JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH BROOKE HERRON FROM SONOMA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA !
Seventeen year wine industry and brand-marketing professional from Northern California, Brooke has recently returned to Sonoma County after a few years of living in Europe. When she’s not working on marketing projects for clients or writing articles for publications or her own blog you can find her hiking, seeking out local artisan food and drink or somewhere with an ocean view.
Located in between the Pacific Ocean and Napa Valley, Sonoma County is the most diverse premium wine grape growing region in the United States which produces almost twice as much wine as Napa. However, only 6 percent of the County’s total land mass is used to plant grapes which takes 36 months from vineyard planting to first crop producing more than 60 varieties. The most produced of them are – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.
Sonoma’s Pacific coastline, majestic redwood forests, meandering rivers leave the valleys fertile. In addition Mediterranean climate and a wide variety of different soil types contribute to the production of exceptional wines. The region is home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards and more than 400 wineries. There are also 40 spas and wellness centers, including natural thermal springs, restaurants, museums and galleries. Sonoma offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts too.
Sonoma County has recently won the Frommer’s Best Places to Go in 2020 Readers’ Choice award.
The world renowned Napa Valley runs just parallel to Sonoma. Why should one choose to visit Sonoma County over Napa?
While both Napa County and Sonoma County are renowned for their wines, beautiful scenery and amazing restaurants, visiting Sonoma County is a much different experience to visiting the Napa Valley.
First of all, Sonoma County is huge and the areas most people want to visit are spread out over a larger area. Sonoma County is much more than just the Sonoma Valley (which is where the town of Sonoma is located). There are also more ways to get in and out of the different parts of Sonoma County or to choose to plop yourself somewhere and visit different regions around you-without having to get back on the busiest freeways or highways. Whereas, to get into the Napa Valley there is really just one main route, and it can take a really long time to travel just a few miles. Especially on weekends.
Above all else though, Sonoma County is closer to the coast than Napa. From towns such as Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg you can reach the coast in just 30-45 minutes. This allows travelers to easily enjoy gorgeous coastal views and hikes as well as wine tasting and spectacular restaurants, all within the same trip.
The myriad of different regional, state and national parks in Sonoma County is also a huge benefit. I love hiking and being out in nature. I love the ocean. I love wine and vineyard views and amazing food and friendly people. I get all of this in Sonoma County.
What is the best time to visit Sonoma County and why?
There is no bad season in Sonoma County. The weather doesn’t ever get too cold or wet, even in the winter (though we occasionally have a week of storms or rain-we mostly have nice days where we can be outdoors almost every day. To choose a time of year to visit-it’s important to decide what’s most important to you.
If you want hot weather and to see vines with fruit on them, you should go in summer. In summer there are warm days and cool nights, ideal for producing some of the world’s finest grapes and wines. If you want to be in wine country during harvest season and smell the fermenting grapes in the air, enjoy harvest parties, events and festivals you should come in early Fall (September). If you’d like to see the flowers in bloom and avoid the busiest part of the year, you could choose Spring.
And, if you’d like to enjoy a bit of a quieter period of year and get the benefit of being able to make appointments more easily, get reservations at the best restaurants without a long wait and meet owners or winemakers who have more time to dedicate to their guests, you might like to try Winter.
You can also coincide your stay in Sonoma County with any of the annual events or festivals. Meet winemakers, tour wineries, sample wines directly from the barrel, taste chowder, experience live entertainment, taste yummy seafood and much more at these events. This is a comprehensive list of all the best events and festivals celebrated throughout the year in the County.
What according to you is the best way to reach Sonoma County considering most travellers land in San Francisco?
Rent a car and take the 101 North into Sonoma County. Sonoma County is less than a two-hour drive from San Francisco airport and also from two other international airports – Oakland (with often cheaper flights), and Sacramento. You can take shuttles from San Francisco and Oakland.
The Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa have direct flights from Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Phoenix-Sky Harbor, Denver served by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines/Sky West, United Airlines and Sun Country Airlines andseasonal flights from Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Las Vegas.
What are the preferred ways to travel in Sonoma County (car, taxi, SMART train etc) ?
Car. You cannot reach vineyards without a car. Unless you are paying for a driver every day.
The County is renowned for its vineyards. Which according to you are the best wineries to visit in Sonoma County ?
‘Best’ is completely subjective. Each person has their own tastes and preferences. Some like to visit big wineries and drink certain varietals. Others want to visit small off the beaten path places and search out unique varietals. Others have a goal of taking vineyard tours or classes on wine tasting.
There are around 425 wineries in Sonoma hence this is not a question that can be answered unless I know the people who are visiting and their tastes/preferences.
To choose which wineries to visit, you might want to first understand the different regions within Sonoma County.
Sonoma is considered an ideal location for outoor activites. What adventure activities would you recommend to tourists?
There are many options to choose from for outdoor activities.
Hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing…
I personally love hiking out on the coast near Jenner (at Jenner Headlands park) or at parks such as Sugarloaf or Jack London in Sonoma and Glen Ellen. There are also the Armstrong Redwoods near Guerneville and Forestville.
For kayaking I like the Russian River area. A great company to rent canoes from (who will transport you back at the end) is Burke’s in Forestville. Or you can start from Healdsburg and use River’s Edge.
What are the local specialties of the County?
Sonoma County has a large number of farms and artisan food producers. There are an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown here as well as hand – crafted artisan cheeses, gelato, ice-cream and more. Dungeness crab, salmon, and briny oysters are harvested fresh from the sea. You can find all these locally grown or produced ingredients and products on the menus of many of the local restaurants.
It is also a region that offers a wealth of amazing restaurant options – from bars with elevated food and cocktail menus to casual cafes that utilize local organic produce, meats and cheese to wine bars with tapas style small plate menus to fine dining and Michelin starred options.
Which are the best places to eat out in the County?
Here are a couple of my favorite places to eat-by city:
Petaluma: Whisper Sisters (cocktails and small plates), The Shuckery (seafood inspired menu offering a selection of… you guessed it… oysters but also many other seafood and non seafood dishes. The ceviche and fish tacos are favorites of mine).
Sonoma: Cafe La Haye – for dinner. Excellent modern cuisine in a cozy environment. The owner is always on-site making sure all is well. This is one of the most reliably great places I’ve dined at in Sonoma (some are hit and miss). Tasca Tasca – Portugese inspired tapas restaurant. They offer a great selection of gourmet small plates to share and also often have wine flight options which allow you to easily try a few different wines with your meal.
Santa Rosa : The Spinster Sisters – An upscale American Breakfast & Brunch Wine Bars with excellent food and a seasonally focused menu.
Healdsburg: Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar – seafood cafe with a raw bar serving tapas, lobster rolls & more plus a broad wine list, Campo Fina – Italian eatery serving wood-fired pizzas & small plates, plus a covered patio & bocce court.
Any suggestion on which town would be a good base for exploring the County?
It depends on which regions in Sonoma County you most want to visit and how much time you have/where you are coming from. In Sonoma, you can find boutique hotels, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts, small inns, vacation rentals, and campgrounds for lodging.
Both Sonoma and Healdsburg make a great base-but you will see completely different things and be close to different areas, in each of these places. My suggestion is to take out a map of the AVA’s (growing regions) and look at where they are. Then, based on which regions you want to visit wineries in, choose your base accordingly.
If you don’t know which regions you want to visit-look up some articles on some of the major wine regions such as Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Russian River and Sonoma Valley and read about them, look at pictures and get a sense for the types of varietals that are made there and the wineries that are there. Then, you should have a much clearer picture about what region you most want to visit.
If you don’t want to do any research, then you can always book a place in Healdsburg (for budget accommodation try Best Western, for romance you can opt for one of the handful of lovely B&B’s in and around the downtown area or the more modern Dry Creek Hotel), and no matter what I think you’ll end up happy.
Which places in the County would you recommend to art and culture lovers?
I would recommend trying to attend one of the many cultural events or series of events that happen in Sonoma County such as the Sonoma County film festival, Broadway Under the Stars at Jack London park, Shakespeare Under the Stars at Buena Vista Winery…
There are also many festivals that happen annually in Sonoma County and almost all of them include local art displays and local artists. Such as the Seafood Art and Wine Festival, Healdsburg Art Festival, Gravenstein Apple Fair and more. All Sonoma County festivals also include amazing food, live music and of course… local wines and beers.
Would you recommend any apps for food, transport, or hidden gems used by the locals?
I’d recommend the following websites as resources:
Sonomacounty.com (Sonoma County Tourism’s website). A great site for all things Sonoma County related. The site also includes useful lists such as local drivers and tour companies, past and upcoming events, ideas for planning your weekend itinerary, etc.
Ediblemarinandwinecountry – for amazing farm to table and local food/drink focused tips and articles on local farmers, artisan food & drink creators, etc. This site also has an event calendar which includes farm to table and local artisan food and drink related events.
Wineroad.com – a great website for checking out what events are happening in Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley wineries.
Sonomavalley.com – for happenings in the Sonoma Valley
I also have written a few articles and blog posts on useful topics such as Sonoma County cideries you should know, year-round farmers’ markets in Sonoma County, etc.
Would you like to give any suggestions to tourists visiting the County?
Don’t spend just a day here. If possible, give yourself enough time to truly explore the region-beyond just fancy restaurants and wine tasting. The region has far more to offer than just wine tasting and wineries (though you could fill a full week just doing this and still have sooo much more yet to do!). To fully appreciate Sonoma County-it is necessary to explore the parks, coast, forests…. dive bars and casual eateries.
Insider tip #1: For a morning of gorgeous coastal views and a little activity followed by right-out-of-the-ocean fresh seafood at a casual joint, try Bodega Head and Spud Point Arena.
Enjoy the spectacular frothy ocean views at Bodega Head before stopping by Spud Point for some delicious clam chowder or fresh dungeness crab (to take back to your place if you have a kitchen).
Insider Tip #2: Mix in some cider, or cheese tasting or a farm tour. Great farm tours that include cheese tasting: Pt. Reyes Farmstead (technically Marin but so close to the border we consider it local), Toluma Farms (same thing) and Achadinha Farm & Cheese Co; For cideries with taprooms/tasting rooms: Golden State Cider, Tilted Shed Cider, Horse and Plow Winery & Cidery.
Things to know :
Location : Part of the San Francisco Bay Area, in Northern California, some 30 miles
(45 minutes) north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge; bordered by Marin, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino Counties and the Pacific Ocean and the San Pablo Bay.
Sonoma American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) : Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros–Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain, Northern Sonoma, Petaluma Gap, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma Valley.
Waterbodies : 80 kilometers of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the San Pablo Bay. A lake called Lake Sonoma and three rivers – Russian, Petaluma, and Gualala.
Coasts : Annapolis, Bodega, Bodega Bay, Fort Ross, Gualala, Jenner, Stewarts Point, The Sea Ranch, Timber Cove.
Valleys : Graton, Forestville, Freestone, Occidental, Sebastopol, Valley Ford in the West. Asti, Cloverdale, Cotati, Fulton, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Penngrove, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Windsor in the Centre. Boyes Hot Springs, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Schellville, Sonoma in the East.
For a free visitors guide or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Sonoma County, visit the official website of the County or call 707-522-5800.
Order your free Sonoma County Visitors Guide and Wineries Map.