When you think of escaping the city for green rolling hills, sunny afternoons filled with fresh drinks, and tasty bites to end a day, where else do you go? Wine country.
Tucked in the corner of the iconic Sonoma County, lies a gem most people don't know, or not yet at least. Glen Ellen, population 784, is beckoning the traveler, the wine lover, the foodie, and those just looking to "get away" in a peaceful setting. As you make the drive, passing by the bustling town square of Sonoma, the movement of bodies start to fade as you get further and further away. The shaded green trees arch over the twists of the road, as if it were an arbor welcoming you to the town of Glen Ellen.
It's often that I've found myself returning to a town or city because of the gems that remind me of memorable experiences. Well in Glen Ellen, I've found two.
What could be an ideal afternoon date, or perhaps an overnight stay, there's a food and a wine experience that should serve as the anchors to a visit in Glen Ellen. Whether it's wine glass or fork in hand, these experiences are synonymous in the establishment's love for things done right, things done passionately, and things done well.
To start the day, it's a necessity to head out to Benziger Winery — the first of the establishments I speak of. Purchased in 1980 by Mike and Bruno Benziger, the Benziger Family Winery has been doing something different from the start. Recognized for their biodynamic farming and their organic, sustainable wines, Benziger is truly pioneering the way for winemaking. What does that mean for you? A wine that is exceptional in taste and craft.
The Benziger Family has many tours on offer for you to experience their rich tradition; the classic wine tasting room, a biodynamic vineyard tour by way of a tram, or an estate tasting that gives you a full look at the wines and vineyards. It's the kind of winery where you could pair a few or do just one. The "Partners Vineyard Tour & Exclusive Wine Tasting" is an opportunity to have an intimate experience where you get to have an exclusive estate tasting and have a look at the biodynamic farming behind the vineyards — I recommend this tour highly.
After sipping wine in the heat of the day, it's only natural to crave savory and sweet dishes. This is where the second establishment comes in, meet Glen Ellen Star. A neighborhood restaurant serving fine cuisine defined by local ingredients. With close roots to the Benziger Family, Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser have created an environment that welcomes everyone.
Sitting at the bar around the kitchen, it was almost as if we were watching a dance. We ate in almost total silence as we were too mesmerized to form words more than "ooh and ahh."
The open kitchen is centered around an oven that plays many roles. You can find many of the roasted vegetable dishes coming out sizzling hot, the pizzas ready to eat, and the classic brick chicken or roasted whole fish of the day steaming with heat. The menu was both the far and the familiar — local ingredients yet preparations that lend itself to a true chef.
The food wasn't good, it was great.
After completing a day indulged in the finer things, one can easily retreat to the comforts of local hotels or even make the drive back to the city. Glen Ellen is a gem of a town, that shows how local traditions can invite others to be immersed in the history of wine and the art of food. Between the Benziger Family Winery and the Glen Ellen Star, these establishments are calling for those passing through and those searching to come indulge.