Drawing people in to a winery for a tasting has become quite the competitive business.
Some do it with impressive buildings, while some get their guests through the reputation of their wines. The emerging option is now peripheral events such as music or entertainment, dinners or festival type environments.
In world where it is no longer about unlocking the door and letting the guests flow in to the building, it’s become about giving the visitor something unique to experience on their visit.
St. Francis Winery and Vineyards in the Sonoma Valley does just that with their Wine and Food Pairing. With three seating schedules a day (11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.), Thursday through Monday, St. Francis has gone and blasted the ball out of the park.
Others agree, as St. Francis was voted the No. 1 Restaurant in America in both 2013 and 2015 by OpenTable Diners. The hospitality starts from the moment you check-in the tasting room for your appointment and are greeted with a glass of wine, until the time you leave two hours later it is nothing but world class service.
After we checked in, we took our glass of wine outside to enjoy the lawn area, soaking in the beautiful late October day in the Sonoma Valley. At 11 a.m., the bell rang out from the steeple and we were led in with our group into the private dining room.
The private dining room affords sweeping views of the vineyards with large windows lining two sides of the room.
The seating is at two curved tables that face in with an opening in the middle and the ends, allowing staff members to move at ease and allows the conversation to flow freely. It’s an intimate setting without feeling crowded.
There was a hostess and a sommelier to explain the wine and food pairing. Through the years, a wine and food pairing in my mind was more about cheese, crackers and selected meats.
This was different, much different.
Our first course was Compressed Persimmon and Grilled Asian Pear salad. The dish contained Red Endive, Wild Arugula, Pomegranate, Toasted Hazelnuts, Honey Goat Cheese and a Cardamom-Moscatel Vinaigrette. It was paired with an Estate Cuvee Blanc.
It was crazy good and let us know immediately we were in for a special session.
We proceeded through dishes featuring Pan Seared King Salmon with a Bacon Marmalade (2014 Wild Oak Chardonnay), Roasted Tomato Pork Collar (2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Russian River Valley), Applewood Smoked Duck Breast (2013 Three Valleys Zinfandel), and topped off with a Chocolate Florentine Cookie served with a slice of Blu del Moncenisio (2014 Port).
While the portions were on the small side – a necessity given the number of courses – you still had the feeling of contentment attained only at the end of Thanksgiving dinner. The staff was every bit as excellent as the wine and the food, making you feel at home immediately.
The session made it easy to see why OpenTable Diners selected St. Francis as tops in the nation twice in the last four years.
As for the wine, all were excellent with the 2013 Cab standing out as my favorite. Made of 98 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and two percent Cabernet Franc, the wine was aged 20 months in 100 perfect French Oak and was awarded 95 points by Robert Parker. It also won a Gold Medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
If you don’t want something as extensive as the Wine and Food Pairing, the winery also offers a Wine, Cheese and Charcuterie Pairing served on the terrace just off the tasting room.
There is also a Private Estate Dining option as well.
If you just want to taste some wine, the tasting room is warm, yet provides an airy feeling with the windows and door opening into the lawn/garden area. It’s a wonderful atmosphere to relax and enjoy your time.
Under the guidance of CEO Christopher Silva, winemakers Chris Louton and Katie Madigan and vineyard manager Jake Terrell, St. Francis has long been one of my favorite spots in the Sonoma Valley.
Any wine tasting visit to the Sonoma Valley should include a stop at St. Francis, be it to enjoy a Wine and Food pairing or just relax in the tasting room and make new friends.
By Dennis Miller