Wine Road Wonderland: Day 2

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Note: If you’re just tuning in, you might want to start with the first post in this three-part series.

Day 2: Alexander River Valley

The Vineyard Preserve

Medlock Ames winery has been left truly wild, offering modern insight into the valley’s homesteading past. Affable co-owners Ames and James have utilized less than a quarter of their land for growing grapes, donating the rest to a land trust to be used as wildlife corridors that allow animals passage to the adjacent Pepperwood Reserve. Ames, sporting horn-rimmed glasses and shaggy brown locks, said they see all manners of critters at the winery — fox, coyotes, rabbits, snakes, wild boar, great horned owls, even otters in their ponds.

While one might be tempted to describe the duo as hippy-dippies, they are doing their part for the planet, utilizing cutting-edge technology to lessen their carbon footprint one bottle of wine at a time. In addition to monitoring soil moisture via satellite to prevent overwatering and employing gravity flow techniques in the winemaking process, their entire operation runs on solar power.

Ames (far left) and the rest of the crew inside the 100% solar run Medlock Ames winery.  (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

Ames (far left) and the rest of the crew inside the 100% solar run Medlock Ames winery.  (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

If you visit their tasting room, a short drive away from the vineyard, be sure to try their Merlot from the “[Thomas] Jefferson clone,” a strain the Founding Father allegedly snagged from the famed Château Petrus in Bordeaux in his ambassador days and planted back at his farm in Virginia.

Underground Cave

Lancaster Estate is a short drive from the others, but a world away. One look at the “wine cave,” and I was smitten. It took two years to carve the 60-foot niche into the granite hillside, and walking into its belly is like teleporting to a chic nightclub. “The Library,” which houses a sampling of every vintage made since Lancaster began producing wine in 1995, is a must see.

My host, winemaker Jesse Katz, who looked not a day over 21, explained that every grape is grown, hand-picked, fermented, aged, and bottled on site so they can maintain total control of the production process and that only yeasts native to the property are used in order to attain the purest expression of terroir.

Art-Minded Boutique Winery

A striking statue of a nude woman arching her body toward the ground by local artist Peter Crompton welcomes visitors to the quaint tasting room at Starlite Vineyards.

From behind the bar, Gary Sauder explained that while the winery specializes in Viogniers and Bordeaux-style Cabernets, today we’d be tasting several of their Red Zinfandels. This was a happy coincidence because red Zins’ spicy, fruit-forward panache has pushed them straight to the top of my list of personal favorites. If you’re with me on Zins, this is definitely the place to sample a few!

“Cappy Hour”

The eclectic, bohemian lobby at the h2hotel. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

The eclectic, bohemian lobby at the h2hotel. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

If Santa Rosa is the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, the town of Healdsburg is arguably its soul, and the h2hotel is one of its newest additions. Eclectic bohemian décor brings life to the boutique hotel’s 36 rooms, which are decked out with “eco-chic” bamboo floors and organic Coyuchi cotton towels, robes, and sheets. My favorite touch was the H20 bar on every floor that offers filtered and sparkling water on tap. The hotel, a green building with gold-level LEED certification, also gives its guests access to a fleet of bikes and a creekside pool at no extra cost.

When I headed down to the Spoonbar just off the hotel lobby, manager Cappy Sorentino announced it’s  “Cappy Hour!” and started handing out inventive cocktails like a Lion’s Tail (Larceny bourbon, allspice dram, lime juice, bitters) to guests who passed by. Be sure to check out this lively spot with creative food offerings that rival its drinks. 

Yucatan Flair

Mateo’s Cocina Latina is memorable both for its locally sourced Latin-Caribbean menu and its devotion to good food and no-fluff sustainability — both of which can be traced back to chef Mateo’s experience living off the land to feed his family while growing up in the Yucatan.

I polished off my tacones, halibut ceviche, roasted rack of lamb, and the best margarita I’ve ever had just in time to meet Mateo himself. He explained, words flying at warp speed, arms waving about madly, that he sources produce and meat from 67 different local farms to stay truly sustainable. This little gem is a must visit, if only to have some of Mateo’s élan rub off on you!

For more information about the Wine Road in Sonoma check out the Wine Road Association, which was instrumental in helping me plan my trip.