Etheliya Hananova, Sommelier, Lawrence Restaurant, Montreal, QC, Quebec, Canada, Sommelier’s Guide To Northern California, California Wine Country, San Francisco, Oakland, Albany, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Sierra Foothills, Sonoma, Restaurants, Bars, Saloons, Cafes, Wine Bars, Cocktails, Bed & Breakfast, Where to eat, Where to drink, Where to shop, Stores, Where to stay, Wine, Cheese, Local, Trip, Vacation, Travel, Insider’s Guide, Winery, Wine Producer, Small Production, Natural, Sustainable, Organic, Bio-Dynamic





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Photographs courtesy of Ridge Vineyards & The Slanted Door

Sommelier Etheliya Hananova

Photo Credit: Gabriel Couture

You can’t be blamed for associating California wine with the cult super-cuvées of Napa Valley, like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate on one end of the spectrum, or with ubiquitous producers like Robert Mondavi and E and J Gallo on the other. Gaining substantial ground with the encouragement and praise of the American press in the eighties, California wines were, for many, an exciting departure from the sometimes intimidating and confusing European wine market.  The easy-to-decipher varietal labeling and the ripe, oaky and fruit-driven style that are signatures of New World winemaking were welcomed by North Americans, some of the wines commanding astronomically high prices. The impact was eventually felt on the international market, prompting significant stylistic changes in winemaking throughout Europe for those looking to remain competitive.

Nowadays, the reign of wines made from grapes pushed to extreme ripeness appears to be on the decline. Fatigued from the wallop of jammy fruit, high-alcohol, and heavy-toast new oak on the palate, people are increasingly turning to wines better able to complement food, with acidity that gives the wines balance. As a result, California is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. Many iconic producers are moving to a more restrained style of winemaking, trying to adjust to a market that is experiencing a significant shift.

This is another side to California winemaking that is growing. Here are some of the wineries I visited on a recent trip to Northern California, along with wine bars, wine stores, restaurants with great wine programs, delicious bakeries, cafes and places for coffee.


San Francisco
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Eat | Restaurants

Perbacco | Bar Tartine

Photographs courtesy of: Perbacco | Bar Tartine

Bar Tartine

This is the restaurant offshoot of Tartine Bakery, with the same legendary bread as the bakery, but the similarities end there. Nicolaus Balla has taken significant inspiration from his Hungarian heritage and has infused it with a bit of California. The flavors are intense, dramatic, unique, and beautifully accompanied by wines with character, such as the sherries of El Maestro Sierra.


Their wine list is centered on Northern Italy (especially Piedmont) to accompany the seasonal dishes of the region. You’re not likely to find consecutive vintages of Cab/ Merlot dominant Super Tuscans here. Look for unexpected selections such as Veneto-based natural winemaker Angiolino Maule’s I Masieri.

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Eat | Ice Cream & Bakeries

Cake from Bi-Rite Creamery | Bread from Tartine Bakery

Photographs courtesy of: Bi-Rite Creamery | Tartine Bakery

Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop

This is an insanely good small-batch artisanal ice cream shop, with everything made from Straus Family Creamery organic dairy products. Bi-Rite's commitment to environmental responsibility is evident in their choice of ingredients to the biodegradable cups and spoons. The menu consists of ice cream, homemade soft-serve, sorbets and baked goods. There is also an interesting selection of products such as Luxardo Maraschino cherries and hand-crafted caramel sauces. This cute Mission shop is located just a few doors down and across the street from Bi-Rite Market, the creamery’s grocery counterpart.

Tartine Bakery & Cafe

Baker Chad Robertson and pastry chef Elisabeth Prueitt have created some of the most famous and delicious bread in America. Great breakfast, sandwiches, salads, and gorgeous pastries make the inevitable wait in line worthwhile.

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San Francisco  |  SF Bay Area  |  Sierra Foothills  |  Sonoma

Drink | Coffee

Four Barrel Coffee | Brewing at Ritual Coffee Roasters

Photographs courtesy of: Four Barrel Coffee | Ritual Coffee Roasters

Four Barrel Coffee

Spacious, industrial design with a DJ booth and an ultra-hip vibe. Focused baristas concentrate on making the perfect coffee at separate bars devoted to espresso drinks and made-to-order filter coffee.

Ritual Coffee Roasters

Substance over style. This is a no-frills, purist approach devoted to the craft of making serious coffee. Check out the Seasonal Espresso, which changes regularly, so they can ensure that the freshest, top-quality beans are used.

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Drink | Cocktails & Wine

Barbacco | The view from The Slanted Door

Photographs courtesy of: Barbacco | The Slanted Door


Next door to the higher-end Perbacco, the focus lies on creating an affordable, wider-ranging list featuring natural, organic and biodynamic European and West Coast wines. Their iPad wine list gives detailed information about the wines and the producers. Simple and beautifully prepared trattoria-style fare accompanies the 50 wines by the glass, kept at 5 different temperatures. There are often several labels from one producer, allowing the discovery of a winemaker’s full range, rather than just one example.


Recently opened by the owners of Pizzeria Delfina, the inspiration here is Roman cooking. On the bar side, there is an extensive selection of amari from all over Italy. As for the cocktails, simplicity and fresh ingredients are the dominant themes. Michael Sager, the head bartender and an alumnus of the U.K. bar Milk & Honey, creates cocktails based on what he finds at the market and rotates the selections regularly. Let him whip you up La Bella Confusione (Bartender’s Choice).

Slanted Door

With huge windows overlooking the water, there is no place more picturesque to sit and have a drink. This high-end Vietnamese restaurant has been a staple dining destination in San Francisco for awhile now, so if dinner is booked with reservations, grab drinks and oysters at the bar. The wine list is skewed towards Vietnamese food-friendly whites (lots of Riesling), and the cocktail program [overseen by bar manager Erik Adkins] highlights premium and local spirits, as well as homemade juices and seasonal ingredients.

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Drink | Wine Stores

Arlequin Wine Merchant

Photographs courtesy of: Arlequin Wine Maerchant

Arlequin Wine Merchant

One of the best-curated wine stores in San Francisco. Wine director Ian Becker has put together a beautiful collection comprised of great value wines, hidden gems, and not-too-commercial high-end labels in this Hayes Valley shop. Their focus is on small production, traditionally made and natural wines. The selection includes some of the best producers found in Europe, along with great examples of what California has to offer.

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Albany | Berkeley | Oakland

Wines from Donkey & Goat | Fried Chicken & Waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen | Solano Cellars

Photographs courtesy of: Donkey & Goat | Brown Sugar Kitchen | Solano Cellars

Eat | Cafes

West Oakland | Brown Sugar Kitchen

This is traditional soul food infused with inspiration from chef/owner Tanya Holland’s impressive and varied cooking career. Eat the Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Cornmeal Waffle with brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup.

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Drink | Wine Stores

Albany | Solano Cellars

This wine shop was founded in the late seventies by Bill Easton of Domaine de la Terre Rouge in the Sierra Foothills. The selection includes producer-driven West Coast wines from California, Oregon and Washington, and European selections from importers such as Jose Pastor, Louis Dressner, Neal Rosenthal, and Kermit Lynch. The wine bar upstairs often holds winemaker events and tastings. On the night of my visit, I attended a tasting of Italian winemaker Paolo Bea's 2005 vintage with John Trinidad (SF Wine Blog), and Jared Brandt (Donkey and Goat Winery).

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Drink | Wine Producers

Berkeley | Donkey & Goat

Jared and Tracy Brandt produce several cuvées from varietals that include Syrah, Chardonnay, and Grenache Noir and Blanc. Their influences include Eric Texier (Jared worked with him in the Rhône Valley) and the Maule family in the Veneto. The wines are made naturally, with little or no sulfur, wild yeast fermentations, and foot crushing (partially performed by their young daughter, Isabelle). These are small-production California wines; the Improbable Chardonnay comes from ungrafted vines in the El Dorado Hills, striking a pleasing balance of minerality, acidity and fruit.

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Find | Stores

Sonoma | Vella Cheese Company

The Vella family has been making cheese here since the 1930s. A small, unassuming storefront just off the main square, try the Dry Jack and the Mozzarella.

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Eat & Drink | Restaurants / Wine Bars

Glen Ellen | Fig Cafe And Wine Bar

Chef Sondra Bernstein, of Estate and The Girl and the Fig on the plaza in Sonoma, has opened a cafe / wine bar devoted to simple comfort food classics. Their small, well-chosen wine list is devoted mainly to Rhône varietals from California, as well as some European selections. The no-fee corkage is a big draw and keeps the place packed with locals, bottles in hand. All this makes for a warm atmosphere and a genuine neighborhood vibe.

Geyserville | Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria

Serving simple and flavorful Italian food, a combination of good ingredients and solid execution keeps this place busy. The Burrata Antipasto dish with rapini is a must, as is the classic Pizza Margherita.

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Drink | Cocktails

Cocktails at Spoonbar

Photographs courtesy of: Spoonbar

Healdsburg | Spoonbar

Scott Beattie is a California cocktail authority, creating visually stunning and delicious drinks. The bar is overflowing with fresh, seasonal herbs, flowers and fruit, and there are several small bottles filled with various concoctions; it's like walking into someone's fantastic lab experiment. There is a great selection of spirits from around the world to complement the wide range of local spirits from distilleries like Anchor Distilling, St. George Spirits, Hangar One vodkas, and Domaine Charbay handcrafted vodkas.

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Drink | Bars

Glen Ellen | The Jack London Lodge Saloon

Its claim to fame is having been one of the main locations where the movie “Bottle Shock” was filmed (based on renowned wine writer Steven Spurrier’s original Judgement of Paris tasting). It is really a local watering hole. On any given night, you’ll find winemakers and winery owners mingling with firefighters and local workers. Free popcorn, but try the burger, it’s delicious.

Sonoma | The Swiss Hotel

A cozy and rustic place for a drink. Try the “Glariffee,” their signature chilled Irish coffee drink.

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Drink | Wine Producers

Vineyard Coturri | Green Island Vineyard (Chardonnay) at Arnot-Roberts

Photographs courtesy of: Coturri | Arnot-Roberts


It’s a joint venture between Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Roberts. High-quality grapes are picked at the perfect point of phenolic and sugar ripeness. This results in relatively low alcohol levels, and the wines possess a capacity for aging while remaining accessible in their youth. The winery has built its reputation on their Syrahs, which have a Northern Rhône-like quality, and their classic style of Cabernet Sauvignon. The unexpected wine in their lineup is a Trousseau made in minuscule quantities; a beautiful, spicy, and fresh expression of the grape.

Coturri Winery & Cote Des Cailloux

Here are two separate wineries, making wine from separate estates, but sharing facilities. Tony Coturri produces his Coturri wines and also wines under the label “Côte des Cailloux.” They’re made with Rhône varietals, grown on French winemaker Jacques Mathieu’s nearby family property. Many of the wines are ripe and full of character, without being conventional or industrial.

Tony Coturri has strong convictions when it comes to winemaking. The premise, at least in theory, is simple; no sulfites, no selected yeasts, no manipulation, and everything starts from grapes that are grown without any chemical treatments. Started by Coturri’s father Red in 1979, the Coturri winery produces several different cuvées from varietals such as Zinfandel, Carignane, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Carignane is spicy, with balanced acidity and earthiness.

Littorai Vineyards

Ted Lemon was the first American to hold the position of winemaker and vineyard manager of an estate in Burgundy (Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault). The influence shows through in his work at Littorai Vineyards. His Pinot Noir and Chardonnays possess a finesse and balance that aren’t always associated with a California style. There is a clear commitment to creating “terroir-driven” wines here.

Ridge Vineyards

Photographs courtesy of: Ridge Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards

An icon of California wine, with its vineyards first planted at the end of the 19th century, Ridge has been the benchmark for “pre-industrial” California wines, continuing to produce some of California’s best Cabernets (as well as Zinfandel and small quantities of Chardonnay). Paul Draper, the winemaker since 1969, has helped to secure Ridge’s place in California winemaking history with its unwaveringly classic style. The 1994 Monte Bello Cabernet is a fascinating example of an aged California Cabernet made in the old-school style.

Unti Vineyards

They focus on Rhône and Italian varietals. The wines are polished, warm climate wines made from biodynamically grown grapes from vines on the estate; natural yeasts are used for the spontaneous fermentations. The Unti rosé is fresh and lively, made with estate-grown Grenache Noir and Mourvedre; the rosé is vinified using the direct pressing technique in stainless steel vats.

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Sierra Foothills

Drink | Wine Producers

Vineyards at Clos Saron

Photographs courtesy of: Clos Saron

Clos Saron

Gideon Beinstock and his wife Saron are cultivating Pinot Noir on the vines surrounding their house, as well as sourcing Syrah and other varietals from leased vines. The vineyards are full of life, with geese, Bantam chickens and butterflies interspersed with “franc de pied” vines, (vines growing on their own rootstocks, because it is a phylloxera-free zone). There is an intriguing mixture of elements in these natural wines, bringing together the ripeness of California fruit with old-world restraint. The “Out of the Blue Cinsault” is a pretty, bright and fresh summer red; the Carte Blanche is a delicious blend of Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay.

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Stay | Bed & Breakfast

Beltane Ranch

Photographs courtesy of: Beltane Ranch

Beltane Ranch

Located on a thirty-acre ranch in the Sonoma Valley hills, there are just six rooms at the Beltane Ranch. Five are in the main 1892 ranch house and an additional one in the separate cottage with its own private garden. The whole operation is a family affair. Alexa Wood runs the ranch with her two children, Alex Benward and Lauren Benward Krause, and with a small, but extremely devoted, long-time staff. 

Breakfast is made with fresh eggs straight from the coop, olive oil pressed from the trees outside, and berries picked right in front of the B & B. The ranch’s grass-fed beef is served in burgers at the nearby Breakaway Café. The property is breathtaking at sunset, when the light hits the vineyards and olive trees. The ranch is on its third year of producing limited quantities of estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc, after years of growing grapes for highly regarded Napa and Sonoma winemakers. Coming back to this tranquil and gorgeous property after long days of vineyard touring is a balm for the body and spirit.

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Recommendation Details

Details of Etheliya Hananova’s recommendations for where to eat, drink and shop in Northern California.

City Guides

- San Francisco City Guide: Download

- San Francisco Bay Area Guide: Download

- California Wine Country Guide: Download