Long considered Napa Valley’s sleepy cousin, Sonoma is ripe with vineyards and rugged valleys that are now just tame enough to conquer.
AUTHOR SARAH HORNE
State ReserveRouse yourself for breakfast at the Farmhouse and then begin the winding drive west on River Road, where Sonoma gets just a little bit funkier. Note the various trapped-in-time motels tucked into the shadows of enormous redwoods and feel happily relieved you’ve arranged fancier digs. At Guerneville, a sleepy relic of a logging town, turn toward Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve 1 and get out for a walk (you think all that cheese is going to metabolize itself?). Here in the dim woods, you’re eerily alone. Gaze heavenward at the tops of the tallest trees, which are some 1,000 years old, and let yourself be dazzled. In the otherworldly green light, odd New Age philosophies somehow seem less odd.
Feeling ready for human contact (and a little worried about bears), you hop back into the Mercedes and wind along the Russian River, named for the Russian fur traders who came south from Alaska in the 19th century.
Drive through the settlements of Monte Rio and Duncans Mills, looking out for old wooden holiday cottages perched precipitously in the hills. When the mouth of the snaking Russian reaches the Pacific, you have arrived in Jenner, a tiny trapped-in-amber seaside town. Stop for lunch at the old-school River’s End 2, order the reliable West County burger with fried leeks and prep for the last leg of your remarkable road trip.
Zazu’s Black Pig SalumiFrom Jenner, venture north on the perilous, cliff-hugging Highway 1. Stay on the lookout for stray cows (you’re in ranch country now, and the hapless giants occasionally wander onto the road) until you reach Salt Point State Park 3 and Stump Beach, named for the giant felled trees that wash up here. Note the sign: “Strong Backwash. Sleeper Waves. Rip Currents.” Watch as the surf tumbles through the kelp beds, the odd seal poking his head out of the water. The air is a fair bit cooler here than in Healdsburg, so you head back to the Mercedes and put up the top.
From Highway 1, you ramble through the dense redwoods on Skaggs Springs Road 4, a byway so remote that signs warn you in advance to make sure you’re gassed up. Finally, the road turns south, completing the loop through the wilds just in time for you to peel off your fleece and freshen up before a final dinner at the Farmhouse, with its well-deserved Michelin star.
In the softly lit dining room, under a mural depicting Russian River Valley farmers of yore, a cork pops and the waiter pours a glass of Roederer Estate sparkling wine from the nearby Anderson Valley. For dinner, it’s Gruyère potato gratin and beef tenderloin served with beans from the Bartolomei’s farm and a local Pinot noir. You sip and savor it, tasting rich cherries and mint, even a whiff of the salty ocean. You’re beginning to get this terroir thing, after all.
SARAH HORNE is now a living testament to the health benefits of wine.