“Just one night,” I pleaded with Stag over dinner on a Monday. “One night in wine country, to enjoy the sun.” Chewing slowly, Stag pondered for a minute. And then, a nod. Within a flash, I whipped out my computer. One quick AirBnB check and a little googling later, we had an overnight stay booked for that weekend.
I should point out: Stag and I are never this spontaneous. London-dwelling us would pore over guides and deliberate about our trips for the year for months. Months! But, with our new life in San Francisco comes new behaviours. One of which leaves a very strange taste on my tongue: ‘spontaneity.’
Our itinerary plan: leave Saturday morning in our rental car and enjoy the leisurely coastal drive up Route 1 North, making our way into the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma Country. We were to meet my high school friend (and owner of Enriquez Estate Wines) for a cheeky wine tasting, squeezing in a couple of more in the area. Dinner that night, followed by breakfast on the Sunday and — you got it — more wine tastings, before the late afternoon journey home.
On the Saturday morning, after a bit of, shall we say, drama — seriously guys, I got a piece of dirt stuck in the back of my eye for an hour, it was so stressful — we were on on our way up California coast.
The sounds of ‘California Dreaming’ guided us along winding tree-lined roads, bursting open to reveal sharp cliff drops and eagles soaring overhead. Picturesque doesn’t quite do it justice.
I wish I could say the journey was relaxed, carefree, full of adventure like I had hoped. And, well, it was some of those things. But, like many things in life, the Expectation vs. Reality element was a bit off-kilter.
We were so late meeting my friend for the wine tasting (thanks, traffic and roadworks and that damned eye of mine), that we had to rush through many of the picture-worthy stopping points. We also attempted to stop for a leisurely lunch, but with seemingly the entire state of California taking the same trip as us, every place we tried was busy-busy-busy.
In the end, our reality looked a lot like the two of us wolfing down a meatball sub from Tomales Deli + Cafe — with me, quite literally shouting, “WE HAVE EXACTLY 3 MINUTES TO EAT THIS, GOOOO” — before we hit the road again.
We sadly had to veer off our Route 1 journey in order to save time. However, even the drive off the coastal route is something beautiful. Trees and winding roads make it lovely, sure. But there is something special about gazing out your car window and seeing grapevines and vineyards on every corner. Even houses that look like just typical houses seem to have a plot of grapes growing!
Tucked away off a hidden drive, my friend’s winery is small but beautiful, boasting a great selection of unique and interesting wines. They even have an Airbnb rental on the property, and a stay comes with a guided wine tasting. Stag and I are already planning on taking my dad there later in the year, it was such a wonderful visit.
In fact, we ended up having such a good time that we plopped ourselves down until the sun set, well past when wineries were closing. So much for our itinerary!
However, deciding to roll with the punches (we are now laid-back Californians, after all), we opted instead to drive into Santa Rosa to visit the famed Russian River Brewery. Upon finding a nine-hour-long queue to get in (not an exaggeration), we instead decided to do a local beer tasting at Third Street Aleworks. And when I say tasting, I mean tasting. 15 generous samples of gorgeous beer, and I quickly needed a snack to soak it up.
Dinner that evening was at Underwood Bar & Bistro, which Cecilia recommended to us and happened to be a 5 minute walk from our AirBnb. Our dinner was phenomenal — an upscale, cozy dining experience nestled on a quiet residential street. In a quiet, residential town, really. If you stay anywhere near Graton, Underwood for dinner is a must.
The next morning — a slow, slow morning, thanks to the day before — we took the time to wander around the garden of our AirBnb, aptly named ‘Lil’s Garden.’ This private suite is an adorable, kitschy room in Graton, CA, that was both wonderfully affordable and completely private.
And, as is in the name, the garden surrounding Lil’s place is a place to behold. Like a magical fairy glen, with secrets in every corner. I wasn’t entirely unconvinced that we wouldn’t stumble upon a gnome living there.
After checking out of our AirBnb, our grumbling stomachs led us to Willow Wood Market Cafe, a cozy local diner-spot with some of the best french toast I’ve ever had. And that’s saying something big, because french toast and I go way, way back.
Tired, a wee bit hungover from Saturday, and with grey skies heavy overhead, Stag and I finished our breakfast and sat in the car. And wondered what to do next. It was 11am at this point. Did we really want to do more wine tasting? And then, new Californian can-do attitude in tow, we looked at each other and said, “The hell with it; let’s go drink wine in the morning!”
Woodenhead Wines was top of our list to visit for a tasting, and it did not disappoint. Set slightly raised, surrounded by acres of vines and hills, Stag and I both dreamt of visiting here on a hot summer’s day, sipping wine with nothing but these views to accompany us.
Instead, this grey February day called for us to begin our tasting indoors. The staff at Woodenhead were nothing but kind and knowledgable, and they led us down a story of unique and complex red wines to try.
(Guys, honestly, I am no better at talking about wine then I was when I was 18. I am just going to pretend I am fancy with fancy words).
We both agreed that the 2013 Pinot Noir (the one with the red label) was our unanimous favorite. We (a little too) quickly bought a bottle for home.
And, because the Gods of Weather smile down upon wine drinkers, the sun decided to shine its beautiful face. We took our last glass of red outside to sip it slowly in that bit of sunshine.
My Kirei blouse was the perfect top to wear for our wine country roadtrip: thick, quality cotton with beautiful details and detailed sleeves. The ideal combination of warm, of summer, and of California cool. I’m proud to be a Kirei ambassador and can’t recommend their timeless, quality pieces highly enough.
We decided to call it quits for wine that day — not just because Stag needed to drive! — and made our way for, you guessed it, lunch. We drove along the Russian River, which ended up being my favorite drive of the whole journey.
Our spot for lunch was upscale seafood restaurant River’s End Restaurant which, very aptly named, is where the Russian River ends and meets the Pacific Ocean. Still full from breakfast, our lunch was light but gorgeous, delectable crab dishes that make my mouth water just thinking about ’em.
And the views, guys. The views
With late afternoon upon us, it was sadly time drive the route home. We took the rest of the Route 1 we had missed before, with another quick pit stop to take a few photos. The sun was out in full force, the wind whipping about us like a tornado, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so free.
Planning a One-Night Wine Country Roadtrip?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- If you go on a weekend, be prepared for traffic, or construction delays, or both. Most likely, both, especially if it’s a sunny or warm weekend
- Most of the wineries in wine country close at either 4-4:30 PM. So make sure you plan accordingly, a.k.a. be prepared for morning wine drinking!
- The region is known for growing some of the best Pinot Noir, so make sure you request at least one when wine tasting!
- Stay: Lil’s Garden suite in Graton was the perfect accomodation for our one-night stay
- Food: Underwood Bar & Bistro and Willow Wood Market Cafe (Graton), River’s End Restaurant (Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific)
- Wine Tasting Spots: Woodenhead and Enriquez Estate Wines (by appointment only).
- Beer Spots: Russian River Brewery (try Pliny the Younger, if available!) or Third Street Aleworks, both in Santa Rosa.
Have you been to wine country? Where specifically? Any places I missed off my itinerary? I’d love to hear about your trip!