One Man's Recipe for Romance

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By Robert Farmer

Like most things, romance is a matter of personal taste. One person's dozen long-stem roses and heart-shaped box of chocolates is another person's all-access pit pass to a weekend of NASCAR championships - for two, of course. So when it comes to romance in wine country--on most people's minds this time of year--you'll find as much subjectivity as achingly beautiful garden paths down which to stroll in hand-holding bliss.

Because of this the rather arbitrary nature of romance I profess not to be an expert. But I do know what floats my boat and, dare I say, I have a bit of experience in, at the very least trying to occasionally be romantic. So when it comes to taking a stab at recommending a romantic excursion in Wine Country, you'll excuse me if what I have to offer may sail wide of your personal romantic preconceptions. After all, Cupid himself is known to shoot arrows indiscriminately and hope they hit a worthy target somewhere someplace. No Cupid myself, I will only offer that, done correctly, even the simplest of outings for two in wine country can be romantic by most any definition.

So, February can be rainy in wine country. But it can just as often also feel like it's the only place on earth enjoying an early spring, with trees and flowers blooming in the warmth of the afternoon sun as it stretches ever further into the evening hours. Take your chances with the weather and plan a picnic.

Start with nothing. Leave your home, your hotel, your office with nothing in town other than your S.O. (significant other). Set your course to the Sonoma Cheese Factory (2 Spain Street, Sonoma; 707-996-1931) the charming and always-bustling market on the Plaza in downtown Sonoma. This is a typical wine country "grocery store" at which you can find all the accouterment for a proper picnic. The store has its beginnings, as its name implies as a cheese shop, and is the home of the famed Sonoma Jack, the creamy delicacy that is on offer here in many flavor variations. Select one or two for your afternoon outdoors--all cheese varieties are offered for tastings at the store. Next, peruse the store and you'll find everything you could possibly need (as well as a few things you didn't know you needed - cheese knives, wine-bottle stoppers, etc.) Sonoma Cheese Factory stocks numerous gourmet meats and picnic snacks, from Columbian dry salami, to artisan flatbreads to Portobello mushrooms to chocolate. And, of course, they have a great wine selection.

With your bag spilling over, it's a short drive from the Plaza to the often-overlooked Bartholomew Park Winery (707-935-9511). It's a shame that the winery is sometimes overlooked because it happens to overlook some of the most beautiful tucked-away scenery in the region. Romance thrives here, as long as you have a properly packed picnic. The winery, founded in 1994 by the Bundschu family, was established to hand produce micro-lot wines. Their wines are fabulous and I recommend grabbing a bottle or two of the estate zin, a 100-percent zin that will color the atmosphere between you and your S.O. with its deep shade of purple that would make Cupid blush. But as good as the wines are winery itself is a destination for its unique charm, educational bit of history, and of course its locale. On the winery grounds and worth a visit is a great little museum that traces the history of the many eccentric personalities that shaped wine country. Yet the main attraction is outside. The picnic grounds at Bartholomew Park are nestled beneath gnarled oak trees, providing just enough shade to enjoy your just-bought lunch and each other's company as you take in the beguiling expanse of vineyards and the Sonoma Valley that seems--just as true romance can seem--just an arm's reach away.

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