Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN

Sonoma Diary

Tales from the tasting trail

Forget massages, expensive spa treatments, and acupuncture.

When serious unwinding is called for, I don’t need pampering. I just need four days in wine country, no agenda, and an open mind. And with my book writing finally wrapping up, that’s exactly what I decided was in order earlier this week.

Several months of steady writing and a promotional trip to New York had left me exhausted, creatively drained, and WAY overdue for a vacation. So before I could think better of it, I called up the newly renovated El Dorado Hotel in Sonoma and booked their last available room, a poolside bungalow, for four nights.

Last minute stay in Sonoma
I hit the road midday Sunday and pulled into the parking lot of the El Dorado a little over an hour later. First sign I was in wine country: There was plenty of parking! Inside, I was delighted to find the interior cool (I’m talking temperature here; I arrived during a heat spike) and hip besides, in keeping with the web site’s “contemporary wine country inn” descriptor.

Situated on Sonoma’s historic plaza, the hotel is just steps away from dozens of cafes and shops, all beckoning with wares, wines, and other temptations. But instead of venturing outside to explore them, I closed the blinds and took the first decent nap I’d had in months. Second sign you’re in wine country: You can sleep for hours in the middle of the afternoon and not feel guilty!

Tasting Journal – Moshin
Monday morning I set out for Moshin Vineyards in the Russian River Valley to visit my friend Kenny Likitprakong, who had invited me up to take a look around when he heard I’d be in the area. Kenny makes dynamite Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the relatively new Moshin operation (it’s just a few years old) as well as his own wines under the Hobo Wine Company, Banyan, and Folk Machine brands.

Kenny showed me around the state-of-the-art winery before we tasted about a dozen barrel samples, including wines from both the Moshin portfolio and his own. Kenny’s range as a winemaker is impressive: Besides the Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir he crafts dynamite Rock Pile Zinfandel, Santa Lucia Highlands Riesling, Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Madera Viognier. My favorite wine was his Rock Pile Zin, which was teeming with notes of brooding dark fruits and a stony earthiness I found fascinating.

After tasting we headed to lunch at country-hip Willow Wood Market-Café in the tiny town of Graton, where I witnessed the third sign you’re in wine country: An anonymous-looking café in a town of 1,800 inhabitants serves up the best lunch you’ve had in months.

Tasting Journal – Medlock Ames
Tuesday I phoned another Kenny, Kenneth Rochford of Medlock Ames, and asked if I could drop by the winery since I was in wine country. In spite of the short notice, Kenny’s response was an emphatic “yes!” and so I jumped in my car and headed north to pay a visit to my favorite eco-friendly winery. Situated in the southern portion of the Alexander Valley appellation, Medlock Ames is a Sonoma newcomer that’s rapidly becoming known for its sustainable farming policy, environmentally friendly winemaking philosophy, and killer wines.

Winemaker Ames Morison makes Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a soon-to-be-released Sauvignon Blanc I had the pleasure of sampling during my visit. As he poured me a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc, Kenny declared I’m the first person besides him and Ames to try it. Redolent with notes of pears, tropical fruits, cream, and clover, it was a total delight. Watch for its release this summer.

Other treats in store at the winery included a preview of the unfinished hospitality house they’re refurbishing on the property as well as a “tour” of the winery’s future vegetable garden (they’re pondering what to plant now). Fourth sign you’re in wine country: It’s after 5pm and you don’t even feel like calling it a day.

Sonoma Afterglow
As I drove back to Sonoma and my comfy bungalow at the El Dorado, I reflected on how nice it is to fill your days with talk of Sauvignon Blanc and sustainable pumpkin farming rather than manuscript deadlines and other business minutia. The remaining two days of my stay saw me do more tasting, napping, and catching up with friends living and working in wine country. By the time I finally left on Thursday I felt rested, invigorated, and recharged from my adventures.

Which brings me to the tell-tale sign you’ve been to wine country recently: You’re basking in a special afterglow that can’t be eclipsed by a simple return to reality and responsibilities. Like a good tan, its positive effects stick around for a while.

Which is way better than any massage or expensive spa treatment, in my book.

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