cream­ery, and a semi-soft Brewski washed in Bi­son Brew­ery Or­ganic Chocolate Stout from Weirauch Farm & Cream­ery. I’m told that ev­ery­one is ex­per­i­ment­ing with ev­ery­thing right now. There is won­der­fully rich grass­land, di­verse mi­cro­cli­mates, and a com­mit­ment to making ar­ti­sanal prod­ucts matched by a de­sire for high qual­ity.

Across the road is the Os­mo­sis Day Spa, renowned for its Ja­panese med­i­ta­tion gar­den, mas­sage pagoda and cedar en­zyme bath. Michael Stusser com­bined his love of Ja­panese aes­thet­ics, the mes­sage of Zen and the feel-good re­laxed cul­ture of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia to cre­ate a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of im­mense ther­a­peu­tic value. Im­mersed in a mix­ture of ground fra­grant ev­er­green cedar, rice bran and live en­zymes that, com­bined, gen­er­ate their own meta­bolic heat, I am pro­foundly re­laxed. Sip­ping an in­fu­sion of clover, spearmint, yarrow and di­ges­tive en­zymes I stroll through man­i­cured Ja­panese gar­dens to the calm sound of trick­ling wa­ter. In­side a wooded pagoda my Chi­nese merid­ian align­ment mas­sage awaits me. The aim is to re­plen­ish my Chi flow through en­ergy path­ways. Nur­tured and re­lieved, I am then treated to a cus­tom­ized blend of es­sen­tial oils on a se­ries of acu­pres­sure points to deepen heal­ing po­ten­tial and vi­tal­ity. Berg­amot to bal­ance brain hemi­spheres, Blue Tansy to calm the mind, Man­darin to calm the heart, Helichry­sum, Al­tas Cedar­wood and a host of oth­ers to release stag­nant en­ergy and in­duce an ease­ful re­vi­tal­ized calm. I don’t know what I was sup­posed to do the rest of the day, but can­cel all my ap­point­ments; I am too re­laxed to care.

Sonoma is wine coun­try. Chateau St. Jean of­fers a port­fo­lio of 40 wines. “Sonoma really sup­ports be­ing able to make wines of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties,” Van Staav­eren tells me. With more soil types and sub types than all of France, “You can ac­tu­ally do it all here, so you have to go af­ter it. The temp­ta­tion is too great to pass up.” The tast­ing bar se­lec­tion reads like a restau­rant wine list, in­clud­ing a lemony but­tery 2010 Re­serve Chardon­nay; and a full-bod­ied Re­serve Mal­bec blended with Mer­lot and Pe­tit Ver­dot to round out a fin­ish of vi­o­lets, black berries and a trace of licorice. The star is the flag­ship wine, Cinq Cé­page of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Mer­lot, Cab Franc, Mal­bec and Petite Ver­dot. Van Staav­eren se­lects the best fruit from her vine­yards. This is the creme de la creme. Each va­ri­etal is bar­rel-aged separately and then blended to a sen­su­ous full fruit with raisins and spice. At din­ner at Cafe La Haye, the 2010 Re­serve Pinot Noir’s notes of rasp­berry and rhubarb with a flo­ral essence are ac­cen­tu­ated by quail with a porcini cous­cous stuff­ing.

Part art space, part food and wine mar­ket place, The Bar­low is an eclec­tic mi­cro­cosm of lo­cal Sonoma artists and ar­ti­sans show­cas­ing their craft within re­pur­posed ware­houses in Se­bastopol. At Zazu Kitchen + Farm we or­der ba­con caramel pop­corn and a side or­der of thick-cut ba­con drycured with brown sugar for 21 days and fin­ished with 12 hours of ap­ple­wood smok­ing. I am told the pigs are treated so well and are so clean they’re prac­ti­cally kosher, and ev­ery day of their lives is a happy one, ex­cept for their last. Like farm-to-ta­ble on steroids, not only do they use mul­ti­ple farms across Sonoma, but the menu also lists “u-pick-if-u-like” items from their own back­yard gar­den for guests to feel more in­volved in their din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Spirit Works Dis­tillery hand crafts their red win­ter wheat-based or­ganic whiskeys and gin. Their Bar­rel-aged gin is smooth with an essence of vanilla, but­ter­scotch, smoke and spice. They’re the only dis­tillery in the U.S. that makes sloe gin, and they make five dif­fer­ent kinds. Sub Zero ice cream of­fers a se­lec­tion of in­gre­di­ents from a va­ri­ety of cream to an ar­ray of top­pings that we choose and watch as they’re whipped up and flash frozen be­fore our eyes. Wood­four’s farm­house-in­spired Sour Ales and their French-bel­gian styled Sai­son pair with their farm-to-ta­ble menu in­clud­ing lo­cal cheeses, oys­ters and ten­der slow­cooked chicken. We pe­ruse lo­cal wine shops for tast­ings, Guiyaki’s or­ganic yerba mate, and the Ti­betan Gallery and Stu­dio of crafts and 24-carat gold can­vas. In the ar­cade-themed Warped Brew­ery, we sam­ple Clear The Flag, a smooth per­sim­mon rye beer in­spired by Su­per Mario Broth­ers. At the end of each level Mario has to jump over a flag­pole that he can never seem to clear, but he keeps try­ing.

Sonoma has be­come an im­por­tant mi­cro­brew­ery re­gion. The Rus­sian River Brew­ing Com­pany orig­i­nated the Im­pe­rial IPA that spawned the hop-for­ward west coast style. La­gu­ni­tas Brew­ing Com­pany has the sec­ond high­est ca­pac­ity of any craft brew­ery in the U.S. Some of the first craft brew­eries are from Sonoma, and now there are more than 30. They not only brew some of the best beer in the U.S., but the best beer from the broad­est range of styles—some of the best sours, farm-house style beers and wild fer­men­ta­tion. Wine cul­ture, food cul­ture and beer cul­ture enjoy a lot of in­ter­play here. Sonoma at­tracts such a di­verse pool of cre­ative in­ter­est-ori­ented peo­ple who pursue their hob­bies and their pas­sions. It would be hard to find a cynic, a pes­simist, or a naysayer here. This is a cul­ture of “Yes.” Every­where I look I see that in­dus­tri­ous can-do Amer­i­can spirit that says, “I’m not just go­ing to make two or three wines, I’m go­ing to make 40;” “I’m go­ing to cre­ate a beau­ti­ful Ja­panese gar­den, with a bath of cedar shav­ings;” “I love beer and video games, I’m go­ing to com­bine a brew­ery and an ar­cade.” Th­ese are peo­ple who dream and say “why not.” The dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy and at­ti­tude en­cour­ages it. It’s so refreshing to be in such a beau­ti­ful land­scape cul­ti­vated by those who ap­pre­ci­ate it, and who ac­tively fol­low their imag­i­na­tion wher­ever it leads them.

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