Chasing Gratitude in Sonoma County
Updated: Aug 10
I travel a ton for work. As in, for the past two years I’ve spent 70% of my nights not in my home city.
Because traveling, and reporting on it, is my job, I’m often on the extreme end of what people express as “needing a vacation from my vacation.” Meaning we pack so much into the time we’re away from home, that once we land back to normal life, we either have a ton to catch up on, or we feel like we now need time to relax because we went so hard while away.
With that in mind, after pushing myself hard for the first half of 2022, I set up some intentional travel time with the goal of taking a few days to go somewhere new and exciting, but also focus on relishing where I was vs. hurriedly capturing content and reporting on the location.
In short, the goal was to: Give gratitude for my travel.
So, after a long string of work trips that included my first trip to Canada since the pandemic, running the Vancouver Marathon, a week of meetings in Seattle, and hiking to the highest point in the Puget Sound, I got on a plane and headed for Sonoma County, California.
Wine tasting at Belden Barns before leaving a wish on their Wishing Tree
While wine was certainly part of my itinerary, there was so much more to help this gratitude attitude.
- Picnic lunch with local artists from Transcendence Theatre Company at the Jack London State Historic Park outdoor theater set in the ruins of a former winery
- Visiting the natural-healing tincture shop Farmacopia
- Indoor Rock Climbing at Session Climbing
- Relaxing in the Olea Hotel hot tub with rolling hill views
- Tons of organic, local food
- And horseback riding in famed-former resident Jack London State Historic Park, where my jovial-mannered guide from Triple Creek Horse Outfit reminded me, “Nothing else matters as long as you love yourself…but this view doesn’t hurt!”
At each of these venues, through talking to their local owners and operators, it was clear that Sonoma County residents beat to a rhythm different than the nearby metropolitan area. Separated from the crowds and frenzied pace of the city, there was a prescient focus from the locals on taking care of the resources around them. Realizing that they each play a role in operating in a responsible matter that is both sustainable, and honors what comes from the unique land around them. Be it the beautiful rolling hills, the well-curated local food, or specialty wine…
And, the most magical experience of my whole visit happened, fittingly, over wine…
Wine tasting at VJB Cellars
Indoor rock climbing at the new Session gym
Lunch at The Pharmacy’s new Branch Line cafe
Reading off my phone, about local attractions, in the Olea Hotel poolside cabin
The setting for the big story…
While I’ve never been huge on fancy dinners (company > atmosphere), this trip was about having different experiences than my normal go-go-go travels, and a moment at the Michelin Star-receiving Santé restaurant was too special not to share.
I’ll list below the menu of my full meal (for which I told Mario the manager from Italy, “I have full faith in your choices to take me on a journey”). However, the final wine was like nothing I’d felt before.
As I took the first sniff, I was instantly transported back to a moment from many years ago.
One of my dining partners said, “You just made a look!” and I replied, “This smells like a beautiful 21-year-old.”
But not just any. An exact person on an exact first date.
And indeed, as the wine hit my lips, where the scent first matched that exactly of the first date, the taste matched exactly the first kiss.
The restaurant inside the Fairmont
Wanting to savor this wine, but also curious what others’ experience would be, some fellow diners gave the wine a taste and—without knowing my story—offered their reactions:
“This took me back to my early 20s watching ‘Sex And The City’ with my girlfriends together at my house because I was the only one that had HBO,” said someone near my age.
So we asked a 25-year-old, who said, “This reminds me of that intensely flavored bubble gum that would lose its taste almost immediately, but dang was it a good few seconds.”
Youthful Joy was, curiously, the connecting thread we all felt when savoring this wine.
And though I have had many conversations with friends agreeing to disagree about the necessity for fancy dinners. On this night, I tipped my hat to Mario, for cultivating a magical moment woven between courses of food and wine that stuck with me far longer than the tannin of the grapes…
And though I haven’t spoken to that former date in a long time, I was telling this story the following evening to my neighbors at the Glen Ellen Star restaurant’s bar, and an elder gentleman said to me, “Well, did you write this guy and tell him this?”
“No, I don’t think he’d want to hear from me after all these years,” I replied.
“Ya know, it’s never a bad thing to write someone and say, ‘I thought of you and it made me happy,’ so if I were you, I’d say something.”
The man was local sculptor Jim Callahan, and the quiet graciousness he expressed throughout our conversation reflected my experience with all the local residents I met in Sonoma County. They had a simple gratitude for where they lived that seemed to simply permeate every part of their lives.
So, I took Jim’s advice, as this trip—after all—was all about giving gratitude, and I sent a text recalling my wine experience from the night before.
And that former date was grateful I said something.
See my Full Santé menu below, and view my entire itinerary + get ideas for you Sonoma County visit at my summary on their official tourism website.
- Carrots with sugarless glaze that tasted just like BBQ chips
- Bison carpaccio that dissolved off the fork
- Candied quail and grapes that tasted like candy
- Pea purée ravioli
- Pork chops with polenta and blueberry glaze
- Garlic mashed potatoes with crispy garlic chunks
- Mushrooms over bok choy
- Scotch chocolate cake, strawberry shortcake, creme brûlé, and rhubarb cake
- 7 glasses of incredible California wine.