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July 30, 2013
Shine On, Sonoma Coast
For starters, I have to tell you that the Sonoma Coast is both on and off the radar of many a serious wine fan. It's on thanks to the meteoric rise of pours from the area - think offerings from Hirsch, Marcassin, Flowers, Wild Hog (a personal fav), Failla, Littorai, Williams Selyem, Peter Michael - and off because, until recently, there really wasn't a there-there: Wineries are tucked way back into the hills on barely-accessible roads, cell phones don't work at all, and invites to visit are about as scarce as Internet access. Lodgings, restaurants, fancy tasting rooms? Forget it.
Yet over the years I yearned to visit based on the fabulosity of wines I tasted. The haunting minerality, cool acidic bite and wonderfully rich flavors shot through with terroir were sirens of a sort. So - naturally - I jumped at an invitation to trek up the 1 and stay at the rustic-cool Timber Cove Inn, a hotel perched on coastal bluffs north of Jenner and accessible to the newly anointed Fort Ross-Seaview appellation. Under oversight from an enthusiastic new owner, the inn is being slowly updated to appeal to wine travelers accustomed to trendier spots in Healdsburg and Yountville.
Along the way, we dropped into the new tasting room (yes - a tasting room on the Sonoma Coast at last!) at Fort Ross Vineyard for a bite and view of the ocean beyond, visible through a thick stand of Redwoods. Tucked comfortably into a corner of the spot's expansive Redwood deck, we learned that Fort Ross' are the closest vineyards to the ocean in California. Founded by an adventurous South African couple, the winery, its manicured hospitality center and grounds hew to South African decor ideals emphasizing quality materials and minimal fussiness. We picknicked on hummus, wrap sandwiches and fresh fruit prepared by Timber Cove's new chef, William Oliver, and washed it all back with delicious Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a surprisingly good Pinotage.
We caravanned from there to the inn, where our host was dapper new owner Robert "Bob" Olson. Bob's blue eyes are twinkling in a Fred Astaire sort of way, and his tastes run to the art and real estate markets. He recently acquired the inn - founded in 1963, the same year Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds was shot in nearby Bodega Bay - and is transforming it room by room into a modern retreat with amenities to attract well heeled guests. My room - one of the handful refurbished and with bay views to make any worldly traveler take note - lived up to the hype.
We kicked off the evening with libations from a pop-up "1963-era" cocktail bar helmed by mixologist Danny Ronen, who slid us pours of vintage cognac between drinks any Mad Men fan would appreciate.
Bob treated us to a lovely dinner at the inn's Alexander's restaurant, where we tasted selections from the wine list focused almost exclusively on Sonoma Coast producers, including a cuvee bottled especially for the inn by Hirsch. And what would a modern coastal retreat be without a pedigreed chef? Oliver's recent arrival from stints at Cook St. Helena and Russian River’s Michelin-starred Farmhouse bode well for the culinary program.
After the wine and food had been suitably enjoyed over a breathtaking coastal "double sunset," we indulged in cigars by the fire pit, mingling with other guests and taking in the oceans of stars overhead. I loved the sunset, the stars, the people and the wine - but the best sight of all, outshining it all - was the place itself. I had found my "there-there" on the Sonoma Coast at last.