Spirits

New Direct Flights Invite Texans to Visit Sonoma County

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Wine-loving Texans (like me) were happy to hear that American Airlines has started direct flights daily from DFW Airport to Sonoma County, California. Instead of an all-day trip to visit acres of vineyards and wineries, a direct flight to Santa Rosa takes less than four hours.

My obliging husband (strictly a Dr Pepper/sweet tea guy) agreed to go along with a September trip to tour some Sonoma County wineries. We try to go somewhere cooler when autumn temperatures stay above 100 degrees in Dallas. California definitely offered a more temperate climate, and those direct flights made it even more attractive.

After confirming round-trip flights for September 9-12, I found the folks at Visit Sonoma County extremely helpful in planning our itinerary. Besides a mind-boggling number of wineries, they recommended places to stay and places to eat. They even found a limo company that specialized in winery tours.

Transplanted Texan Jonathan Garner

New Direct Flights Invite Texans to Visit Sonoma County

Photo: Jo Ann Holt

Healdsburg Tours limo owner Jonathan Garner offered to personally drive us in his gorgeous TeslaX. The transplanted Texan grew up in Fort Worth, and he looked forward to “speaking Texan” for a few days. Sonoma County is a much larger area, at nearly 60,000 acres of vineyards with 425 wineries, than Napa Valley, and touring it was made easier by Garner’s expertise. We liked his analogy that Napa Valley was more like Dallas while Sonoma County was like Fort Worth.

There are 18 appellations, each with distinctive characteristics, in the county that extends from the Pacific coast to the Mayacamas Mountains. Since our time was limited, we only visited three appellations. We toured Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley. Wine prices seemed to be a better bargain, even for award-winning wines, than those in Napa Valley.

Robert Young Estate Winery

New Direct Flights Invite Texans to Visit Sonoma County

Photo: Jo Ann Holt

Our favorite winery was the Robert Young Estate Winery in Alexander Valley. We stayed in a lovely pool house at their winery, and toured the vineyards with one of the owners. Fred Young and his siblings JoAnn, Jim, and Susan, are the fourth generation of their family to manage the estate. As wine-makers, they are best known for their Cabernet grapes. Their award-winning Scion Cabernet Sauvignon has won many awards for the winery. A bottle of Scion sells for around $70. It’s a boldly flavored, delicious red wine that pairs perfectly with beef dishes.

Their family was among the earliest Sonoma County pioneers. Great-grandfather Peter Young arrived in 1858, following the California Gold Rush. He soon found that farming 120 acres of land and raising cattle and wheat was more profitable. In the 1870s, Peter started a prune orchard, which was the main crop until 1963, when his grandson Robert Young was the first to plant Cabernet in Alexander Valley. The Young family soon found the vineyards more profitable than prunes. They now have 317 acres of wine grapes plus additional land that’s not planted in grapes. They also run 20 head of cattle, and even have a resident Llama on the property.

After 160 years and seven generations of the family working together, in 2018 the family erected a new, state-of-the-art tasting room. Named The Scion House for their award-winning Cabernet, the spacious room boasts a 360-degree view of the Robert Young Estate vineyards with indoor and outdoor seating.

Dry Creek Kitchen

New Direct Flights Invite Texans to Visit Sonoma County

Photo: Jo Ann Holt

Another winery we both liked was Dry Creek Vineyards, in the Dry Creek appellation. While I sampled a wine flight, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in a tree-lined patio area. Their 2015 DCV9 Estate Petit Verdot (a red wine with blackberry and plum aromas, $40 a bottle) was my favorite.

We found three great restaurants in Sonoma County. At Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg we were treated to a remarkable meal from the tasting menu. Their chef’s small-plated savory selections were lovingly paired with the sommelier’s choice of wines from local vineyards. Starting with a petite tango salad, we feasted on Heirloom Squash Veloute. Next course: Caramelized Diver Scallop, followed by a Lamb T-Bone Chop.The delicious menu ended on a high note, with Summer S’Mores for dessert.

Two other highly recommended restaurants are also in Healdsburg. The town is home to a number of fine dining establishments. Our second night, we enjoyed Chef Dustin Valette’s tasting menu. It’s easy to see why Valette, a restaurant he co-owns with Aaron Garzini, is so popular. The brothers plan to open a second restaurant nearby.

New Direct Flights Invite Texans to Visit Sonoma County

Photo: Jo Ann Holt

Our last night in Sonoma County we met with Beth Costa and Mysty Stewart of Wine Road to learn more about their service. In the laid-back environment of Bravas Tapas, every dish we sampled was terrific. A festive crowd packed the outdoor deck and large backyard area. We shared an excellent bottle of Grenache Rose from Kokomo Winery that was crisp, dry, and flavorful.

Wine Road is a non-profit association offering a one-stop shop for Sonoma County visitors. I recommend asking for their help to plan your itinerary; these ladies have so many contacts in the community. They also host special events like the 21st annual Wine and Food Affair scheduled November 2-3. The event features 80 wineries in Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. Each winery offers gourmet cuisine by a local culinary artist paired with their choice of wine. For information visit WineRoad.com.