It’s funny when you go off the beaten path in America, isn’t it? New York, LA, Miami, San Francisco… a lot of us have handles on those places. But how about getting a train? Or a ferry? How about going into the country? How about tiny fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand towns full of actual real-life Americans?
We’re not saying that Sonoma, the heart of the San Francisco-adjacent wine country, is a stranger to tourists. That would be silly. But they are mostly American tourists who seem to go. Which is also silly seeing how easy it is to get to – even without a car! – from San Fran and how lovely a respite it provides from that gritty city.
We got a friend to give us a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to the station – though we could easily have come by ferry, which is what we did on the way back – then it was less than an hour and almost no money at all – around £3! – to get to the heart of the wine country and then a £20 Uber ride with a lovely lady who thinks that life is wonderful and uses driving Ubers to let everyone know. If you had a car, you’d be laughing especially as the countryside you drive through is smack-in-the-mouth gorgeous. Almost English in its gorgeousness!
And what better time to arrive at The Lodge at Sonoma than at happy hour when local wine producers are there in that beautiful lobby with its storeys-high ceilings pouring willy-and-nilly? Whites and reds! No, just so that you can try. No payment necessary. Clearly our kind of location.
We’ll come back to the main, historic-looking building in a bit but we can’t wait to take you out, past that quite decent-sized pool, past the hot tub, down the little lanes to the cottages… which are so darling we’re sending a Valentine’s card to ours next year (don’t tell anyone).
If you can, bag a ground floor (there are apparently people upstairs, we never heard a sound) because then you get a little yard area with an outdoor bath, an open fire and some lounging furniture for when you decide to open a bottle of wine. There’s more open fire inside (this place must be so cosy in the winter!) and a tasteful layout with sofas and chairs and a quite sizeable bathroom. The style is classic because no one wants to be scaring any horses around here.
Back to the main building and if you go out front you’ll see a truly historic building back from the time when the US was carving off bits of Mexico, a room where in July the Gay Wine Weekend gets the run of the place. And we like the sound of that.
This being Sonoma, food and wine are of the highest priority, which means breakfast is in Benicia’s Kitchen, a relaxed Mexican-inspired spot while proper dinner is a very fine-dining affair at Wit & Wisdom run by chef Michael Mina (people come from miles around!), where the menu has all the steaks and king crab and endive Caesar salads albeit mixed in with braised short rib Pop Tarts. The square booths at the back or the outside tables are the ones you want.
As for that funny little town, if you can bear to drag yourself away from The Lodge, it’s just a 15-minute walk down the road (or borrow one of their bikes or take their shuttle) and is a picture perfect California town with about as much history as California can muster and a little museum that is actually quite interesting. Mind you, you won’t want to be wasting too much time on museums when the town’s specialist subject is wine tasting. Then you have to get back to the Lodge at Sonoma in time for the afternoon tasting. So many tastings, so little time!