Monday, August 22, 2011

Weekend Adventure, Great Wine Country Escape

Style-Seeking in Sonoma: Country French décor, fashion, bites, and private wineries

Recently I headed out for a weekend adventure in Sonoma County in Northern California. 

I was hungry to taste new design boutiques, and to sleuth style shops. I planned to dig up ideas, encounter new people, and savor sunny hours of escapism. 

Sonoma is an easy-breezy one-hour drive north of San Francisco but it feels far away, rustic, low-key. 

I made chic and witty new friends at fashion stores, antiques galleries, wineries, and cafes. I loved meeting talented stylists doing their thing. A cooking school and hotel, award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintages at hidden wineries, and a plant paradise were new discoveries. 

My guide was the great travel concierge Katie Ciocca. We first met when Katie was the distinguished manager of Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg. Click here for my ‘Trip to Bountiful’ Healdsburg weekend report.

Now Katie Ciocca has created an ultra-private tour planning service, DeTours.

She’s an insider, always seeking the new. Come along with us, get a taste of what’s happening in Sonoma County, and discover Katie’s favorites.

Follow us to get the scoop on where to go now in Sonoma County.

DeTours Private Tour for THE STYLE SALONISTE

Katie Ciocca and I met bright and early at the sunlit El Dorado Corner Café overlooking the Plaza. It’s central, bustling, a perfect rendezvous. Delicious pastries and coffee.

Katie had prepared a custom tour, printed out elegantly for reference.

(See below for ten of her favorite stops in Sonoma County.)

We headed over to Chateau Sonoma boutique/gallery to check Sarah Anderson’s fabulous French country infusion of style.

Chateau Sonoma is crammed with discoveries: French crystal carafes, crusty garden ornaments, white linen napkins, French prints, herbal soaps, farm tables, and rooms of plates, linens, and funky antiques.

We headed back to the Plaza and stopped to see our divine friend, the floral designer and art collector, Jean Thompson. Jean, just back from San Miguel de Allende, gave us a tour of her Mexican textiles and sculptures, folkloric collections, and modern Mexican paintings. Vibrant! Ask Katie if she might be able to arrange a private visit to Jean’s hacienda. Rare and thrilling.

We drove to Ramekins inn and culinary school (rammed earth walls), and watched a pastry cooking class in progress. Riveting. After a relaxed bite and sip with manager Steve Sarna in the sunny loggia, we sped back to the Plaza.

Kingston Ellis was our next destination. This superbly curated women’s fashion boutique—feels like a house party, fizzing with spirit and good cheer.

This private realm of Kristina Alana and her associate, Diane Magee, it’s the artful creation of congenial colleagues and friends who elevate the shop into a thrumming event.

Suggestion: drop in early on a Saturday afternoon and hang out with founder Kristine Alana and her divine friends, including the great Diane Magee, Kimberlee Edgar (loves MAC’s Ruby Woo lipstick), stylist and city-dweller Tim Bailey, writer and muse Kat Krause, Margaret Casart, the queen of conviviality for Acacia Vineyard, and floral designer Aimee Lomelli. Oh, and do check out the great fashions. Love them.

Kingston Ellis would be exceptional in SoHo, Notting Hill, or Paris.

We crossed the street to Chanticleer Books and pottered around the stacks, checking out the early California history volumes, as well as in-depth Sonoma and wine reference books. Mysteriously magical.

Departing the town, we volleyed over to Quarryhill Botanical Garden, on Highway 12 in Glen Ellen. The region is known locally as Valley of the Moon.

Here, among the largest collection of documented wild-collected Asians plants in the world, we studied Katie’s Black Book. Listed here: olive oil tastings, private wineries, spas, the award-winning Littorai winery in Sebastapol, private residences for those who want to live like a local, a renovated barn that makes a splendid locations for celebrations, as well as the Harvest Moon Café, top bakeries, picnics, the Sunflower Café, the Sebastiani Theatre, the funky Fremont Diner, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, the Girl and the Fig, even The Church Mouse, a Sonoma thrift shop that supports local schools.

We swung by The Red Barn at Oakhill Farms to buy peaches, tomatoes, herbs, arugula, and baby salad greens.

Katie regaled me with the scoop on the Farmers’ Market every Tuesday night on the Plaza, new Scribe Winery (architects are the hot Aidlin Darling firm), as well as the new Ram’s Gate Winery in Carneros with architecture by Howard Backen and interiors by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy.

Katie filled me in on Foodtruck Fridays at the Sebastiani Winery. “It’s kitschy and fun and outdoorsy, and everyone goes there,” she said.

The day was great.

I headed back to the city with linen bags full of lettuces and peaches, heirloom tomatoes, jars of honey, a bottle or two of wine, some olive oil, and some treasures from Chateau Sonoma.

I can’t wait to return. See Katie Ciocca’s Top Ten Favorites below.

Katie Ciocca's 10 Favorites in Sonoma County:

Kingston Ellis: 122 East Napa St., Sonoma 707-933-9140
This is a fantastic fashion, accessories and gifts find! Worth a trip, as Michelin Guide classically notes. A dazzling fashion and style boutique of great charm and fresh merch.

“Kingston Ellis is dedicated to the spirit of my muse Kingston Ellis, the spirit hiding, not in just your soul, but ever-present within your mind and your heart. The shop is dedicated to showing and demonstrating how a single grand expression of a well-lived life, shared, can kindle brilliance in another.” —Kristine Alana

Chateau Sonoma:, 155 West Napa St., Sonoma-707-935-8553
Sarah Anderson has the most stylish and beautifully-merchandized French-style antiques and décor and style shop outside Paris. She travels to France often, and brings back the most interesting and unusual and practical antiques and vintage pieces.

The shop—crammed to the rafters with Astier de Villatte collections, as well as soaps, toiletries, candles, books, sachets, tableware and furniture of great distinction. Not the usual!

Tip: get on the store’s mailing list. Sarah produces a rollicking on-site French Flea Market each year (early summer), where she brings together all the top French-style dealers from all over California, including the great Atelier de Campagne (find them on Facebook), and Wendy Owen. In the spirit of French country brocantes, it rewards the curious.

Chateau Sonoma is the essential stop in Sonoma.

INSIDER INTELLIGENCE: Sarah Anderson and her husband are going to develop the Chateau Sonoma Hotel, adjacent to this boutique. It’s slated to open in 2013, and it will be great.

Gallery Lulo:, 303 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-433-7533
Lulo showcases artists who create jewelry as an innovative and contemporary art form alongside artists working in the field of fine and applied arts. The gallery features beautiful objects and adornments that are unique, avant-garde and outstanding

Bram, The Art of Claypot Cooking:, 493 1st St. West, Sonoma, 707-935-3717
Handsome clay pots and handmade earthenware, cookbooks including signed copies of Paula Wolfert's long-awaited cookbook, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking Traditional Recipes to Savor and Share. Love this specialist shop. Very inspiring.

Chanticleer Books:, 127 East Napa St., Sonoma. 

Rare and general books, with in-depth collections of California history, viticulture, cooking, gardening, history, the region and notable biographies. Potter around for hours—this is an only-in-Sonoma find.

The Red Barn, Oakhill Farms:, 1501 Hwy 12, Glen Ellen,  707-996-6643
Only in Sonoma: Set on 700 acres of protected wild land and 45 aces of productive farmland Oak Hill Farm has been growing flowers and sustainable produce using sustainable agricultural practices for more than 50 years. Enjoy foraging and picking up supplies for your day of travels. A rare treasure: garden bouquets created by Jean Thompson at the Red Barn Store, in a rustic 100-year-old dairy barn. Essential stop.

INSIDER TIP: Oakhill Farms sells the Padrona pepper and keeps it in stock or on hand at all times, for local Sonoma women as it is known to be an aphrodisiac. Evidently the farm is not allowed to run out of them.

HelloCello, Lemoncello di Sonoma:

Organic limoncello hand-crafted in Sonoma Valley. Summer in a bottle.

Lookout Ridge Winery:, 707-953 9200 by appointment only

Not open to the public, Lookout Ridge Winery is a privileged setting in the wine country. The owner, Gordon Holmes, has the finest winemakers creating his wines, and he is also giving back one bottle of wine at a time. Gordon created the Wine for Wheelchairs program. For every bottle of wine Lookout Ridge produces and sells, a wheelchair is donated to a person in need. It is also one of the only wineries where you can sit and view Napa and the entire Sonoma Valley.

Bleating Heart Cheese:, Sebastopol
Established in 2009 by cheesemaker Seana Dougherty, Bleating Heart produces small-quantity, premium quality sheep and cow's milk cheese exclusively with Sonoma County milk. A favorite is the Sonoma Toma.

El Molino Central:, 11 Central Ave (along Hwy 12), Boyes Hot Springs, 707-939-0101
A chic and friendly tortillaria serving authentic regional Mexican classics. Everyday at 11am you can watch the process of fresh tortillas being made and sip your Blue Bottle Coffee. A favorite menu item or dish is the Swiss Chard Enchiladas.

Davero:, 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg 707-431-8000
Owned by Colleen McGlynn and Ridgley Evers, Davero produces certified biodynamic and organic olive oil in Dry Creek Valley (Northern Sonoma County). They also produce some of the finest balsamic vinegars produced in the United States. All Davero products are small production. A favorite at Davero: Sunset Suppers.

Favorite place to stay:
Kenwood Ranch & Rental designed by Sarah Anderson, Chateau Sonoma.
Romantic two-story renovated barn located in Sonoma Valley is uniquely wonderful and set on 75 private acres. Private and personal, it’s a private residence, the ultimate place to stay and experience Sonoma.

Introducing DeTours

“The goal of DeTours is to provide exquisite, private, tailored-made, and uniquely authentic travel experiences. I introduce my clients to a fellowship of artisans, growers, creators, and experts. We meet winemakers, taste rare wines, and discover the seasonal flavors that reflect, reveal, and celebrate the Sonoma County.

We find the winery, the hiking trail, the view, the culture and history, the art collection, artisan, the hotel and plan the experience.”

"DeTours offers unparalleled access—and memories."—Katie Ciocca

To contact Katie and find out more about DeTours:

Photos by Katie Ciocca, Kimberlee Edgar/Kingston Ellis, El Dorado Kitchen. Used with permission. 


Tricia Rose Rough Linen said...

I feel I have tagged along! Thank you Diane and Katie.

Nelson Magee said...

Diane Magee is the greatest and it just so happens we share a last name

Philip Bewley said...

This is the perfect insider list for a weekend escape! I cannot wait to go up there and visit the places you describe.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thanks so much for your kind comments.
I'm so pleased you liked this 'style introduction' to Sonoma. It is just an hour (less) from San Francisco, but for many, Sonoma is less known that Napa Valley. For that reason, Sonoma is quieter and more 'hidden', and even a day there can be one of thrilling discovery.
I'm going to the opening of Ram's Gate winery on Sept 15, and will report on that. Will be great.
best DIANE

A Poetry of a Home said...

Dear Diane,

this is so great. Gives me an enormous inspiration of what to do, what and where to eat and perhaps where to stay. We are making some brief plans for our next trip to SF.

Love this!!!

Ingela (new blog is now running) The company website is up in swedish, next thing will be to copy it and translate to english)