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9 Experiences to Pair With Wine in Sonoma Wine Country

There's more to do than JUST drink. You can drink and do stuff, too!

What wine pairs best with smoked salmon and Alfred Hitchcock? You can only find out in the Sonoma Valley where the terroir is just a little bit different.

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Spend a Night in the Wild West

Sonoma was gold rush country before it was wine country, and the region’s downtown plaza still has many of its original buildings. Everything here has the romantic look of the Old West—only with slightly more Range Rovers and chef-driven restaurants.

For an Architectural Digest version of 19th-century life, spend a night among the El Dorado Hotel’s Spanish tile, exposed beams, and modern amenities before heading out in the morning to prospect for Pinot Grigio in neighboring vineyards.

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Visit the Italian Countryside via California

Back when wine country thought it had to be Italian to make its mark; Viansa re-created an Italian villa among Sonoma’s rolling hills.

If you’ve been looking for a place to Eat, Pray, Love on a budget, have a glass on the winding terrace or under the hanging grapes of the pergola, taste a flight among the frescoes in their tasting room, or rent a private booth on the terrace overlooking the vineyard and wetlands below.

But the wine here is Sonoma proud, featuring pinot, chardonnay, and varietals that grow best in the region at a price point that will allow you to taste every grape.

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Feel Like An Extra on the Set of 'Gilmore Girls'

Spend just a few minutes in Santa Rosa and you’ll start to get the feeling that you’ve been here before, and you have, via your couch. The quaint town square, colorful craftsmen houses. and quirky town characters all give off a vibe worthy of its own adorable script.

The best place to take it all in is from a window seat at Criminal Baking Co. & Noshery, a tiny cooler-than-thou eatery staring lemon bars with translucent browned-butter crust worthy of a detour between vineyards. Or try The Naked Pig for some of the best brunch in the region.

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Become an Olive Oil Truther

One bite of the complex, full-bodied flavors at B.R. Cohn‘s olive oil tasting and you’ll realize that olive oil and wine have much more in common than you’ve been led to believe. Here the flavors change with the seasons, bringing a unique character to each that they pair artfully in their olive oil pairing.

And, at a vineyard that is bold enough to pair cabernet with cashew butter, lime olive oil, and white balsamic vinegar, the delightful surprises never stop coming.

Thankfully, you can buy everything from the tasting in the gift shop on the property. Bring a tote—you’ll want to buy enough to last you until your next trip back, and a few to share when you tell your friends why you’ve stopped buying the grocery store shelf stuff.

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Reenact a Scene From 'The Birds'

If fleeing cinematically from a blight of birds has always been on your vacation bucket list, boy does Sonoma have a treat for you.

This region was one of Hitchcock’s favorites and he filmed a scene from The Birds next to The Tides, one of the best markets in the region. Bring a bottle of your favorite chardonnay, buy a pound of smoked salmon, and pair them on the patio while keeping an eye on the growing crowd of seagulls perched nearby.

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Pick up an Obi Wan Mug and Vintage Playboy From the Same Shop

Tipsy antiquing is the best antiquing, and doing it at a shop that has mannequin Tipi Hedron trapped in a phone booth outside is even better. At Sea Gull Antiques in Bodega, California you can sift through vintage LIFE magazines, Coke bottles, Garbage Pail kids trading cards, and other hidden gems that get snatched up in larger cities.

Bring along your favorite varietal in a flask and spend some time wondering whether a Michael Jackson ashtray or sleeve of Garbage Pail trading cards would make a better wine country souvenir, then buy both.

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Get to Know Laura Chenel

Sonoma is a locavore’s paradise with a community of foods that everyone knows by name at rustic Sonoma restaurant The Girl and the Fig. Get to know the unique flavor of Laura Chenel cheese, Bellweather crème fraîche, or Pug’s Leap chevre when creating a custom cheese plate with in-house cured meats. Visit again and again to know which wine pairs perfectly with each cheese.

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Pair Wine and Salmon From the Same Zipcode

Sonoma Coast Vineyards sits right on Bodega Bay, and the vineyard sources nearly everything in its Wines on the Edge tasting from very close by. Pairings like their Sonoma Coast chardonnay and local smoked salmon (or Dungeness crab when in season) star two of the region’s most famous products that highlight the flavor of wine country that you’ll dream about tasting again soon after you’re gone.

INSIDER TIPTastings are in demand and must be booked 72 hours in advance, but are well worth a little planning.

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Make Friends Over Wagyu Carpaccio

Wine country is vast, but Sonoma is small and the best meals of the season — currently the eye-rollingly good wagyu carpaccio from Chef Armando Navarro at El Dorado Kitchen–are on everyone’s lips. And it’s best to have it early on in your trip.

Around meal time in Sonoma, it’s customary to eavesdrop on your neighbor’s conversation when it drifts toward food. And being in the know about the best plates is a great way to win a fast friend (and a few restaurant recommendations) for at least the next two glasses of wine.

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