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.
Named for the iconic director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery gratifies grape groupies with a wide array of virtuosic vinos. Pirouette your way into the Bottling Ballet Mechanique tour for a chance to examine the winery’s bottling process, which is exactly the same process used to bottle model ships. From the huge barrels of grape soup in which wines are born to the priceless glass containers into which they’re packaged, the 45-minute tour—which takes its name from the way each bottle shimmies and pirouettes down the line—gives guests the chance to see and more fully comprehend how wine comes to take its uniformly bottle-like shape. Visitors also learn the back-stories behind the winery’s labels and take part in a palate-expanding tasting, completing the beautiful circle of libationary life.
Vine Tastings ripens appetites with a full menu of boutique Sonoma County wines and small appetizer plates for pairing and singular enjoyment. The friendly wine bar carries anywhere from eight to 10 different vino vintages from small local wineries, available by the flight, glass, or bottle. Guests can sip, swish, or slam dunk a variety of inebriating grape derivatives, such as the Branham 2007 chardonnay from Russian River Valley ($8 per glass), the Deux Amis 2007 pinot noir from Donnelly Creek Vineyards and Anderson Valley ($7 per glass), and the Et Cetera 2008 Sonoma County merlot ($6 per glass), or choose any three 2-ounce tastings for $10. Pair tipples with delicious charcuterie plates, or cheeses.
From the simple, understated confines behind Bistro M's bright French doors, Parisian-born pastry-punchers pound out traditional Gallic gastronomy. Night-shift noshers can cloak themselves in the warm light of the chandeliers while rhapsodizing on inviting entrees such as trout almondine ($16) and braised pork shoulder with butternut-squash gratin ($21). Otherwise, seek pearls and spark plugs amid the raw, barbecue, and Rockefeller shell-meat of the full oyster bar ($1.75 each). Bistro M also assuages mid-afternoon belly temblors with a storehouse of lunch and brunch provisions. Set upon a refined feast with the croque madame's seared ham and fresh fried-egg chapeau ($11), or unmask hunger and robot invaders masquerading as sandwiches with the honesty of the open-faced vegetable and brie tartine ($8).
After spending years cooking around the country, and working under the tutelage of Chefs Dan Lewis and Charles Bailey, Leo V. Tocchini was excited to move to Windsor. After discovering that his new town didn’t boast the same high-quality, slow-roasted eats he loved most, Leo decided to open his own barbecue joint with a menu composed of family recipes he learned as a 10-year-old. Amidst grills full of patiently smoldering charcoal and pots simmering with Leo’s signature sauce, Jaded Toad BBQ & Grill was born.
Leo crafts the slow-roasted slabs of ribs, fried frog legs, and whole roasted chickens on his Louisiana-inspired menu from scratch each day, refusing to use shortcuts such as microwaves or robots trained to pull pork. He tops tables with saucy piles of meat in the dining room, front patio, or beer garden, which boasts 10 beers on tap and 16 additional bottled varieties, as well as multiple fire pits and picnic tables.
Situated at the Vintners Inn beside 92 acres of vineyard, John Ash & Co. takes pride in its ability to marry a meal's delicate flavors with the most complementary wine varietals. The upscale eatery, a 2010 Open Table Diner's Choice winner, features homegrown fruits, vegetables, and herbs from on-site gardens, as well as a long list of locally sourced ingredients that, much like the four cardinal directions, change from season to season. The dinner menu offers delectable main courses, such as kabocha pumpkin ravioli spiked with pickled mushrooms and parmesan ($16) or pan-seared sturgeon served with roasted red beets ($34), and lunchers can snack on pizza margherita ($13) or fill their emptiest stomach with nine ounces of New York steak ($21).
At a candlelit table in the Restaurant at Applewood—awarded a Michelin star in 2001 and 2012 and garnering top-ratings from Zagat—gourmet Californian cuisine sings of all things local and sustainable. Chefs Michelle Cerneant and Tyja Taube have imbued their cooking philosophy with green practices, plucking fresh herbs and vegetables from an onsite organic garden for their entrees. And maybe that's the secret to the robust flavors of their miso-glazed California cod, wetted with a ginger broth, and their grilled beef tenderloin, paired with house-foraged hedgehog mushrooms. The six-acre property surrounding the Applewood Inn also features fruit trees, whose yields enable sweet, finger-licking desserts of honey cannoli with figs and apricots.
The consistently fresh dishes complement a wine list pages long. Diners sit back and swirl their choice varietal as they overlook the courtyard near a stone fireplace. The Restaurant combines international nostalgia—simultaneously reminiscent of a French barn and an Italian Villa—while melding its classic-style dining with its forward-looking use of solar energy and refusal to rely upon imported mountain breezes.