A Taste Of Summer

As the temperature is rising and summer is just around the corner I am reminded of why it is so fun to be a local in Sonoma County: pairings! From food and wine to beer and burgers to coffee and pastries or even pancakes and smoothies, the most exciting pairings are those off the beaten path, the ones that have to be stumbled upon and discovered.

Down the Bohemian Highway, in the charming town of Occidental is Howard’s Station Café, voted “Best Breakfast” in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In-the-know locals flock to this country café for hearty and healthy comfort food. Howard’s is famous for its homemade-style breakfasts, the organic juice bar and the bakery.

Be sure to try the sinfully rich and creamy berry shakes and the blueberry pancakes. Howard’s hotcakes are made with cornmeal and a generous helping of fresh blueberries, served thick and steamy with melted butter that seeps into the cake and mixes with the warm juices from the berries. A glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice will help wash the delicious breakfast down and start the day off with a perfect pairing. P.S.—Howard’s is old school, so be sure to bring green because the café is cash only.

The summer heat means windows down (or tops down for you convertible drivers) with a warm, wine country breeze that undoubtedly evokes feelings of tranquility. For me, there is nothing more enjoyable than driving through the back roads of Sebastopol and admiring the old houses and lush countryside.
Nestled in the heart of rural Sebastopol is a rustic country store at Twin Hill Ranch with delicious summertime treats and an old fashioned feel. Be sure to pick up a loaf of the famous apple bread to serve sliced and toasted with vanilla-bean ice cream after dinner. Their apple butter also makes for a great accompaniment on any fresh greens from the local markets. My personal favorite is apple butter with sautéed Brussels sprouts; it adds a nice sweet touch to the sprouts’ earthy flavor.

A summer pairing for me would not be complete without one of my staples in life—bubbles! Harvest Moon Winery has a very special sparkling Gewurztraminer. With only 120 cases produced on any given year, it’s not an easy product to taste, let alone purchase. Aromas of apples and passion fruit, with clean flavors of lemon zest take over the palate with the delicate texture of the bubbles. This Gewurztraminer is wonderful served with any freshly baked bread and cheese.

I like to enjoy it with a thin-crust pizza topped with Trumpet Royales from nearby Gourmet Mushrooms, basil, Caggiano sausage, Bellwether Farms Carmody, Ramazzotti olive oil, and tomato sauce. For private events, the winemaker will come in with fresh veggies from his garden along with his own specialty olive oil and share samples of his brick oven delights. For those wanting to create their own pizza, Andy’s market is down the road and all the goods are available there.

One of the most beautiful areas to discover and explore is Chalk Hill Road, perfect for a midsummer day’s drive or bike ride. Be aware, however, that some wineries may require an appointment. Medlock Ames Ranch is among my top places to pair wine with the beauty of Sonoma County. The ranch can be found between Windsor and Healdsburg, up a long private road located on Bell Mountain.

This little piece of heaven is a hidden gem where guests {you must join the wine club} can arrange for a tour of the property. This spring, I was fortunate enough to be presented with the opportunity to dine on garden-fresh fennel, beets, baby greens and grapefruits with Kobe beef, carrots and asparagus, all fresh from the Medlock Ames garden that day {except the Kobe, of course}.

“At Medlock Ames, we believe wine is best paired with food, especially when we grow it ourselves,” says Mickey Peterson on our private tour. Many of the herbs and produce grown in the garden are used to make sauces and scented soaps that are sold in the tasting room. This is an estate worth the efforts it will take to discover.

I cannot say that my laundry list of summer pairing favorites is close to being finished. As a native of Sonoma, indulging in everything the area has to offer is how I love spending time. I am concluding my pairing experiences with just that, an experience. This is not a taste or a smell but a feeling, kind of like the one you get from watching a really good sunset.

A visit to our precious, bountiful little part of the world would not be complete without a trip to the best restau­rant in Sonoma County {in my humble opinion}: The Underwood Bistro. It’s in Graton, a quaint town between Forestville and Sebastopol.

Folks drive from all over to chat with the Underwood bartender or sip on a delicious mint mojito, a Dark and Stormy, or—my personal favorite—a Maker’s Mark Manhattan. Pair your drink with the everlasting fun of the bocce court at sundown. The excitement of throwing an iron ball down a path of crushed rock, combined with refreshment and laughter is everything a local or a visitor needs on a warm summer eve.


Article from the Summer issue in Sonoma Discoveries Magazine.


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