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Weekend Traveler

In the heart of the Russian River Valley

Enjoy the setting sun at Vintners Inn

In keeping with the Bay Area’s reputation for world-class cuisine, wine, and lodging, you’ll find an intense array of culinary treasures, delicious wines, and accommodations in a three-mile radius around Santa Rosa’s Olivet Road, about an hour from San Francisco. In this pastoral wonderland near the Russian River in Sonoma County, highways turn into country roads where visitors share the landscape with cows and vineyards. And locals eagerly welcome you to enjoy the beauty and the bounty of their land.

Stay
In spite of the small geographic spread that includes Olivet Road, we found diverse properties from which to choose.

First up was the inviting three-bedroom farmhouse at Inman Family Wines, overlooking the Inman’s Olivet Grange vineyards and gardens. The fireplace is cozy on chilly evenings, and there’s a good-sized renovated kitchen. Their motto is “Bed and No Breakfast,” so bring your own supplies or buy them along the way at farms and markets. The one bathroom is set off the enclosed porch, a bit inconvenient, but functional. 707-293-9560, www.inmanfamilywines.com

If a lush country retreat is of interest, Vintners Inn by Ferrari-Carrano is your spot. The Italian-inspired inn is as tasteful as its eponymous wines. Nestled among vines and gardens, the accommodations are spread among three two-story buildings. The comfortable rooms boast fireplaces and private balconies. Environmentally conscious, the hotel has its own wastewater treatment facility and uses reclaimed water to irrigate the vineyards and gardens. The gardens supply their popular restaurant, John Ash & Co. 800-421-2584, www.vintnersinn.com

And one last favorite: The luxe Farmhouse Inn. The family-owned boutique inn exudes wine country living throughout its main house, cottages and renovated barn. The interiors are beautiful, and the gardens and landscaping (with heated pool) are lush. With a Michelin-starred restaurant onsite, this gem has it all. 800-464-6642, www.farmhouseinn.com

Olivet Road is also near the towns of Graton, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa — all with assorted accommodations.

Play
Wine tasting is an integral part of any trip to Olivet Road. The artisan wineries produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay among other varietals. The Sonoma coastal fog adds to the allure of the Russian River Valley AVA and the success of the wines. Everyone there is eco-friendly.

We followed our own version of the Pinot Road trail. Though we drove, it also makes for a great bike ride. First up: Inman Family Wines. The land is organically farmed, the business spotlights sustainability, and everything they do puts the environment front and center. All of the materials for the winery and tasting room are from recycled materials. Recognized for Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays (try the 2008 OGV Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay), don’t leave without tasting the 2009 Brut Rosé sparkling.

Just down the road is Hook & Ladder Winery founded by a now-retired fireman passionate about his work — both at the front of a fire and in the world of wine. The tasting room is decorated with patches and t-shirts from fire stations around the world. Here they showcase their best, including the Third Alarm Reserve series (love the 2010 Pinot Noir), the 2008 Station 10 Zinfandel blend, and the 2008 The Tillerman Cabernet blend. 707-526-2255, www.hookandladderwinery.com

Nearby is Benovia Winery, farming their grapes sustainably. They use owl boxes to encourage native barn owl populations to prey on gophers and moles. Try their 2009 Pinot Noirs — the Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County and the Bella Una Russian River Valley. 707-526-4441, www.benoviawinery.com

The Pellegrini family has been growing grapes in Sonoma for four generations. Their Pellegrini Family Winery is known for handcrafted estate wines. Don’t miss the 2007 Olivet Lane Vineyard Pinot and the 2007 Milestone blend, an ode to their 75th anniversary. 800-891-0244, www.pellegrinisonoma.com

Sunce Winery has delicious estate Pinot Noirs (like the 2010 Zora’s Estate) and also produces two new varietals each year. Most of the wines are made in small lots; be sure to sample the 2009 Carignane Suisun Valley and the 2009 Tempranillo. 707-526-9463, www.suncewinery.com

After a rough day of wine tasting, there is nothing better than a spa treatment. Whichever option you select at Spa Services at Vintners Inn or the Spa at Farmhouse Inn, you’ll unwind and chill out in preparation for the week ahead.

Dine
The concentration of great restaurants in this area is amazing. Start your wine country experience the right way with brunch at Zazu Restaurant & Farm. From just-picked ingredients to farm-fresh eggs and cured meats, the restaurant exudes local flavor and charm. We couldn’t resist the corned beef hash with scrambled eggs and the scrumptious black pig bacon burger. And this was after the decadent maple-glazed donuts with bacon jimmies! They even make their own wine with Thomas George Estates — a real treat. 707-523-4814, www.zazurestaurant.com

We indulged one night at Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Farmhouse Inn. Executive chef Steve Litke blends farm-fresh ingredients to create an exquisite meal served in an elegant yet relaxed dining area. We savored seared rare mackerel with dashi-braised daikon and a white miso vinaigrette and grilled Mediterranean octopus with sunchokes, olive tapenade, arugula purée, and chermoula. Add the “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” cooked three ways with an applewood-smoked bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack and confit of leg — all paired with a selection of wines — and we had wine country perfection. The trio of Meyer lemon (mousse, custard cake, and curd) was a decadently delicious dessert.

Another night, we enjoyed the John Ash & Co. restaurant at Vintners Inn. The vaulted ceiling, warm lighting and soft colors enhance the dining experience. The seasonal menu not only leverages the relationship the restaurant enjoys with local farmers, but features items harvested from their garden.  707-575-7350

At Vintners Inn, freshly brewed coffee is available outside your bedroom door — nice before you have breakfast served on the terrace or in the dining room. The Farmhouse Inn also serves a mouthwatering gourmet breakfast.

Other Essentials
Sonoma County Visitors Bureau: www.sonomacounty.com
Russian River Valley Wine-growers: www.rrvw.org
The Wine Road: www.wineroad.com

Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb or reached at [email protected].
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