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Hugging the Coast, Sonoma Style

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By Robert P. Farmer

No matter which wine country you're referring to, describing it as 'beautiful' is usually accurate. But in California, there is a region that has an edge on all others. The Sonoma Coast, hugging the left side of the continent, has features that no other wine region in the world can duplicate. With rugged beauty and bucolic charm, rolling hills and sweeping water vistas, the Sonoma Coast is unique and impossibly gorgeous. It's a special part of the world. The fact that world-class wines are also produced here gives it an almost unfair advantage. Quaint small towns, tucked-away state parks, and excellent spots to find good wine and great food characterize the Sonoma coast. From Bodega Bay to Mendocino, Jenner to Fort Bragg, there is no shortage of postcard-perfect spots to stop and settle in for a while. With abundant recreational opportunities, historic points of interest and of course world-class wineries, the Sonoma coast surely beckons you to live life on the edge.

Golfing in Monterey

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ranchocanadagolf.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Pebble Beach is a special golf course built on a special piece of earth - pushed up against the edge of the continent on a dramatic stretch of coastline that would inspire awe whether it was manicured to within an inch of its life, or left to evolve in its own natural course. It was the most impossibly beautiful setting for the 2010 U.S. Open where Graeme McDowell claimed victory. The golf course is hallowed ground for golfers. Pros aim to tame it, amateurs endeavor to experience it. Tales of lore and weekend warrior stretch as far out as the great Pacific Ocean along the 18th fairway.  Alas, not everyone has $500 in green fees burning a hole in the pocket of their golf pants to play at Pebble Beach.  If you fall into that category, read through my suggestions for golf clubs and courses along the coast or in Carmel/Monterey.

Golf in Napa and Sonoma

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(4/365) :: Golf Thursdays

Image by chispita_666 via Flickr

By Robert P. Farmer

Spring has sprung and the grass is green and getting greener. Time to hit the greens--and fairways, and the 19th holes. This is one of my favorite times of year. When days stretch longer and temperatures reach higher. Plenty of time and favorable weather to grind out a few holes of golf from among your daily grind. Napa and Sonoma valleys, while known for their obvious Viticultural attributes, are perhaps lesser appreciated for their golf courses. But the valleys are excellent places to pursue your golf passion. And there's always time to enjoy the world class wines as you count up your score.

Napa Golf Guide
Sonoma Golf Guide
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Napa Golf Guide

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*updated March 2012

by Robert P. Farmer

golfIstock.jpgNAPA, CA - Whether you're after the country club afternoon, the relaxation of a resort, or the challenge of one of the toughest public course in the region, Napa Valley offers a golf experience to suit all tastes - and skill levels for that matter. The valley known for its vineyards is also home to an assortment of golf courses on par with its assortment of wines. Public, private, and semi-private, all the courses take advantage of their eye-catching natural surroundings - rolling oak-studded hillsides, lakes and creeks, mountain views and valley vistas. Napa golf has it all. If they could put it in a bottle, they would.

Sonoma Golf Guide

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by Robert P. Farmer

golfBagIstock1.jpgSONOMA COUNTY, CA - Sonoma County offers a wide-ranging mix of golf courses, both public and private. The moderate climate and proximity to the California coastline means conditions are near-ideal from Spring to Fall. Course types vary throughout the length of the valley, from windswept links-style tracks to hilly, verdant testers. Whatever your preference, the most difficult part of the round may be trying to select a course. Here are some Sonoma favorites.

Santa Barbara: Mini Guide to Santa Ynez

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Lincourt Winery - Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Image by dcshoesboy via Flickr

by Robert P. Farmer

Not too long ago, Santa Barbara County was home to a handful of Hollywood celebrities trying to exist outside the limelight, and to a handful of winemakers trying to make their way outside the glare of Napa-Sonoma.The region was also for a time home to a scattering of upstart wineries who each developed their own niche and subsequent cult following.Today, that cult following has developed into full-fledged fame.

Contemporary Santa Barbara County is home to more than 21,000 vineyard-planted acres, grown and tended by dozens of wineries. But happily, the majority of these wineries remain small in stature--family owned-and-operated concerns with small-batch production and a handcrafted aesthetic. The wineries are primarily situated in the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys, about 35 miles north of Santa Barbara. Rich with history and shot-through with breathtaking coastal scenery, the area's AVAs produce remarkable Pinot Noirs (as fans of the movie Sideways will no doubt recall). However the region is also responsible for several excellent Chardonnays and Cabernets. There are more varietals on offer from Santa Barbara in smaller quantities, including Merlots and select Malbecs and Viogniers.

Santa Barbara's Wine Country gained notoriety some years back with the release of the movie Sideways, and the region indeed capitalized on the fame. Thankfully, Santa Barbara has managed to retain its mellow, unpretentious appeal. The relaxed pace and easy-going charm actually translated well on screen, and visitors can easily take advantage of it with a well-planned weekend. The region's four main towns-- Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Ballard -- each have a distinct character. Also worthy of attention is the town of Buellton to the north. Whether exploring the quaint Danish-transplant town of Solvang or discovering one of the many great restaurants in the valley towns, the intrepid traveler will find Santa Barbara County every bit as appealing as California's more famous wine country to the north.

Here are my recommendations for the town of Santa Ynez:

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The Vines Romantic - February is Great in Glen Ellen

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By Robert P. Farmer

There really isn't a bad time to visit Wine Country. But as you've probably noticed if you have checked in on this space from time to time, I have my personal favorites times of the year to venture among the vines. Being the hopeless romantic type, one of those times is the late winter, when the air is still chilled to a nice wine-storage-like mid-50 degrees, and the vines are hunkered down in dormancy. The mustard is in bloom, covering the fields and vineyards in a dusty yellow that blends perfectly with the winter white sky.

Winter Wonderland

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Top Reasons to Make Wine Country Your Holiday Getaway
By Robert P. Farmer

FestivalofLights.jpgNAPA VALLEY & SONOMA COUNTY - You can tell by the sheer amount of cars on the road - and the difficulty that you'll no doubt encounter when trying to book a room - that summer is the most popular of seasons in Wine Country. It has the reputation for good reason. But for my money, the holiday season is the best time to visit.

Yes it's colder and yes it can often be rainy and windy. But mostly the weather is abundantly cooperative - a brisk chill in the air, and days bracketed by morning fog and wildly colorful sunsets. The vines are asleep for the winter, having offered up the fruit of their summerlong labor. And while the landscape is less lush and green than during summer time, it has its own unique beauty, one characterized by tangled leafless branches set against a white midday sky.

Barren bucolic beauty aside, the best thing about Wine Country during the winter holiday season is that the place is just so darned festive. Few things are likely to get you more into the spirit than a winery bedecked with twinkling lights and offering Yuletide-themed pairing of their wines. Or, if that's not sufficient, there are entire towns that get into the act with festivals and events infused with enough good cheer to thaw even the most Grinch-y of winter traveler. Rooms are in greater supply, restaurants easier to get into, and crowds are pleasingly thinner and, dare I say, in better spirits. Sure, summer's great, but Wine Country from beneath a coat and warm hat is my idea of a holiday.

Here are few highlights worth exploring this season.

Top 3 Holiday Things To Do
Top 3 Holiday Places to Eat


Top 3 Holiday Places to Eat

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Napa Valley & Sonoma County

by Robert Farmer


FARM.jpg1. Farm at the Carneros Inn
During winter months the grounds of the Carneros Inn resort, situated at the southern end of the Napa Valley, is slower paced, more sparsely populated, and graciously beautiful. It's the kind of place where the family can decamp for a few days and retreat from the hustle and bustle of citified holiday madness. The property's signature restaurant, Farm, is the ideal spot for a festive holiday repast. The expansive dining room and adjacent large covered patio centered by a huge fire pit, are the sort of environments that seem to invite spirited social gathering. The mood is casual, unfussy, but nevertheless very chic. And it doesn't hurt that there are simply no misses on the seasonal farm-driven menu of American Wine Country dishes. Throw in a wine list that solidly reminds one of the location, and the makings of a great winter evening are all in place.

*Open for dinner 5:30-10pm Wed-Sun

FARM at Carneros Inn
4048 Sonoma Highway, Napa
(707) 299.4880
www.thecarnerosinn.com

2. Dry Creek Kitchen at the Hotel Healdsburg
Just because it seems like everybody knows each other at this always-jammed, always buzzing Wine Country outpost from chef Charlie Palmer, doesn't necessarily mean they do. But the neighborhood feel and congeniality of the staff have a tendency to make every guest feel like a regular. My guess is that one visit won't be enough for you anyway. Because this is the place to be in Healdsburg, and its gravitational pull only increases during the holidays. Whether you visit during one of the planned special Winter Winemaker Dinner series in December, or you make your stop a special event of your own, it's hard to beat Palmer's inventiveness and eagerness to please. The dining room offers many large-group options as well as intimate tables for two--all with views to the open kitchen and action at the bar up front. Tables outside are available, too, and the winter chill can be easily offset with the right vintage.

*Open for lunch
Fri-Sun noon-2:30pm;

Dinner
Sun-Thurs 5:30-9:30pm,
Fri-Sat 5:30- 10pm

Hotel Healdsburg

317 Healdsburg Ave., 
Healdsburg
707-431-0330
www.hotelhealdsburg.com

3. EDK at the El Dorado Hotel
Anchoring one corner of Sonoma Plaza, this lively, friendly Sonoma spot quickly became one of my Wine Country favorites after its opening a few years ago. The large sophisticated-looking room is typically buzzing with visitors and locals alike, who stream in for executive chef Justin Everett's "farm driven" menu. My wife and I, however, returned again and again simply for the amazing black truffle-dusted French fries.  There are of course several other tempting treats on the seasonally changing menu. But the food is just part of the story. The dining room--in terms of both location and atmosphere--is the perfect spot for a festive holiday celebration. With indoor and outdoor seating options and an exhibition kitchen, it's the sort of place where there always seems to be some kind of party taking place, no matter the season. And if you and 20 of your best friends can secure the 21-foot-long wood table in the center of the room, yours will no doubt soon be the party everyone wants to join.


EDK at the El Dorado Hotel
405 First Street West, Sonoma
707-996-3030
www.eldoradosonoma.com

Coupon Culture

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By Robert Farmer

I grew up in a coupon-clipping house. My mom was the best at taking advantage of the "free money" that came every Sunday in the paper in the form of page after page of discount offers on everything from laundry detergent to cat food. Though I was young, it seemed to me at the time like a lot of effort to save ten bucks. Now that I am older and wiser and with a family of my own, I am all about finding ways to save money everywhere I spend it.

Turns out, it's pretty easy to do with a little applied effort and a computer. Too bad my mom didn't have the Internet back in the day--would have been a boon for her cost-saving ways. Because as I've discovered, pretty much anything you are in the market for has a coupon available. Just Google "your product here" + coupon. At the very least, you'll turn up an offer for free shipping. At most, perhaps a two for one?

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