Fresh Air & Pinot Noir

Fresh Air & Pinot Noir

A couple’s wine tasting escape to Petaluma — California’s freshest wine region

Louie Christensen

We needed to escape the straight, predictable lines of the city, to get away from the red taillights and blue-light computers. We needed this trip—who wouldn’t?

Normally, we would end up in Sonoma County’s Santa Rosa, but we wanted to get away from the usual and find something more heartfelt. The decision to stay in Petaluma was an easy one to make when my wife showed me Hotel Petaluma. The building was striking, and it was walking distance from dozens of restaurants that have hundreds of great reviews.

We hopped in the car and made our escape.

Among the vines

Among the vines

 McEvoy Ranch employee pours a glass of dry rosé for a guest.

The fog had just lifted from the grapevines as we pulled onto the McEvoy Ranch property, revealing the beautiful rolling hills of the newly named Petaluma Gap AVA. The tasting consisted of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and also an olive oil tasting. Thanks to the cooler micro-climate of the Petaluma Gap, the Pinot and Chardonnay have a freshness not often found in other regions; and the winemakers at McEvoy Ranch were crafting some special wines. Lured in by the aroma of their estate harvested ODE Lavender Lotion, we stopped in McEvoy’s store before heading out to our next destination.

With Petaluma being perfectly centered, we felt like the whole of Sonoma County (and Napa Valley by extension) was within reach. The drive out to the Bodega Bay was as beautiful as we imagined it would be. Bodega Bay is where Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds was filmed, and being a Hitchcock fan I couldn’t help but partake in some fanboy sightseeing. When we (my wife) had had enough, we headed over to Sonoma Coast Vineyards for a sea-side tasting.

Our trip to the coast complete, we headed back to town for dinner.

Couple checks in at the front desk of Hotel Petaluma.
Couple raise a toast at Sugo Trattoria with a glass of sparkling wine and a Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin Ale.
A young woman holds a glass of crisp rosé at a table of small bites and appetizers
Grape vines sit in the foreground of the stunning Sonoma County wine country, Petaluma’s fog rolls by in the background.
 A church sits in a shallow valley just outside of Petaluma
Fishing and leisure boats sit in the harbor on the Sonoma Coast
McEvoy Ranch tucked into the Sonoma County hills. Olive trees stretch out into the distance
A plate of crusted salmon and asparagus sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes. Some appetizers, and another dish sits with a bottle of Italian red wine

Hometown Heart

We set out on foot to see what restaurant would grab our attention along Petaluma’s charming streets. Maybe it was the welcoming storefronts, the brick and ornately designed historic buildings, or the tree-lined streets…but there was something so comforting, so “American Heartland” about Petaluma.

We came across Sugo Trattoria and were immediately drawn in. Now, I’m always weary of fresh-cut restaurants with menu items like “Nonna’s Meatballs” on them, but Sugo rose to the occasion and truly impressed us—as did my pistachio-crusted salmon and my wife’s ricotta gnocchi.

Both of us were ready to grab our dessert right then and there, but we decided to venture out for a new spot. After a short walk we came upon Whisper Sisters, a cocktail bar with a small-assorted menu. I ordered myself a drink from their cocktail menu, and my wife opted for a lush chocolate mousse.

Further Out

Further Out

We woke up a touch late after a day full of adventure and headed out for some life-giving breakfast at Della Fattoria, which we had spotted the night before, and were seated in the eclectically curated dining area. We enjoyed our coffee and ordered the heartiest options on the menu.

The doors of Adobe Road Winery opened, and surprisingly we weren’t the first group to darken its door—a good sign if you ask me. The tasting room is located on the red brick and charm clad Petaluma Boulevard. Adobe Road had the widest selection of varietals we came across; highlighting the wide diversity of stellar wines the Petaluma Gap AVA is capable of producing. From zesty Sauvignon Blanc, luxurious Viognier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, to bold Cabernets and Petite Sirahs; the folks at Adobe Road know what they are doing! While you don’t get to have the on site vineyard experience, the lineup and library selection easily makes up for it.

Before I could ask my wife if she was interested in lunch she had already pulled up the coordinates of our next culinary adventure.

The Swedish-inspired menu at Stockhome (yes, that’s spelled correctly) was so playful and unique we couldn’t help but take some food pictures for our Instagram feeds. We ordered a few plates to split and were honestly wowed. Every plate was laid out like a painting on a canvas—bursting with color, texture, and creativity—what a treat!

A couple enjoys their cocktails at Whisper Sister while sharing a delicious dessert
An acoustic band plays on the back porch of Lagunitas Brewing Company.
The eclectic Della Fattoria filled with patrons
Couple walks hand and hand down the beautiful storefront lined downtown Petaluma streets
A couple raises their wine glasses in a toast at Adobe Road Winery
Glass of Keller Estate Pinot Noir sits in the foreground of the California Wild Orange Poppy covered vineyard in the background
The sun begins to set over the stunning Keller Estate. Grapevine, dandelions and pampas grass turn gold in the dusk light

Wouldn't be Complete

We had always told ourselves we’d stop at Keller Estate Winery on our way into Sonoma. Yet, just like Petaluma in general, it always slipped our mind when the rubber met the road. But, this trip was different.

Keller Estate’s grounds were gorgeous; the rows of vines were so perfectly draped across the undulating hills. The surrounding mountains, the peaceful ponds dotted with ducks—this is how everyone pictures all of wine country to look.
The tasting lineup consisted of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and highlights each of Keller’s vineyard’s expressions. They walked us through how each micro-climate affects the vines and ultimately the wine the fruit produces. Petaluma Gap AVA is California’s newest regional designation, so it was very helpful to learn a little bit more about this emerging area.

... the folks at Adobe road know what they are doing!

The last wine tasting of our trip behind us, we rolled back into Petaluma to visit a brewery we couldn’t believe we hadn’t traveled for—Lagunitas Brewing Company.

Our fridge back home usually holds at least one of Lagunitas’s offerings, so we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to experience their Petaluma taproom first hand. We ordered ourselves a few snacks off their bar menu, settled in for a few unique samples and enjoyed the live music. With Lagunitas becoming a household name, it’s easy to assume they only offer whatever is being sold in the grocery store, but here at their taproom the creativity and limited releases seemed endless.

We watched a few of the burgers float by on waiter’s trays and had a hard time fighting the urge to stay and enjoy a laid-back meal. But, I had a table reserved at Rosen’s 256 North.

The space had a dressed-down elegance to it, and everyone around us seemed to be having an equally good time. We were both very impressed by the breadth of their Wine By the Glass list. After yet another fantastic meal, we began to realize was the norm in Petaluma, we decided to wander our way down the footbridge that crosses the Petaluma River to soak in as much of the small town’s peaceful vibes as we could.

More than wind countryMore Than Wine Country

More than wind countryMore Than Wine Country

My wife and I have made countless trips to Napa and the more popular parts of Sonoma, but nothing could compare to the unforgettable weekend getaway in Petaluma. For us, Petaluma struck this perfect balance. The vineyards were quiet enough to actually hear the birds chirping and the wind ruffling the vines and the city was large enough to attract some truly spectacular purveyors of food and drink. Every vista we visited was jaw dropping, every cocktail and entrée was delicious.

Petaluma is not a place you visit once; it isn’t a destination to check off your bucket list and move on. Petaluma is a place you come to recharge or recuperate after an overfilled season and revisit whenever you need a breath of fresh air…and a glass of Pinot Noir.

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