Time to brighten up your winter with a trip to the friendly farming community of Sebastopol in the lush Russian River Valley. Settled in 1812 by Russian explorers, the beautiful landscape was first planted with Gravenstein apples. Sustainable farming practices have prevailed for more than 150 years.
If you haven’t visited in a while, this west county town, a short drive from San Francisco, has changed. Find more award-winning wines, great chefs inspired by area products, a vibrant community, and the newest artisanal gathering place: The Barlow.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many places to stay in Sebastopol yet. On the west side of town, try the Avalon Luxury Inn. Set in a redwood forest, you’ll find privacy, comfort and a gourmet breakfast. The decks, fireplaces and walks in the woods, make this a bit of a magical place (707-824-0880; www.avalonluxuryinn.com).
In the middle of town, The Sebastopol Inn offers a quiet respite. Off the street behind the old Gravenstein train station, the two-story property sits alongside a hiking and biking trail. The outdoor balcony of our second-floor room overlooked the woodlands. The room was good-sized and reasonable, but overall, the inn would benefit from a redo (800-653-1082; www.sebastopolinn.com).
PLAY & SHOP
The Barlow is the new hot spot in Sebastopol. Once the site of the Barlow Apple Processing Plant, this multibuilding complex, set on 12.5 acres, is now the center of attention for wine, food, artistic endeavors, and all things local. Connect with producers and watch several make their goods from scratch. Most of the buildings in the complex are restored and even though some are new, they all have the same modern industrial feel with corrugated exteriors, high ceilings, exposed beams and piping, and roll-up garage-type doors for easy access to outside space and seating (www.thebarlow.net).
Our Barlow adventure started at the Spirit Works Distillery. Crafted by hand, all of the spirits (gin, sloe gin, vodka, and whiskey) are made from California organic red winter wheat. Take a tour and learn how each batch is milled, mashed, fermented, and distilled, and then taste the unique spirits (707-634-4793, www.spiritworksdistillery.com).
Wind Gap wines has taken over a considerable amount of space at The Barlow for the winery and tasting room (due to open this month). Known for their attention to site-specific vineyards and the intricacies of each varietal, the wines are consistently well received. Don’t miss these 2011 vintages from the Sonoma Coast: Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Syrah (707-331-1393, www.windgapwines.com).
The tasting room of La Follette Wines is a beautiful location to savor the small-lot Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from legendary winemaker, Greg La Follette. A unique combination of science, old-world winemaking techniques, and superb vineyards make these sought-after wines. Favorites include both the 2011 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Sangiacomo vineyards (707-827-4933, www.lafollettewines.com).
From a Spanish wine-making family with Catalan hospitality and winemaking traditions, Marimar Torres offers her signature wines in a new tasting room at the Barlow. The elegantly balanced wines of Marimar Estate have loyal followers. These 2010s from the Don Miguel Vineyard (named for her father) are among the standouts: Bonita’s Hill Chardonnay and La Masia Pinot Noir. (707-823-9910, www.marimarestate.com)
Tamarind furnished their space at The Barlow with a distinctive selection of ladies’ fashions and accessories (707-861-9513; www.shoptamarind.com). The Tibetan Gallery & Studio offers a rare opportunity to view a master artist working on traditional Buddhist scroll paintings; participate in weekly classes and purchase one-of-a-kind pieces (707-509-3777; www.preservetibetanart.org). For a fun collection of wooden toys, doll-making kits (classes offered), and other gifts, visit Circle of Hands (707-634-6140).
Don’t forget Sebastopol’s main street, just a few blocks long, but classic — full of locally owned antique stores, restaurants, boutiques, and Copperfield’s Books (www.copperfieldsbooks.com). Drive down Florence Avenue and the whimsical junk-art sculptures from artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent greet you.
When you’ve had your fill of eating, drinking and shopping, head out on the Joe Rodota Trail. It runs more than eight miles from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa past the former railroad that once linked Petaluma and Santa Rose with Sebastopol and Forestville. Now hike, bike, ride horseback, roller skate, bird watch, or just take a leisurely stroll (707-565-2041; parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov).
First up was brunch at Peter Lowell’s. On the western edge of downtown, this neighborhood favorite is a food-lover’s dream. The cuisine showcases organic produce from their own farm and from farmers who incorporate organic and biodynamic farming practices. The wines are chosen for these same reasons.
The Tuscan apple cake with Cowabunga cow milk cheese with goat milk caramel was a delicious beginning. Don’t miss the textures and flavors in the Brussels sprouts hash with butternut squash and Désirée potatoes topped with a poached egg and crusty breadcrumbs. In addition to a variety of tasty farm-fresh egg dishes, there’s a Macro Bowl — an earthy combination of brown rice, roasted root vegetables, and proteins like tofu or seitan, with a tangy miso-ginger or lemon-tahini sauce. With the meal, we paired La Collina’s Lunaris Secco Malvasia dell Emilia — a great bubbly to kick-start the day (707-829-1077, www.peterlowells.com).
Zazu Kitchen + Farm recently relocated to The Barlow with a spacious dining area and bar adjacent to the open kitchen. In keeping with the Barlow design, find high ceilings, exposed beams, lots of windows, a casual style, and of course, delicious food. The Black Pig bacon-wrapped dates are an amazing way to start. The snout-to-tail sampler offers smoked paprika pig ear with pickled watermelon rind, crunchy pig tails, and decadent chicharrones. Next, we savored the butcher’s ribollita — rich and flavorful with pig head, succulent gigante beans, a farm egg — and the “zasugo” — perfectly cooked fusilli mixed with tomato sauce and tender short ribs.
Not everything is pig related. We also had the plump, juicy mussels in a tasty onion and fennel broth. Pumpkin mezzalune delivers luscious flavor and a crunchy finish from the sprinkled amaretti. We paired their Black Pig Pinot Noir, made by Thomas George Estates, with the meal (707-523-4814, www.zazukitchen.com).
Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center: www.sebastopol.org
Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau: www.sonomavalley.com
Sonoma County Tourism: www.sonomacounty.com
Sonoma County Vintners: www.sonomawine.com