Agritourism: Wining, Dining and Farm-Tromping in Sonoma
It’s no secret people travel to eat, and the lush fertile valleys of Sonoma County awaken that urge in a big, hungry way. Foodie travel takes on a whole new level of meaning here, where terms like "agritourism" and "farm-to-fork" are embedded in the local’s vocabulary.
Since the best restaurants in the area, including Santé at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, source their ingredients primarily from local organic family farms, Sonoma is the perfect place for visitors to get “hands on” Mother Earth’s bounty. The concept of agritourism involves traveling to the fields, farms, orchards and vineyards where food is actually grown and harvested and pitching in if it strikes your fancy. If you prefer a more distanced admiration, you can simply walk the orchards, enjoy the wines and indulge in a Wine Country-inspired picnic basket packed by Fairmont’s in-house dining experts.
Sonoma County Farm and Cheese Trails
In a quintessential portrait of abundance, the Sonoma County Farm Trail and Cheese Trail evoke Americana at its heartiest. Dozens of farms, ranches, orchards and creameries fling open their doors to visitors, so you can choose from a range of agro-experiences that take you out of your usual comfort zone. You can pick peaches, taste honey, milk cows, pet baby goats and llamas, take sustainable cooking classes and engage in artisan cheese-making and cheese-tasting at small farms and creameries. The idea is to connect with your food and the growers or makers who bring it to your table throughout the year.
At Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol, take a farm tour of the goat dairy and cuddle up with baby goats before learning how to milk the mamas. After observing the cheesemaking process, pick up some of their award-winning artisan offerings, including feta, chevre, crottin and kefir, as well as seasonal Capracopia honey and olive oil. Join a cheese-tasting tour at Bodega Artisan Cheese, or get hands-on at Achadinha Cheese Co. where you’ll make your own batch of heritage farmstead country cheeses. If you’re traveling with little ones, they can pet baby calves at McClelland's Dairy.
Near the town of Forestville in the Russian River Valley, Kozlowski Farms stands out for old-fashioned jams, fruit butters and berry vinegars as well as its coveted fresh-baked Gravenstein apple pie with pecan-crumb top. Brides have been known to displace traditional wedding cakes in favor of these pies: they’re that good. Unless you plan to devour an entire pie while visiting Sonoma, you can ask the Kozlowski family to pack and deliver one straight to your home via two-day air.
Known as the “other world-famous fruit” in Sonoma, and second only to grapes, Gravenstein apples take center stage at Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol every August. You’ll find apples galore along with fresh-pressed cider, wine, local foods and live music.
Russian River Wine Road
Only 30 minutes from the hotel, Fairmont guests can drive the Russian River Wine Road, a loose grouping of wineries that welcome visitors to the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley. Making up a sizeable portion of the 425-plus wineries in Sonoma County, these AVAs cover such major wine destinations as Healdsburg, Sebastopol and Westside Road.
Many wine-lovers choose Westside Road for the ambiance alone, often comparing it to a drive through Tuscany. The small two-lane road crosses the Russian River, winding through redwood forests and rolling hills with wineries scattered along the way. It runs through Healdsburg and about a dozen winery destinations, including Arista, Bucher and Hop Kiln Wineries.
If your time is limited, opt for Sebastopol, home to Merry Edwards Winery and Paul Hobbs Winery, both featured on the menu at Fairmont Sonoma’s prestigious 38º North Lounge, named for the temperate latitude of the 38th parallel. While in Sebastopol, save time to visit Iron Horse Ranch and Vineyards, a rustic collection of charming barn-themed structures with a hilltop tasting room. You can sample bubblies featured at White House functions in Washington, D.C. and tour the vineyard and winery on Monday mornings in a private “truck tour” with the Iron Horse winemaker.
Wine Country-Style Dining
At the end of your agri-immersion day, you’ll find plenty of eateries specializing in the new Wine Country-style dining experience. You can smile with each morsel and sip, knowing that generational Sonoma farmers and acclaimed chefs across the valley have lovingly nurtured the earth-offerings on your plate, literally from farm to fork.
For elegant yet “wine country casual” cuisine sourced fresh from local farms, you’ll find nowhere better than Michelin-rated Santé at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, whose name translates as “to your health.” The seven-course chef’s tasting menu ensures the best seasonal specialties with optional wine pairings from the restaurant’s 500-plus Sonoma and Napa wines, acknowledged with Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.
Other exceptional dining experiences include Glen Ellen Star, serving California cuisine in a rustic setting with wood-fired oven. The low-key “girl & the fig” eatery dishes out country French cuisine on an outdoor patio, accentuated by their own homegrown produce and house-pressed olive oils. For late-night dining, book a table at Oso for small plates and a raw bar menu.
Wendy K. Leigh is a full-time travel journalist and photographer living on a tiny island off the coast of Seattle. Traveling the globe for months at a time, she writes for leading travel publications, blogs, websites, city guides and major hotel groups.