In the fast paced world of big retail, the shift from Thanksgiving to Christmas happens overnight, it seems. But for those of us living in the wine country, when autumn colors in the vineyards and neighboring trees are still celebrating nature’s fall splendor, the transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas can feel out of synch with nature.
Partaking in the Heart of the Valley’s 28th Annual Holiday Open House over the post-Thanksgiving weekend helped me bridge the holidays in a unique and fun way. Wineries deck the halls and open their doors to Christmas with typical Sonoma style. In keeping with the “Shop Local” theme of the weekend, it was a great way to get a head start on my holiday gift shopping too!
We started our day at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood. No matter the season, the winery’s beautiful grounds always seem to have something in bloom. With temperatures in the high 60s, the picnic tables and Bocce courts were full, and everywhere you looked, visitors were enjoying the chateau’s wines and views.
Inside the tasting room was an elegantly trimmed Christmas tree and scattered holiday themed gifts, alongside their always gorgeous culinary displays. The winery was ready for the holiday and people were happily tasting wines and browsing for the perfect gifts.
At Ledson Winery, we were greeted by two, six foot tall wooden nutcracker soldiers at either side of the cathedral-style doors, and upon entering the drawing room, our eyes feasted on a grand staircase dressed with garland laced with golden bows and white doves. Every step if inlaid wood boasted a Red Poinsettia, alternating in position from right to left on the staircase, making for a lovely and festive effect!
Not only was Ledson Winery dressed to the nines for the event, the winery hosts were also greeting attendees with specially prepared appetizers that paired expertly with their wines. Every room of “the castle” had a decorated Christmas tree and a roaring fire, and the marble fireplaces were decorated as well.
In one of the tasting salons we were treated to an art display hosted by local artists, all present to mingle with guests and talk about their artwork. One of the prettiest trees was also the most poignant – it was a “gift tree”.
Ornaments on the tree were simple paper gift tags, all listing names and wishes, from individuals working through COTS, Sonoma County, to get back on their feet again. COTS, Committee On The Shelterless, is an organization that encourages personal stability, calmness, and self-sufficiency. We happily stripped the tree of a few ornaments and as we waved goodbye to the personnel at the winery that made us feel so special, we felt a sense of joy for having visited.
A mile or so down the road, we pulled into St. Francis Winery. It was elegantly appointed with holiday gifts and décor, and a tasteful tree trimmed with white Hydrangea blossoms.
Their tasting room had a heated beverage and dessert station which probably would have been more popular had the day been chillier, but on this day guests couldn’t help but be drawn outdoors to soak up the warmth of the sun.
The winery also had decorated the adjacent event center for occasion, and there gifts and treasures were expertly displayed. We were drawn to the holiday themed, etched wine bottles as we thought of many on our shopping list that would enjoy such a tasteful gift. A food station staffed by a member of their catering team, offered mini pot pies, and a crostini with warmed brie, garnished with apricot. This small touch to celebrate the occasion made them a favorite as well.
Landmark Vineyards featured a tall and handsomely decorated tree, and their regular Saturday live accompaniment in the tasting room, which is always a nice and welcoming touch.
Local guitarist/vocalist, Adam Traum, sounded great as always. His warm voice and musical style kept the room in happy accord and as we chatted with other guests at the tasting bar, an upbeat camaraderie was evident.
Our last stop was Valley of the Moon Winery. They were the most crowded of the stops, and their holiday tree, the most notable. They’d chosen to embrace fall’s warm colors and decorated their tree in warm bronze tones, making for a lovely effect.
The tasting room was full of holiday themed gifts and décor, some whimsical and fun, all reasonably priced and really creative. As we browsed, we were invited into the barrel room. There, we were treated to cheese fondue and a select group of local artists serving locally produced gourmet foods and/or showing jewelry and crafts, etc. It was very festive and so nice to see small merchants getting exposure!
While foot traffic may have been slower than years prior,the children were enjoying the beautiful outdoor weather.
The common thing I heard throughout the day was that this year’s event was smaller than in years past — perhaps due to the economy, or perhaps because of post-holiday sales in more notable shopping areas in and out of Sonoma Valley. The other notable aspect of the day was that 80% of the winery visitors we spoke with were from out of the country. I hope they enjoyed the unique splendor of the change of season here in wine country. Christmas is just around the corner and in this one little area of the world, we are blessed and prepared!