This post is not actually about the event, Taste of Petaluma 2014–that’s happening today–Saturday, August 23. You should go!
A few weekends ago, a blogger friend invited me up to go wine tasting in her home-away-from-home, Petaluma, California.
I’ve done a cheese, oyster and beer tour of this area of Southern Sonoma County before, but I’ve never stopped into any of the wineries. For wine, we usually head further north to Healdsburg or over the hills into Napa. I associate Petaluma with beer, thanks to legendary local brewer, Lagunitas. So I was eager to check out what else there was to do in Petaluma.
The town of Petaluma grew up in a gap within the coastal mountain range that opens at Bodega Bay. This space funnels cooling breezes and fog from the Pacific through the town. The cooler climate in this part of Sonoma results in lower grape yield and grapes that ripen later, with deep flavors and lots of fruit. The region is known for their chardonnays, pinot noirs, and intense syrahs. The local wineries are currently part of the Sonoma Coast for American Viticultural Area (AVA), but the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Association is currently applying for independent AVA status to be recognized for the distinctive microclimate that it is.
One of the women that pulled this trip together was was Cecilia Enriquez, a young (20-something!) winemaker who owns and operates a family estate, Enriquez Estate Wines. Her story is quite remarkable. A year or two after graduating from college in New Jersey, Cecilia was on a trip around Northern California. She fell in love with the Sonoma Valley and went home declaring she was moving to wine country and opening a winery. Just months later she was back in California and ready to start a new life for herself, on her own, doing everything herself.
This overhaul led to Enriquez Estate Wines. Cecelia invited us into her home, and surrounded by vineyards (and her two little dogs!), we shared wines in her kitchen. Though she’s only been in the business for a few years, she’s making some stellar wines, and she’s a staunch advocate of local businesses and the Petaluma wine industry.
In fact the day we visisted, she had invited her friend, Donna Pacheco, from the Achadinha Cheese Company to bring samples of her cheeses. All milk is sourced from her family’s farmstead dairy where they raise cows and goats. She brought a variety of hard and soft cheeses and paired them—on the spot—with Enriquez’s wines. I brought home a brick of her Capricious aged goat cheese, and I’ll be looking for her in local farmer’s markets. They sell in over 90 farmers markets in the Bay Area.
I really enjoyed meeting Cecelia and spending time at her gorgeous home. She’s working hard, but truly living her California Dream.
We visited a few other winemakers that had more conventional tasting rooms. Sonoma Valley Port Works was interesting because they are making excellent port wines out of a tiny warehouse right in Downtown Petaluma. I’ve never been a huge fan of ports—many that I’ve tried have been so sickly sweet or alcoholic that I can barely get them down. These local creations were much more balanced and nicely flavored. Yet, the stars of the show (for me and some other foodies in attendance) were their Sonomic “Almost Vinegar” syrups. These substantial flavor syrups (made from wine grapes) have just a bit of acidity and rich fruit flavor. I bought a bottle of the white syrup (made from Gewurtztraminer grapes), which I’m looking forward to drizzling over cheese, vegetables, and even ice cream.
Enjoy car racing? One of the strangest wine tasting experiences I’ve ever had was at Adobe Road Wines. Their location in Petaluma (open by appointment only) is truly unique because it is co-located with TRG-Aston Martin Racing, the company’s race car auto shop. They have a tiny tasting room built off of the garage, so we were able to enjoy our wine in the garage browsing the expensive Aston Martin racecars. I don’t know a thing about racing, but it was fun to get up close to these cars. They were sleek and powerful, and clearly built for speed.
We also got to meet with Adobe Road’s winemaker, Michael Scorsone. He was in the middle of filtering a barrel that had been aging in oak for over a year. He explained the process: As he pumps the wine, he shines this light through the hose–when the wine flow starts to fill with particulates, he turns the pump off because he knows he’s reaching the bottom of the barrel.
One of the larger winemakers we visited was the Keller Estate. We met with owner Ana Keller, who shared her family’s story and the love she has for her business. Along with the wines, I enjoyed the gorgeous view up on a hill overlooking the Petaluma Valley, and the art that was all over the site.
I especially loved these colorfully engraved tequila barrels that the family bought from Heradurra Tequila, in Mexico.
We were driven around all day by Terrific Tours, and our guide, Jason, who is a wine sommelier himself. I enjoyed talking about the wines we had tried and the fast growing wine industry (I recently watched the documentary Somm, and recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the inside workings of this industry). He’s available for charter for businesses or private groups, and he’ll tour you anywhere around the Sonoma or Napa Valley.
We had dinner that night at Seared, one of Petaluma’s finest restaurants. As a vegetarian, I usually shy away from steak and seafood houses, but they they were able to do a custom vegetarian meal that was truly excellent. For the others, the meat was the star. The region has a history of raising cattle, poultry and producing meat, eggs, and dairy products. At one point in history, the city was even called the egg capital of the world!
We tried a variety of different local wines with the meal, and even some international bubbly by Champagne Lelarge Pugeot (Clémence Lelarge is a friend of Enriquez, and joined us to represent her family). Though her wines aren’t made her in California, they seem to work with the California spirit–Champagne Lelarge Pugeot is a certified organic, grower/producer using biodynamic methods and native yeasts. One of the other great we had at dinner was from Fogline Vineyards, a crisp, unoaked chardonnay.
That night, we stayed at the historic Hotel Petaluma, a small hotel downtown with a long and storied history. The rooms are quaint and comfortable, and it made a great base after a long day of wine tasting.
Petaluma is only going to get more exciting: In two years, there will be a train from San Francisco. The Sonoma Marin Smart Train is a new transit expansion project currently under construction in the two North Bay counties. This rail line will take visitors from the San Francisco Ferry (in Larkspur) to Northern Sonoma County with two stops in Petaluma.
Thanks to Kristi for inviting me on this local adventure, and the local winemakers who are putting the Petaluma Gap on the map.
The Petaluma Museum Association is giving historic exhibit on the history of the region, starting in September. This would be a great time to visit the region and check it out for yourself. Find out more at the Petaluma Historical Library.
Some activities were hosted by the participating local businesses. All photos and opinions are my own.