California Bay Area Part 3 of 5—
A few days into our West Coast visit, we drove up to the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County with Russ’s sister Dee and her husband Dave. It was less than a two-hour trip by car, and after about an hour on Highway 101 we exited onto River Road and meandered through towering redwood forests to our destination in the quaint town of Guerneville.
Dave checks out the Russian River on one of our excursions.
The area became popular with wealthy vacationers from San Francisco and surrounding communities in the late 19th century. Then the 1960’s marked a period of decline for many of the older resorts. But a renaissance took place in the late 70’s as entrepreneurs from San Francisco identified the area as a prime recreational destination for weekends. And obvious to all, there still are a smattering of leftover aging hippies still stuck in the 70’s!
Our destination was the boon hotel+spa. The location once housed the local miner community, but during the aforementioned 70’s boom, someone bought the land and renovated it into the first generation of the hotel. In April 2008 the current boon hotel+spa was born. While it’s not new modern construction—its using the best of what was already there to preserve the past, yet emphasizing the present—we couldn’t wait to chill in the present for a few days…
Our view as we walked under the arched foliage “hallway” from the parking lot into the boon oasis.
The entrance opens into a courtyard centered around a central saline pool, a hot tub hidden among the foliage and an “honor” bar, all complemented by gray and stark white décor with bright orange accents. Fourteen green-chic rooms are modeled after a Balinese resort with a clean, contemporary design. Our rooms, like the others, sat on six-foot stilts, above the 100-year flood level of the nearby Russian River. (There was also an option for “glamping”—glamorous camping, pictures follow.)
Dee and Russ wait in the shade (in was in the high 90’s that day) while Dave and I check in at the office.
Not many customers chilling around the pool while we were there.
Once settled in, Dave was anxious to take us wine tasting. Not long after he retired, Dave had a short stint working at a winery on Alameda Island, so he’s a pretty knowledgeable guy to act as tour guide. Not to mention the fact that he’s been to a few—or countless—wineries in his day.
Our first stop, (Dee stayed at the resort and got a full body massage during one of our wine tasting excursions) was the Iron Horse winery “where rustic meets elegance.” The estate was named after a railroad stop, which crossed the property in the 1890s. Iron Horse is one of Sonoma County’s most beautiful, small, independent, estate, family-owned wineries. It is located in cool, foggy Green Valley, is renowned for its prestigious sparkling wines, and is currently building a legacy of estate bottled chardonnay and pinot noir.
Our wine guide, originally from Michigan, chats it up with Dave.
The postcard-worthy panoramic view walking up to the Iron Horse Winery.
Enjoying a fine pinot noir while basking in the sunshine with a view overlooking the vineyards.
Our wine guide noticed my University of Michigan T-shirt which was an immediate conversation starter because that was also his alma mater (ehhem, a few years behind me); plus he’s from Brighton, Michigan which is where one of my nephews and his wife currently reside… small world.
Not interested in the sparkling wines, we did flights of the chardonnay and pinot noir—which were incredibly smooth, and the winery’s rising star. The panoramic vistas are incredible to look at as you listen to the history while sipping some fabulous wine. I find it interesting that three generations live on the property ranging in age from 21 to 86 years old. Now that’s a family affair!
In no particular order, we visited 5 other wineries over the course of two afternoons, two of which stand out in my mind. The Thomas George Estates, a Russian River Valley producer of small-lot artisan wines, was offerings tastings in their cave on the afternoon we ventured in. Completed in 2010, the 8,000-square-foot cave features full tasting facilities, including a tasting bar, private tasting lounge, a wine library, and can host up to 70 people for a sit down dinner.
The exterior of the wine tasting cave.
The interior of the wine tasting cave—nice and cool on a hot day.
This statue on the grounds of the Thomas George Estates was so soothing.
Another winery of note was the Hop Kiln (HKG Estates.) This structure served the important hop industry of California’s north coast region, once the major hop-growing area in the west. Built in 1905 by a crew of Italian stonemasons, it represents the finest existing example of its type. The building consists of three stone kilns for drying hops and an attached wooden cooling barn with a two-story press for baling hops.
They have 250 acres in the heart of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Country, and an incredible variety of soil types and microclimates, allowing for vast differentiation. The day we arrived the sky was a glorious blue, and the grass a surreal green compared to the various shades of brown and gold in the surrounding hills.
The Hop Kiln also serves as their tasting room and marketplace.
Russ stands next to a hop plant growing up the facade of the kiln building.
Dave and Russ enjoying a fine pinot noir.
Well, so far I haven’t mentioned food once—but we did eat—and well! The boon hotel+spa delivers breakfast directly to your room (or tent) at your discretion between the times of 6:30 and 10:00 a.m. Knowing Russ had a wheat allergy, they made sure his toast and yogurt with granola were gluten-free. The tray also came with french-press coffee, two glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice, a home-made biscuit, butter and jam. Although Dee and Dave agreed with us that it was odd we only got one linen napkin each morning!?
Breakfast is served—with only one linen napkin…
They do not serve lunch or dinner but have a restaurant a few short miles away on the main street in Guerneville. boon eat + drink is a modern California bistro where they source most of their products right from Sonoma county. They support local farms and businesses and use primarily organic ingredients—some from the garden at the hotel. The menu is comprised of small plates, charcuterie, artisan cheeses, panini, salads, and seasonal main dishes, serving only Russian River wines and micro brews from Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Suffice it to say, we were happy campers here…
Intrigued by the Flash Fried Brussel Sprouts, we placed an order to share. Made with lemon, garlic, olive oil, and chili flakes, we are now on a mission to get this recipe. Another veggie dish calling out my name was the Lacinato Kale, adorned with seasonal stone fruit, Redwood Hill goat cheese, Marcona almonds, and a Verjus vinaigrette.
For entrees the guys couldn’t help but order the Flat Iron Steak, complete with truffle fries, chimichurri sauce, and a wild arugula salad with sherry-shallot vinaigrette. And the ladies entrée of choice was the Crispy Seared Salmon, artfully assembled in a bowl with cranberry bean summer succotash, and herbed pistou.
The organic garden at boon that partially supports their organic restaurant.
Hoping we had some food to throw their way, the free-range chickens came over to greet us.
Our next dinner was at the Agriculture Public House at Dawn Ranch which focuses on locally sourced organic products (an obvious theme in this area.) It is a nice, higher end restaurant that features a wood burning fireplace and vaulted beam ceilings, with an ambience that is of Pacific north woods—modern rustic, yet warm.
Dee and I both enjoyed salads for starters while the guys went for their famous Steamed Mussels that came with chorizo, tomato, shallots, and a lightly grilled baguette. My Dawn Ranch Salad was deliciously fresh comprised of butter lettuce, carrot ribbons, radish slices, candied walnuts, Laura Chenel goat cheese and ranch dressing. And Dee seemed to be taken with her Squash Salad made with garden squash, shaved red onion, parmesan, dill, all lightly dressed in a mustard vinaigrette.
All said and done, I’d say we chilled pretty well over the course of two days. We recommend the Russian River Valley to anyone who’s not looking for a pretentious, crowded getaway. With over 15,000 acres planted to grapevines, wine connoisseurs will adore the area; but there are also many other ways to entertain yourself in this laid-back part of California. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to check it out for yourselves!
Russ checks out the interior of one of the tents in case you want to “glamp” amongst the redwoods at boon hotel+spa.