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Secrets of Sonoma

Nov 01, 2023 03:29PM ● By GINA BIRCH

Bibiana and Jeff Pisoni break for coffee after checking their sauvignon blanc vineyard before harvest. PHOTO BY SYDNEY MANNING

There’s more than a vibrant wine scene to discover here

The November/December issue of this publication is always one of my favorites. Its focuses on the things I’m most passionate about—food, wine, and travel—and this year Sonoma Valley is on my radar. This area of Northern California is more laid back and somewhat more approachable than its neighbors (Napa). In addition, the area is home to some wine and spirits makers that are doing some unique things. There is more to discover here than just vineyards, and here are a few.

Take, for example, the new project of Bibiana González Rave with husband Jeff Pisoni. The charis­matic winemaker is using her knowledge of farming to help not only others in the wine business, but also those growing coffee plants in her native Colombia. Now Bibiana and Jeff are the first in the valley to have a roastery at their winery.

She became fascinated with wine at an early age, but, she remembers, “I was devasted to find it never got cold enough for grapes to grow and ripen in Colombia.” So, she moved to France to learn how to make wine. In California, she bottles Cattleya, Alma de Cattleya, and Shared Notes Sauvignon Blanc. The latter is a special project with her winemaking husband, Jeff.

Besides wine, she says, “I loved cof­fee my whole life. I was best in my class in college because of coffee,” she adds with a laugh. Now, she is the first in the valley to have a roastery at her winery. She hosts both wine and coffee tastings, or cuppings, by reservation. A custom cupping table is being built so she can expand. The tasting room is in Rohnert Park, just south of Santa Rosa.

Her vision is to share her knowledge of farming and technology with small cof­fee producers in Colombia to help them grow, along with the plants. The beans she imports are fair trade and single origin. One farm is 100 per­cent operated by women. She ships wine and coffee all over the country and has special gift sets, as well as corporate packaging for the holidays.

At J Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg there is a delicious dining diversity program underway. The pristine tasting room has a stunning J Bubble Room for wine-pairing dinners that fea­ture J’s famous sparkling as well as still wines.

In the newest dining series, J’s culinary staff teams up with other local chefs de cuisines and cultures that are often under­represented in the local dining scene. Together they create unique food and wine experiences, breaking dining stereotypes. Find out more about the dinners through the winery website and make a reservation during your visit.

Bibiana tastes a Shared Notes wine prior to its release; Hanson of Sonoma Distillery uses real fruits and herbs for its vodka infusions; Hanson also has a full-service bar; The Beacon is a speakeasy with a rotating menu of craft cocktails in Sonoma; Wit & Wisdom’s caviar course is famous and fantastic with local vodka. WINE BOTTLE/GLASS PHOTO COURTESY OF SHARED NOTES WINERY; OTHER PHOTOS BY GINA BIRCH

For visitors who need a break from wine tastings, Hanson of Sonoma Distillery, in the city of Sonoma, is a great stop. Here the staff still hand peels the citrus and other ingredients used in Hanson’s infused spirits. The family-owned business recently released a boysenberry vodka with a sushi pairing at the distill­ery. Take a tour of the distilling operation and stay for lunch or dinner. Hanson also has a fantastic culinary program.

Healdsburg is one of the most pop­ular cities to stay in Sonoma County. It has a charming square, Michelin-starred restaurants, and accommodations. The cities of Sonoma and Santa Rosa, fea­tured here, should not be overlooked. The winter season is typically slower in Sonoma, helpful for securing a dining reservation, getting better hotel rates, and meeting winemakers like Bibiana in their tasting rooms. Cheers.

Gina Birch is a regular contributor. A lover of good food, good drinks, and a fun time, she is also a well-known media personal­ity in Southwest Florida.


Flamingo Hotel, Santa Rosa

This is a midcentury modern mecca in the middle of Santa Rosa where pink flamingos and retro décor are alive and well. This iconic spot has a lounge, a pool, and fun written all over it.

AC Hotel, Santa Rosa
One of the newest hotels in the Railroad Square Historic District, it’s modern and walkable to local restaurants, coffee shops, and antique stores, as well as the famous Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. Quick and convenient from Highway 101.

El Dorado Hotel, Sonoma
In a historic building on Sonoma Plaza, this boutique hotel is contemporary but cozy with a comfortable bar, courtyard, pool, and farm-to-table restaurant. Convenient to tasting rooms, shopping, and dining.

Jackson’s Bar and Oven, Santa Rosa
Modern comfort food is served here from Chef Josh Silvers. Much of the cooking is done in a wood-fired grill. The bar is a popular gathering spot in the historic district and offers a wide range of craft cocktails.

The Girl & the Fig, Sonoma
With its antique bar and Barbie dolls on the bathroom door pulls, this award-winning restaurant is known for its French country fare, Rhone-centric wine list, and craft cocktails. It’s cozy and delicious.

Wit & Wisdom, Sonoma
From famous chef Michael Mina, it is more upscale while still being casual with several different areas to dine. The food and service are outstanding. It is splurge-worthy on every level.
707-931- 3405,