Wine and spa in Sonoma, California
After the 26th pour of wine on my self-guided tour of wineries in the Russian River Valley, I had an epiphany that wine and spa make a perfect pairing. One could spend the day enjoying tastes of top wines and immediately go to a local spa to detox. For a trip that bottles up luxury, gastronomy, spa and wine, Sonoma, California can’t be beat.
In California’s Wine Country, Napa is just like the Cabs (Cabernet Sauvignons) it produces: big, bold and in-your-face, whereas Sonoma is more like the nuanced, smooth Pinot Noir it is famous for. During my long weekend I stayed at both the 85-year-old storied Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, and the Gaige House Inn, a bed and breakfast with contemporary, Zen-like décor and evening wine tastings where guests exchange tips about the best wineries to visit. Driving the 90 minutes from the San Francisco airport to Sonoma, I decided to jump right into my oenophile weekend with lunch at St. Francis Vineyard. The winery is one of just a handful with an on site chef, and the four courses showcased the bounty of Californian produce and cheese, and how they bring out the best in a variety of wines.
MASSAGE AND DINNER. It can often be hard for me to turn off my Type A personality and relax into a vacation, but the hot stone massage at the intimate Gaige House spa helped me leave the real world behind. The spa loft encompasses the entire third floor and was all mine during the massage. The 80-minute treatment helped loosen my chronic shoulder knots as the therapist used a mix of long effleurage strokes and trigger point work with the heated basalt stones. Smooth stones coupled with the hot oil felt like warm rain cascading down my back and was extremely relaxing. From the Gaige House, I walked down the road to dinner at the Glen Ellen Star, a husband and wife owned eatery set in a small rustic farmhouse. Chef Ari Weiswasser worked at culinary icons like Daniel in New York and the French Laundry in Napa before opening the Glen Ellen Star in 2012. The restaurant was packed, and based on the tables around me the gourmet wood-fired pizzas and grilled vegetables appeared to be the way to go. Thankfully, I saved room for dessert – like the salted peanut butter ice cream or pear cider sorbet, served in adorable half-pint containers.
JAPANESE GARDEN. I kicked off my first full day in the Valley of the Moon, as Sonoma is known, at a one-of-a-kind spa: Osmosis Day Spa, in Freestone. Nestled into the countryside, the Zen style spa offers guests a peaceful Japanese garden with a meditation area, creekside massages in pagodas, and special sound sessions in the Field of Hammocks. But what Osmosis is known for are its Cedar Enzyme Baths, the only such baths in the United States. The cedar bath, a mix of ground cedar, rice bran and plant enzymes, is a Japanese tradition that improves digestion, speeds metabolism, reduces pain, tension and stress and detoxifies. My treatment began in the tea room where my bath attendant served me a tea mixed with enzymes from 25 organically grown plants. The tea works in conjunction with the metabolic process of the bath. The bath itself is a balmy 60 degrees Celsius and a word to the wise; moving makes it feel even hotter. My attendant manipulates the cedar to carve a place for me in the bath and then shovels the cedar on top of me so only my head is peeking out. During the 20 minute bath, my attendant comes by several times to wipe my brow with a cool towel and feed me water through a straw, which makes me feel a bit like a hospital patient. After 15 minutes the heat finally gets to me and I have to poke my feet out of the cedar. The treatment finishes with me brushing off in a private courtyard outside before showering. I follow up the bath with a 30-minute hemi-sync sound treatment designed to sync the left and right sides of my brain.
PINOT AND SYRAH. With my metabolism in overdrive and my liver detoxified, it’s time to tour the Russian River Wineries. My first stop is Red Car where I’m lucky to find John behind the bar to lead me in a tasting of a variety of Pinot Noir and Syrah while regaling me with stories about the history of the winery and his own personal journey to Red Car. At Lynmar Estate, I enjoy tasting Chardonnay and Pinot on a patio overlooking the vineyards before the cooler temperatures drive me inside to the bar where I fortuitously end up standing next to a guy dropping thousands of dollars to stock a new wine cellar. He is tasting the top wines from the vineyard and offers me a pour of a Pinot Noir not on the standard tasting menu. My favorite winery of the day is easily J Vineyards, a house founded on sparkling wine, and now pouring delectable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the luxurious Balcony Lounge, featuring sleek chairs and sofas to relax and enjoy the tasting. Quinn, the winery’s hospitality director, gives me a tour of the winery and pours more tastes of delicious wines than I care to remember. As a side note, Queen Elizabeth sipped J Vintage Brut when she was at the White House.
DRY CREEK KITCHEN. Thankfully I had a designated driver to take me to Healdsburg to stroll the quaint downtown and have dinner at the standout Dry Creek Kitchen. The sophisticated restaurant focuses on using local ingredients to create contemporary and classic gourmet dishes like scallops en croute, steelhead en papillote or Duroc pork duo. The meal was my favourite of the trip. If you go, plan ahead of time as you can bring any bottle of Sonoma wine to dinner with no corkage fee. If you get your fill of wine tasting on day one, take a break by enjoying a round of golf at the Sonoma Golf Club, offering exclusive access to Fairmont guests. With 177 acres of rolling terrain featuring massive oak trees, lakes and views of mountains and vineyards, it is a beautiful but challenging course. If you’re up for a drive, The Links at Bodega Harbour, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, is considered one of the best courses in Northern California.
PRIVATE TASTING. I love wine, so I decide to keep on enjoying the grape the following day (I know there is more spa detox to come!) and book a private tasting at Sojourn, which has a tasting house on the Sonoma town square. It is a relaxed journey focused again on Sonoma’s famous Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, but with a few Napa Cabs thrown in the mix. Afterwards a quick walk down the road takes me to the delectable Epicurean Connection for lunch. This local gem, recommended to me by a food writer friend, serves up homemade soups, sandwiches, crêpes, salads and the cheese that puts it on the map. Its Délice de la Vallée won best fresh cheese in the country twice, which becomes even more impressive knowing it was co-created by proprietor Sheana Davis and a then 15-year-old assistant cheese maker. If Sheana is in the house, don’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy her infectious personality and learn more about local wine and cheese in the process. The café is also the perfect place to pick up locally produced culinary gifts to bring home.
FAIRMONT SPA. I wind down the day with the Chardonnay Olive Oil Sugar Polish at the Fairmont Spa. This half-scrub and half-massage service begins with a wonderful smelling all-organic scrub featuring local Chardonnay grapes mixed with olive oil, grape seed extract, sugar and lavender. After rinsing off the scrub, a massage tailored to your needs concludes the service. Make sure to request Jennifer when you book. While the treatments at the spa are top-notch, I think the standout feature is the bathing ritual available when you book any service. Three pools, varying in temperature, ease my body and mind into a calm state. My favorite is the Watsu pool where I float and listen to the underwater music. As I languidly glide through the water, music playing, the feeling is womb-like.
A SONOMA STAPLE. The Girl and the Fig is a Sonoma staple and the perfect place for my last dinner. The lively restaurant combines French food with the bounty of Californian food products to create a memorable meal. In fact, many of the ingredients used in the dishes are farmed by the restaurant’s own staff! Opt for bistro staples like croque monsieur or steak frites, or dishes like wild flounder meunière or Moroccan braised short ribs. The wine list features Sonoma produced, French-style wines. Save room for the lavender crème brûlée or chocolate dipped fig kisses. No matter what the year, a vacation to Sonoma is always a winning vintage.