Wine Country Escape

Trying to Put Into Words the Magic that is Napa & Sonoma Valley
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People ask me all of the time: “Why do you like wine?”  “Why do you like Napa?”  “What makes Sonoma so special?”  And they usually finish the sentence with one of the following: “I don’t get it.” “It’s s so expensive.” While Napa and Sonoma may represent the chance for some to gallivant around to a roster of vineyards and tasting rooms, without a second’s pause to soak it all in, that’s not the same place I visit year after year. A fair warning: if your idea of wine country is tasting after tasting till you can’t differentiate a pinot from a cab, then this is not the post for you.  

For me, this magical place is just that magic. It’s the place where I’ve had some of my most memorable days and nights.  Where I’ve made quite the dent in my bucket list. I’ve tasted some of the most amazing dishes at unforgettable dinners.  Where I’ve made friends with people that seemed more like family.  Wine Country is, in a nutshell, is where I escape each year to soak in—what at the end of the day is—simply farming.  And there’s nothing more beautiful, or for me respected, than family and field workers alike working the land, at the mercy of mother nature, to create a product they love.

While this is not the time to dive deep into the details of each winery (my official Napa/Sonoma guide Part I will soon be followed by a Part II!), I would be amiss not to mention some of my absolute favorite stops on our latest journey.  And hopefully this will help to explain just why I’m so infatuated by this valley full of vines.  

Our first stop was at a winery that produces one of my absolute favorite pinots, and a winery I’ve been wanting to check out for a few years now: Merry Edwards.  One of the most well-respected wine makers, Merry’s story is one everyone in the Valley knows, and her pinot always revered.  And yes, while her Pinot always seems to steal the show at tastings I quickly realized on our visit that all her wines speak for themselves; case in point I walked out her tasting room with Chardonnay on the brain.  Which if you know me, then you’d know I am not a Chardonnay drinker, but that’s the beauty of the grapes!  Each season brings a new taste.

Chardonnay would continue to be the star of my trip as we made our way to Patz & Hall.  We spent the day tasting through the P&H library with Heather Patz, and not only did I fall madly in love with her wines, but also with her story.  Four friends moved to Sonoma, found a winery, and now have some of the most celebrated wines in the region.  Talk about stoking my someday-owning-a-vineyard dream.

Balletto kept my dream alive after I listened for hours as Mr. and Mrs. Balletto explained how they started as zucchini farmers, and grew this family run business to what it is today…twelve vineyards and counting.  And if the dream wasn’t enough (don’t worry it was) to keep me at the table, the Pinot Gris was.  And Anthony, well he was in rose and baseball heaven.  Yes, baseball because smack dab in the middle of rows of pinot and chardonnay grapes, sits a regulation size baseball field built by the Balletto’s and the field workers.  Their very own field of dreams.

Right in the center of downtown Sonoma sits one of the last original Adobes.  And in that little, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Adobe, sits a new favorite wine of mine: Three Sticks.  When walking into Three Sticks, you’re greeted with their small production Castaneda “house” wine which you’re unable to even purchase unless you’re at the Adobe, so of course I had a few bottles sent home (which I’m sad to report I’ve already enjoyed).  Inside, you immediately feel like you’ve found buried treasure… buried treasure with perfect interiors, thanks to San Fransisco designer Ken Fulk.  You get the feeling, just like in the Adobe, that Bill & Eva Price have almost kept Three Sticks a secret on purpose.  Three Sticks only produces a limited run of each wine, so this quickly became a collecting (and enjoying of course) wine for me.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a trip without stopping in to see our dear friends at Round Pond.  I of course walked out (or rather had shipped) three cases of my favorite Sauv Blanc—our summer house wine—and we may or may not have gotten in a little trouble in the cellar when Muiris left us alone with the wine thief.  If you had been following along on Snapchat, you would have gotten a peak at our shenanigans, so word to the wise follow along. 

Our last stop was Ram’s Gate.  I’d always known it for its absolutely breathtaking grounds, but I was curious to see if their wine stood up to its beautiful surroundings.  As we made our way down the long drive, my favorite Joni Mitchell song began playing just as the sky was turning the most perfect shade of pink.  It was simple; a moment of pure happiness where it felt like time stopped.  I wish I could have bottled it: the feeling, the calm, the view, the everything.  Because if I could have, then that’s all I would need to show when I get all of those why-Napa, why-Sonoma questions.  That moment would answer them all.  But until I can figure out how to bottle magic, I’ll keep trying to explain it, and I’ll dream of someday far far away when maybe I’ll have a few rows of my own.  Wouldn’t that just be perfect?  Truly, MKR





Locations:  Balletto Vineyards, Ram’s Gate, Three Sticks, Round Pond, Patz & Hall, Merry Edwards, and Quintessa  |  Big thanks to Sarah Jones for creating the perfect itinerary  |  All photography original to Waiting On Martha

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  • Cathy and I have got to go back and do Napa again. These photos are gorgeous by the way. Curious what lens do you use?? I’m on the hunt for a new one!

    xo Jessica

  • This is such an awesome guide! I am pinning it …and your other one. We live in SF and this makes me want a trip there soon. Beautiful writing, too.

    Mary Ann

  • Thank you again Mandy, we had such a great time with you and Anthony. So glad we were able to be a part of your 2015 Wine Country experience this year. We look forward to your next visit and hope to see you guys again soon. Cheers! John, Terri & the entire Balletto Vineyards Family

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