When Bay Area visitors and tourists think "Wine Country," they tend to think Napa Valley. After all, the Napa Valley is the best-known wine growing region in the United States. In fact, around the world Napa ranks right up there with Italy and France as a top producer of wines.
But locals know better. They know Wine Country encompasses more than just Napa County. Now, tourists seem to be catching on as well.
Over the mountain range and to the west of the Napa Valley lies Sonoma County. It's a dynamic wine-growing region in its own right.
Like the Napa Valley, Sonoma County is home to many award-winning wineries. Plus, the magnificent beauty of the Alexander Valley is down right breathtaking, drawing locals and tourists alike to the area every weekend and throughout most of the year.
There are more than 200 wineries in Sonoma County. Not all are open to visitors, but most of them are. And, a few of them recognize the allure of combining an array of outstanding varietals with good food. It's an unmistakable, mouth-watering draw. Wine and dine? How can you go wrong?
One winery taking advantage of the wine-and-dine concept is the Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg. The winery has had its roots in the Alexander Valley since 1895. Today, it almost exclusively produces estate wines, some originating from vineyards first planted by Edoardo and Angela Seghesio in the late 1800s.
Through the generations, the Seghesio family has gained a distinct reputation for producing quality wine, along with their generosity of giving back. The winery has given back to the community in many ways. It's also been generous through the decades of helping others who want to get their start in the wine-making business.
The Seghesio brand continues to grow with the family's zinfandel and Italian varietals to now include Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc and both red and white table wine.
The winery's grounds, which include a visitors center and wine-tasting room, is a fascinating place. It's also easy to see why the word “family” is in the name of the business.
“There are so few family wineries left in this region,” says Cathy Seghesio, marketing director. “We take great pride in what we do here at the winery. It's business, but it's family.”
The visitors center, which includes a walking history tour of the Seghesio brand, is fairly modern. But, it's actually an original building of the winery, gutted and renovated to accommodate the building's purpose today. On the walking tour, it's easy to see how the Seghesio brand is steeped in family tradition in Sonoma County – from the vintage wine barrels and the generations of wine labels and vintage bottles to large-scale photographs depicting the family and their winery through the decades.
On the ground floor of the visitors center is the wine-tasting room. On the upper floor is a room set aside for Family Tables, where visitors can reserve an opportunity to sit and relax away from a busy tasting room to enjoy wine as it was intended – around a table with food, family and friends.
Seghesio says the Family Tables room can be reserved Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The winery pairs its most limited wines with tastes of seasonal Seghesio family recipes.
In October, in the setting of its outdoor Grove, the winery hosted its first Chef's Harvest 2010, destined to become an annual event. More than 300 people flocked to the winery to sample Asian, Persian, Cajun, Spanish and Italian cuisine paired with Seghesio varietals.
Calling it “Cuisines of the World with America's Wine,” the winery showcased its chef, Jon Helquist, whose Italian cuisine consisted of northern halibut, sweet white corn and bulls horn peppers and lamb with sheep's milk yogurt. It was paired with a 2007 San Lorenzo Zinfandel.
Joining Helquist were four other world-renowned chefs – Hoss Zare from San Francisco, Corinne Trang from New York, Donald Link from New Orleans and Seamus Mullen from New York.
The event was held on a perfect October evening in the Grove, a cozy picnic area which also features bocce ball courts. Each type of cuisine was showcased under its own tent. The aromatic smells emanating from each tent were enough to bring anyone out to taste the cuisine and try the wines during an evening under the stars.
The Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg is just one of 200-plus wineries to choose from throughout Sonoma County's Alexander Valley. And, from San Francisco, it's less than an hour's drive north on Highway 101.