Summer brings extra bounty to Wine Country farmers' markets, as juicy berries flourish, stone fruits hang like ornaments on the branches, gardens brim with colorful squash, and vines burst with tomatoes in red, purple, and gold.
What’s a sip of Syrah without Spot by your side? Tasting Cabernet Franc is more fun with Fido, and Merlot is merrier with your mutt to keep you company. More and more NorCal wineries are realizing the appeal of being dog-friendly, inviting four legged friends into the tasting rooms, onto the lawns, and for picnics beneath the shade trees. Just don’t let Buster steal the bocce balls.
Remember when filet mignon was considered the meat of kings, and charcuterie was exotic? No, you probably don’t. Today’s Bay Area diners are so schooled in artisan meats that nose-to-tail dining is de rigeur, even in home kitchens. Simply witness the boutique butcheries cropping up around Wine Country, where cold cases brim with unusual cuts like bavette, all kinds of offal, and handcrafted salumi. Heck, even the most basic ground beef is prime stuff.
One of the most exhilarating ways to explore Wine Country is by equine – and these aren’t poor old tired stable plugs (bless their hearts) led in a slow plodding pack, but energetic, well trained mounts ranging from polo ponies to rescued race horses. Parties traverse in intimate groups across gorgeous landscapes, from beaches to mountains to vineyards. Here’s where to giddy-up and go:
While wine will always be king in the North Bay, suddenly, distilleries are popping up all over, crafting artisanal spirits. No, not moonshine, but hand-blended drinkable delicacies with tasting notes to rival the best Napa Valley Cab or Sonoma Pinot Noir.
A memorable Wine101 session isn’t simply sitting in a classroom with some wines to sample and a PowerPoint show. Much better is interacting with the actual winemakers, tasting a rich array of varietals, comparing notes with fellow wine lovers, and enjoying perfect food pairings, too.
Today, modern chefs honor meatless recipes as a delicious challenge to their talents, showcasing the natural flavors, textures, and visual appeal of the finest garden ingredients. And few get it fresher than West Sonoma County restaurants, celebrating the beautiful farms, ranches, and orchards in their own backyards. For unusual menus and distinctive style, try these near-secret treasures.
Given the abundance of herbs, spices, and produce grown in Wine Country, paired with a trend toward locally produced spirits, it's no wonder that creative cocktails are increasingly popular here. Bonus: with farm-to-bar cocktails taking center stage, you can enjoy a few and pretend you’re getting your daily serving of fruit and veggies, too.
With their al fresco lifestyle, Wine Country chefs take their barbecue cooking seriously. So whatever your preference – wood or charcoal, rubbed, marinated, or basted, grilled or smoked – there’s a ‘cue for you. Lick your lips over these top picks for ribs, pulled meats, and all the extra goodies from beans to pickles.
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