By Elaine Ubiña
Our wine-country adventure began with a drive from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. The micro-climates are fascinating in the San Francisco area. One goes from sunny and warm Silicon Valley to the overcast cold fog that steeps the city, and across the bridge to a crisp and clean air with a very warm sun in the colorful valleys and cool breezes in the hills.
A dear friend had suggested a stop for lunch at Sam’s Anchor Café. It’s at about the half way point. The view of the bridge and San Francisco is breathtaking and Tiburon is a very cute coastal town. Sam’s in Tiburon is open all day and you do not need a reservation. They serve everything you would expect at a dockside hangout – oysters, mussels, fish tacos, burgers, soups and salads.
We headed north from Tiburon and very shortly thereafter entered wine country. The views are magnificent! Green vines growing up and down the mountains. Julio and I arrived at MacArthur Place mid-afternoon. We were greeted by their friendly staff and a sparkling glass of wine for me. MacArthur Place’s 64 guest rooms are set within six acres in what appears as a small Victorian village of pristinely maintained farm-style cottages. There are winding paths with gardens and sculptures that have been curated by AERENA Galleries.There are secret nooks and cooling tree canopies and fire pits scattered throughout, along with a nice pool and hot tub in a park-like setting. MacArthur Place was founded as a family estate, vineyard and working ranch over 100 years ago. Each of the charming buildings contains two to four rooms and suites, each one with a private outdoor space. They are luxurious and serene and designed with soothing textures and natural materials. Our suite had a fireplace and very comfortable, large bathroom and a lovely porch. Some rooms have outdoor showers.
Of course, the mini bar was top notch! It included great snacks for our 14-year old “mini bar connoisseur” and wine, Nespresso, tea and a fabulous CBD concoction for mom! The combination of that, the cool evening air and very comfortable bed, led to one of the best night sleeps I’ve ever had!
Our dinner at Layla was a farm fresh extravaganza! The lettuces and vegetables were extraordinary! The food focus is on Mediterranean with a terrific variety of wines to choose from. Our server was in his second year of sommelier school and very knowledgeable about the wine offerings, as well as the Sonoma area, its wines and how they grow. Did you know that grapes grow thicker skins (producing more concentrated flavors) due to the wind, cold nights and a dry climate?
After a delicious breakfast at Layla the next morning, Julio and I headed out to The Epicurean Connection for a cheese making class with Ben Sessions, who teams up with his wife, Sheana Davis, at their very cool food lab. They are cheesemakers, culinary educators, chefs, consultants and caterers. We started our class with tastes from a delicious assortment of local cheeses, a glass of rose for me and a sparkling soda for Julio. Ben showed us how to make ricotta cheese. It’s very simple – mix cream and milk – heat to 200 degrees and it will curdle. The fun part was trying out the huge assortment of flavors. We did lots of taste testing until we settled on the flavors we were going to use to make our take-home cheeses (which The MacArthur kindly froze for us for easy travel). We chose truffled honey, strawberry, and sriracha among other flavors to add to our six – 8 oz. containers of ricotta. Ben and Sheana are a wealth of information about the local food scene in Sonoma (and the world). It was fun to hear about the farm where they, along with Alice Waters and many other celebrity chefs, buy their produce. They are up on all the food trends (she advises many in the food industry on this topic) and they own a separate cheese making facility that supplies restaurants and chefs. Quite an industrious duo!
Following cheese making. I dropped Julio back at MacArthur and went for a walk around the charming square in Sonoma. Many of the buildings date back to its founding in the 1850s. It was fun to see all the small shops and restaurants and unique wine tasting venues. One can pop in to venues all around the square to try a wide variety of wines! The Mission San Francisco Solano is an interesting pop-in. It’s fascinating to learn about the history of California’s independence from Mexico and how Sonoma played its part in it.
Dinner at Glen Ellen Star was recommended highly by our friend, Brooke Lavery of The Local Foreigner. It was a perfect low-key spot for Julio and me. Wood fired pizzas, roasted vegetables, and a simple green salad that had been picked that morning, were bursting with flavor. Lots of local wines on the menu.
We wrapped up our stay at MacArthur Place with a stop into The Porch cafe to pick up a cappuccino, yogurt with fruit and bacon egg and cheese for the road. We were off to the Charles Schulz Sonoma County Airport for our flight to San Diego. Convenience and small airports are becoming a staple in travel. Stay tuned for further adventures!