In the Heart of the Russian River Valley
In keeping with the Bay Area’s reputation for world-class cuisine, wine, and lodging, you’ll find an intense array of culinary treasures, delicious wines, and accommodations in a three-mile radius around Santa Rosa’s Olivet Road.
About an hour’s drive from San Francisco, discover this pastoral wonderland near the Russian River in Sonoma County. Highways turn into country roads where visitors share the landscape with cows and vineyards. And locals eagerly welcome you to enjoy the beauty and the bounty of their land.
In spite of the small geographic spread that includes Olivet Road, we found diverse properties from which to choose.
First up was the inviting three-bedroom farmhouse at Inman Family Wines. The cozy building overlooks the Inman’s Olivet Grange vineyards and gardens. The fireplace is nice on chilly evenings and the renovated kitchen has plenty of room if you want to cook. Their motto is “Bed and No Breakfast” so bring your own supplies or buy them at farms and markets along the way (some beverages provided). The one bathroom is set off the enclosed porch, a bit inconvenient, but functional.
If a lush country retreat is of interest, Vintners Inn by Ferrari Carrano is your spot. The Italian-inspired inn is as tasteful as their eponymous wines. Nestled among vines and gardens, the accommodations are spread out among three two-story buildings. The comfortable rooms boast fireplaces and private balconies with all the amenities. The hotel is environmentally conscious and has its own waste-water treatment facility that supplies reclaimed water to irrigate the vineyards and gardens. The gardens supply the popular restaurant (see Dine below).
And one last favorite: The luxe Farmhouse Inn. The family-owned boutique inn exudes wine-country living throughout its Main House, cottages and renovated barn. The interiors are beautiful and the gardens and landscaping (with heated pool) are lush. With a Michelin-starred restaurant onsite (see Dine below), this gem has it all.
Olivet Road is also near the towns of Graton, Sebastopol, and Santa Rosa – all with assorted accommodations.
The concentration of great restaurants in this area is amazing. Start your wine country experience the right way with brunch at Zazu Restaurant and Farm. Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart have created a wonderful environment at their delicious roadside café. From just-picked ingredients to farm fresh eggs and cured meats, the restaurant exudes local flavor and charm. We couldn’t resist Johnny’s corned beef hash with scrambled eggs and the scrumptious Black Pig bacon burger. And this was after the decadent maple glazed donuts with bacon jimmies! They even make their own wine with Thomas George Estates – a real treat.
For dinner one night, we indulged at Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Farmhouse Inn. Executive Chef Steve Litke blends farm-fresh ingredients to create an exquisite meal served in an elegant-yet-relaxed dining area.
We savored seared rare mackerel with dashi braised daikon and a white miso vinaigrette and grilled Mediterranean octopus with sunchokes, olive tapenade, arugula purée, and chermoula. Add the “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” cooked three ways with an applewood smoked bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack and confit of leg – all paired with a selection of international wines – and we had wine-country perfection. The trio of Meyer lemon (mousse, custard cake, and curd) was a decadently delicious dessert.
Another night, we enjoyed the John Ash and Co. restaurant at Vintners Inn. The vaulted ceiling, warm lighting, and soft colors enhance the dining experience. The seasonal menu not only leverages the relationship the restaurant enjoys with local farmers, but also features items harvested from their garden.
The Asian-style ahi tuna tartare served with wakame salad is luscious, as is the calamari fritti kicked up with Thai basil dipping sauce. The pan-seared cobia and diver scallops were sweet and tender, as was the Sonoma Liberty duck breast. And from the Ferrari-Carano collection we chose the 2010 Chardonnay and 2009 Siena (a Sangiovese blend). The warm apple and blackberry fruit crisp with a caramel sauce and melting vanilla gelato was great with the 2007 Eldorado Gold and the 2010 Eldorado Noir dessert wines. At Vintners Inn, freshly brewed coffee is outside your bedroom door – nice before you have the complimentary continental breakfast (à la carte items also available) served on the terrace or in the dining room. When you spend the night at the Farmhouse Inn, a mouthwatering gourmet breakfast also awaits you in the morning.
Wine-tasting is an integral part of any trip to Olivet Road. The artisan wineries produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other varietals. The Sonoma coastal fog adds to the allure of the Russian River Valley AVA and the success of the wines. Everyone there is eco-friendly.
We followed our own version of the Pinot Road trail. Although we drove, it also makes for a great bike ride. First up: Inman Family Wines (we stayed next door). The land is organically farmed; the business spotlights sustainability, and everything they do puts the environment front and center. All of the materials for the winery and tasting room are from recycled goods. Recognized for Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays (try the 2008 OGV Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay), but don’t leave without tasting the 2009 Brut Rosé Sparkling.
Just down the road is Hook and Ladder Winery, founded by a fireman passionate about his work – both at the front of a fire (though now retired) and in the world of wine. The tasting room is decorated with patches and T-shirts from fire stations around the world. Here they showcase their best, including the “Third Alarm” reserve series (love the 2010 Pinot Noir), the 2008 “Station 10” Zinfandel blend, and the 2008 “The Tillerman” Cabernet blend.
Nearby is Benovia Winery, which is farming their grapes sustainably. They use owl boxes to encourage native barn owl populations to prey on gophers and moles. Try their 2009 Pinot Noirs – the Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County and the Bella Una Russian River Valley.
The Pellegrini family has been growing grapes in Sonoma for four generations. Their Pellegrini Family Winery is known for their hand-crafted estate wines. Don’t miss the 2007 Olivet Lane Vineyard Pinot and the 2007 Milestone blend, an ode to their 75th anniversary.
Sunce Winery has delicious estate Pinot Noirs (like the 2010 Zora’s Estate), and also produces two new varietals each year. Most of the wines are made in small lots; be sure to sample the 2009 Carignane Suisun Valley and the 2009 Tempranillo.
After a rough day of wine tasting, there is nothing better than a spa treatment. Whichever option you select at Spa Services at Vintners Inn or the Spa at Farmhouse Inn, you’ll unwind and chill out in preparation for the week ahead.
The best shopping you’ll find in the Olivet Road area is at individual wineries. But if you don’t get your fix there, then Sebastopol and Graton (the smaller of the two) both have main streets with interesting shops and galleries. Every weekend, Midgley’s Flea Market sets up south of downtown Sebastopol.
Sonoma County Visitors Bureau
Russian River Valley Winegrowers
The Wine Road
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb