I've been spending a lot of time traveling the back roads of Sonoma County the past few weeks, working on a travel story devoted to visiting the area. Our last major Sonoma travel package was in 2007 and considering the economy during the past five years there are a surprising number of new tasting rooms, restaurants and hotels.
Not that it's been easy in Sonoma. Some excellent dining rooms didn't survive the cruel winters of 2009 and 2010, including Santi, Deuce and Mirepoix. Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts suffered through long months of too many empty rooms. Wineries that charged $25 or $30 for special tastings and tours went quiet.
But you can almost hear an audible sigh of relief right now. Things are looking up, and certainly look better than 2010 when it started raining in October and it didn't let up until June. Now Sonoma is frantic for rain. There was a nice storm over the weekend but it has been mostly dry all winter.
Tourism has rebounded, local officials say, increasing 15 percent the past year. Hotel occupancy was up more than 8 percent. Dining rooms seem busier. The wine surplus of the past few years is finally drying up, thanks in part to tiny crops in 2010 and 2011.
Most important, I hear a tone of optimism that has been absent for too many years in the voices of Sonoma. There's still a long way to go but there's a bright new bulb in the light at the end of the tunnel.
In my travels around Sonoma I've had some brilliant dishes so far: the Brussels sprouts and black pig bacon salad at Zazu, the Wolfe Ranch quail with black olive and white wine sauce at Café La Haye, the chocolate soufflé at Santé at the Sonoma Mission Inn, and just about everything at Cyrus.
I've tasted wines that have excited me: Joseph Swan Gewürztraminer Russian River Saralee's Vineyard 2010, MacRostie Pinot Noir Wildcat Vineyard 2007, Sbragia Family Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Gino's Vineyard 2009 and Dehlinger Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Goldridge Vineyard 2007.
My research will continue in the next few weeks. What are some of your preferred restaurants and wineries to visit in Sonoma County? I've lived here 25 years but I'd hate to overlook a new spot or one of your old favorites.
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — February 15, 2012 12:24pm ET
Chris Rauber — San Jose, CA — February 15, 2012 1:05pm ET
Regan Wiese — San Diego, CA — February 15, 2012 1:30pm ET
Avtar Johal — Burlingame, CA — February 15, 2012 2:47pm ET
Tom & Nancy Brown — Louisville, KY - USA — February 15, 2012 3:55pm ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — February 15, 2012 4:10pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — February 15, 2012 5:19pm ET
Lee Hodo — Santa Rosa, CA — February 15, 2012 5:47pm ET
James Gill — Dallas, TX — February 15, 2012 9:53pm ET
Chrisitne Baker — Colorado — February 15, 2012 10:09pm ET
Tim Webb — high point nc — February 15, 2012 10:49pm ET
Russell Bevan — Sonoma Mountain — February 16, 2012 1:09am ET
Joe-janelle Becerra — Burlingame, CA — February 16, 2012 10:49am ET
Steve Messinger — Santa Rosa — February 16, 2012 10:49am ET
Alan Baker — Healdsburg, CA — February 16, 2012 11:57am ET
Eric Hall — Healdsburg, CA — February 16, 2012 12:12pm ET
Ron Christner — New Orleans Louisiana, USA — February 16, 2012 12:39pm ET
David Oliver — Sonoma — February 16, 2012 8:28pm ET
Claudia Katterbauer — Austria — February 17, 2012 7:02pm ET
Steve Born — Montana — February 18, 2012 11:26am ET
Linda Schwartz — Fort Ross, CA — February 20, 2012 4:00pm ET
Joseph Trdinich — Mars, PA — February 20, 2012 10:16pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — February 22, 2012 1:01pm ET
Lucas Buchanan — Redwood City, CA — February 22, 2012 4:22pm ET
Joseph S Barrera — Cazadero, CA — February 22, 2012 8:22pm ET
Chris Towt — Sonoma, CA — February 26, 2012 9:46am ET
Michael Henderson — Martinez, CA — February 27, 2012 11:09pm ET
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