Missionaries planted the first Californian grape vines in the late 1700s. Franciscan monk Father Junipero Sera was the first to introduce wine grapes, but it wasn’t until a Hungarian noble crossed the Atlantic in search of “purple gold” that wine first planted its roots to become synonymous with Sonoma.
Today, California’s grapes span much wider than Sonoma, dipping into Napa and the rest of Marin County. The region has evolved into a food and drink haven that’s constantly swinging between tradition and innovation. That’s exactly why we’ll be bringing Good Spirits—our all you can eat and drink celebration of local booze—to the area on September 9. From five-star dining to walk-in wine tours, here’s where you should wine and dine in Marin County, Sonoma and Napa.
Where to Eat
Oxbow Public Market
For an easy way to eat through the best of Marin County, head to Oxbow Public Market. The food mecca started in 2007 and has 22 vendors promoting sustainable agriculture and local goods. The most popular is Hog Island Oyster Co., which serves some of the best shellfish from Tomales Bay. For more land friendly meats, take a whole hog butchery class from Fatted Calf or stock up on some salumi.
Pair wine with a perfect steak and veggies from the backyard. PRESS received nods for an outstanding wine program from the James Beard Awards, and the restaurant partners with three local farms to source seasonal vegetables, local beef and Sonoma coastal lamb and poultry. They also have their own garden for produce and specialize in red wines.
Get the best of CIA students here. No, it’s not the Central Intelligence Agency, but at Gatehouse, you can spy on some of The Culinary Institute of America’s top students. The restaurant is the capstone experience where aspiring chefs, somms and maître d’s can get real-world experience in fine dining. It’s a great dinner with a view and a way to get a prix-fix dinner for a reasonable price. Make sure to check the website for closings.
For avocado toast and a place to sit and read, try Cibo in Sausalito. The cozy nook is right before hitting the main downtown drag and is a Sausalito staple. Stop in for a hearty brunch, sip on some coffee and enjoy the people watching. The café roasts its own coffee and shops local farmer’s markets for produce, meat, and fish. Try their take on the California classic avocado toast that’s light and healthy, or go for poached eggs with seasonal fare.
Where to Drink
In 1852, Hungarian merchant Agoston Haraszthy planted the first European grapes in Northern California, and he’d later be known as the Father of Californian Wine and the founder of California’s oldest premium winery—Buena Vista.
Just south of Healdsburg, in the corner of the Russian River, is Limerick Lane. Wine advocate Robert Parker said, “If you haven’t caught on to the magic that is emerging from Limerick Lane, it’s bout time.” It was Wine Spectator’s number 12 in 2015 for the Top 100 Wines of the world and has countless accolades. The wines are made from vines that were used in 1910, and tastings are by appointment only.
Napa and Sonoma are known for their pinots, but no one is keeping mum about this winery specializing in all things sparkling. Since 1970, the vineyard has been following traditional French methods to produce bubbles ranging from Cuvée Brut to sparkling chardonnay. It was also the first California sparkling winery that got 94 points from the Wine Spectator in 2012. Grab a glass of wine and tour the fine art photography gallery, or book a wine tour that starts at the winery entrance, goes through a demonstration vineyard and ends at the galleries.
Unlike the no-reservations needed Mumm, Schramsberg is another sparkling winery that started in 1965, housed in a 19th century Victorian mansion. The winery uses unique fermentation methods in oak barrels and offers cave tours and tastings daily.
As one of the newer winemakers in Sonoma, this fourth-generation vineyard sits on a property that pioneered pre-prohibition winemaking. For something more unique, try their skin-fermented chardonnay, or sip on a more traditional pinot noir.
Russian River Brewing Company
Marin is known for wine, grapes and vineyards. But for something with hops, head to Russian River Brewing Company. The brewery was a 2017 James Beard Award semifinalist, and has 21 beers on tap ranging from a nitro pale ale to a sour aged in pinto barrels. Try Salvation, a strong dark ale that’s 9 percent abv.
Other Worthy Mentions
Wine Tour Drivers
Don’t drink and drive. Hire a designated driver to take you through wine country in your car. The service offers guided wine tours or a designated driver to take the wheel of your personal or rental vehicle, with rates starting at $45 per hour.
Mix inside with outside at Calistoga Ranch. The ranch has its own vineyard and offers culinary experiences, from a gardening and flora class to cooking classes with a guest chef. The Ranch has also been named one of the best in the world for many years by several different publications.
Though its restaurant is great for brunch and its larder will get you through any lunch, SHED offers workshops, dinner events and opportunities to meet local makers in Marin County. Grange events partner with locally acclaimed producers for everything from movie screenings to koji workshops and a zero food waste dinner.