It’s always a good time to visit the friendly farming community of Sebastopol in the lush Russian River Valley. Settled in 1812 by Russian explorers, the 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 creative community, and a welcoming artisanal gathering place: The Barlow.
My husband and I decided to make it a day trip, because lodging in Sebastopol is challenging.
PLAY & SHOP
The Barlow is the hot gathering spot in Sebastopol. Once the site of the Barlow Apple Processing Plant, this multi-building 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 them make their goods as you try the finished products. 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” doors for easy access to outside space and seating (707-824-5600, 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 (“grain to glass” as they like to say). Take a tour and learn how each batch is milled, mashed, fermented, and distilled — then taste the unique spirits (707-634-4793, spiritworksdistillery.com).
Pax Wine, passionate and dedicated to grape-growing, has a tasting room at The Barlow. Known for its sustainable farming practices and the intricacies of each varietal, the wines are consistently well received. Don’t miss the 2016 Pax Gamay Noir Sonoma Coast and the 2015 Pax Syrah The Hermit North Coast (707-331-1393, paxwine.com).
MacPhail Wines nailed a corner spot at The Barlow, perfect for people-watching and tasting wine. Learn about soil and terroir, and what makes a good cheese pairing, while tasting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the current 2015 vintage (707-824-8400, macphailwine.com).
The Tamarind shop at The Barlow carries a distinctive selection of ladies’ fashions and accessories (707-861-9513, shoptamarind.com). For a fun collection of wooden toys, doll-making kits (they offer classes) and other gifts, visit Circle of Hands (707-634-6140, circleofhandswaldorfshop.com). 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 (707-823-2618, copperfieldsbooks.com). Drive down Florence Avenue where the whimsical junk-art sculptures from artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent greet you.
When it’s time to enjoy the countryside, explore 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. 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 Lowell’s. On the western edge of downtown, this neighborhood favorite, now celebrating 10 years, is a food lover’s dream. The cuisine showcases organic produce from local farms (including their own). Most of the wines on the list are biodynamic and organic.
The ricotta pancakes were a sweet beginning. The suckling pig hash was another favorite with two poached eggs, confit pork, and tasty potatoes. In addition to a variety of other farm-fresh egg dishes, there’s a Macro Bowl — an earthy combination of red rice and marinated root vegetables to which you can add sausage, fish, or short ribs and sauces such as tangy miso ginger, lemon tahini, or turmeric tamari. With the meal, we paired a 2016 Preston Kalogiros Petillant Naturel Dry Creek Valley — the bubbles helped kick start the day (707-829-1077, lowellssebastopol.com).
The Barlow is also home to Zazu Kitchen + Farm, 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 made from many ingredients just picked in the garden.
Their popular homemade salumi and bacon are featured in many items, including The Black Pig bacon-wrapped dates. But everything isn’t pig-related. We also had the ruby beet gnocchi rossi with blue cheese, chestnuts and Asian pears, the tombo tuna crudo, and the crab cioppino made from Bodega Bay Dungeness Crab. Lots of sweet choices for dessert, including house-made gelato and persimmon cake with cream cheese frosting. We paired these Pinot Noirs from the Sonoma Coast with the meal: 2013 Crossbarn and the 2014 Banshee (707-523-4814, zazukitchen.com).
Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center: sebastopol.org
Sonoma County Visitors Bureau: sonomacounty.com
Sonoma County Vintners: sonomawine.com