When lifelong friends Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison arrived at the rolling pastures and manzanita trees of Bell Mountain Vineyard—heralded as a “near definition of utopia” by Food & Wine magazine—they knew instantly that this was the spot. The pair came to the decision after two years of scouring Sonoma County for the ideal property to start their own wine estate on—that was in 1998. Today, Chris and Ames have their grape-emblazoned flag firmly planted in Sonoma County's wine culture. They've done so by using a completely holistic approach to winemaking—one they believe reflects the beauty of their land and that relies solely on organic farming and solar power. Their philosophy even carries over to their method of pest control, which uses corridors instead of high fences, allowing nuisance animals such as wild pigs and deer to pass through certain spots in the vineyard without harming the fruit, the guests, or themselves. In the same nature-loving vein, Chris and Ames rely on barn owls and hawks to hunt rodents.
With 320 total acres at its disposal, Medlock Ames takes up only 56 with vineyards, leaving the rest for oaks and flowers to grow freely. Upon this portion of the land, Chris and Ames begin their small-production process, which continues inside their custom-built winery with gentle gravity-flow techniques and natural yeast fermentation. The process yields a wide range of high-quality artisan wines, from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc to merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The duo makes the fruits of their labor available in their nearby tasting room, as well as during wine-tasting experiences and tours of their production facility at Bell Mountain Ranch, available for Wine Club members only.
To enliven the local, organic produce that fills his kitchen, Chef Vinay Patel welcomes monthly shipments of spices from India, such as turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, and cardamom. After seasoning his meats, he lowers them into a clay tandoor to cook over handpicked, hardwood mesquite charcoal. For all the effort that goes into each chicken dish, curry, and biryani, the Bohemian has awarded Sizzling Tandoor Indian Restaurant its Best Indian award for 22 years running.
The dishes sprawl from traditional entrees to Northern and Southern Indian specialties and Indo-Chinese fusion dishes. Chefs also tandoor-fire nearly a dozen types of bread, including naan, paratha, and gluten-free and vegan missi roti to sop up sauces. Rather than placing a miniature fire extinguisher at each table, chefs calibrate each dish's spiciness from mild to hot.
As diners expand the depth of their palate, an Indian ambiance envelops their body. At the Santa Rosa location, live belly dancers charm and entertain on Friday and Saturday night, and live musicians stop by for events such as Samosas and Sitar. While watching, guests can nurse Indian beers and specialty cocktails including the Sizzling Sunset, which ups the ante of traditional mango lassi with vodka.
Since its first pizzeria opened in 1978 in Palo Alto, Mountain Mike’s Pizza has stretched to encompass more than 150 restaurants throughout the West Coast. From the meat-laden Pike’s Peak to the vegetarian-friendly Mt. Veggiemore, 12 specialty pizzas—most of them named after mountains—arrive in portions from small to extra large, which can feed up to eight patrons or spark nostalgia in homesick, city-dwelling mountain goats. Diners can also choose their own conglomeration of ingredients, ranging from Louisiana-style hot links to sun-dried tomatoes, and supplement pies with an all-you-can-eat salad bar or a quintet of appetizer options including wings and jalapeño poppers.
Sonoma Helicopter's fleet of choppers hardly ever stops spinning as they lead training, photography, and tour flights throughout the Sonoma Valley and wine country year round. Their thorough training program pairs classroom and flight sessions to produce pilots capable of taming wild helicopters, and the mountain-flying school further specializes chopper jockeys. Aside from aerial surveys that delve into animal populations, power-line patrols, and crop pollinations, the staff also takes to the air to give guests a bird's-eye view of Sonoma.
Locals Wine Tasting outfits sip-seeking palates in a tasty variety of grapey frocks, all crafted by 11 lauded and loved wineries. Corral a fellow oenophile or wine-fueled automaton for an informative tasting session, which features grape-blood goods from purveyors such as Dark Horse, Foggy Valley, Bedarra Vineyards, and more. The session's flight tastings imbue suppers with a wine-filled cornucopia of vino-based knowledge, such as tasting and pairing tips and how to build a suitable flotation device from leftover corks. All participants leave with a bottle of 2008 Foggy Valley Leras Vineyard, RRV chardonnay, a fruity brew with hints of green apple, white nectarine, and melon.
A restored Queen Anne structure in Sonoma wine country, Grape Leaf Inn won NBC11's award for best area bed and breakfast for two consecutive years. Six available guestrooms await visitors, each equipped with a king or queen bed. A bottle of old-vine zinfandel (a $37.50 value), recently liberated from its oaken prison, regales sippers with tales of life on the inside. Downstairs, the speakeasy offers complimentary vine-blood samplings that awaken the unexplainable urge for more, as well as an intimate setting for romantic paper-football games. Excellent breakfasts of local produce and freshly roasted coffee also await visitors. Wineries available for tastings vary based on date of stay.