A visit to St. Francis Winery, Sonoma

St. Francis Winery

Heirloom tomato salad

Seared scallops

Roasted Duck

Sweet & spicy braised bacon

Pinot Gris & Rosé

Explanation of the food & wine pairing

Chef David Bush discusses how he designs the menu

Tasting room at St. Francis Winery

It’s not every day you can sit down to an elaborate seated 6-course wine & food pairing at a winery. But at St. Francis this is one of their most popular experiences. With dishes that rival what you’ll find at any top restaurant, I quickly understood why people come here and why they continue to come back. The guy sitting next to me, a wine club member, quietly admitted he had done it “maybe 50 times” and had brought every friend he can find. “This is actually how I learned to pair wine and food,” he confessed.

St. Francis’s 6-Course Food & Wine pairing experience is hands down one of the best values in wine country. For $45, you’ll get a delicious meal, learn how to pair wine with food and make some new friends. Pairings, which for so many can at first be hard to understand at first, are made easy here. We started off with the Heirloom Tomato Salad paired with Pinot Gris. Would I have paired this? Probably not, but I will now.

The session flows with precision as the two hostesses take turns at entertaining the group, discussing dishes and delivering plates to each guest around a huge ring-like table. The room gets quiet as everyone savors the second dish; Seared Scallops with homemade green curry and English peas, paired with Chardonnay.

Learning where everyone is from and making new friends seems to be part of this experience too. After a few more sips, everyone seemed to be chatting and sharing their own pairing ideas.

The Sweet and Spicy Braised Bacon plate arrived as the hostesses took turns to reel off the other ingredients like sautéed shrimp, fried green tomatoes and cheesy grits, and its pairing with Syrah. Finally, out came the Roasted Sonoma Duck and wild rice paired with the Zinfandel. Each of the pairings were of course excellent and I really liked the chef’s innovative menu.

As the Cheese & Fruit plate, Dark Chocolate Crémeux and Port were delivered, the man responsible for all of these creations, Executive Chef David Bush came out to chat with the group. It reminded me, what is special and unique about each wine region is often not the wine, or food, but it’s the people. The team’s friendliness, passion and desire to educate was impressive and made for a great experience at this winery.

After the pairing I sat down with Chris Silva, St. Francis Winery’s CEO who shared the excitement of his team. “Now that we have completed our new 2-acre organic vegetable garden,” he explained, “guests can sip our Estate Chardonnay while looking out on the vineyard in which that wine was grown, while at the same time nibbling on fresh sautéed vegetables picked that morning just a few feet away from the table.”

It doesn’t get much better than this for an organic, entertaining farm-to-table experience. I might not break the record of 50 times like my new wine club friend, but I will be back.

“Food is the ultimate device with which to showcase fine wine,” said Silva. “We remember a wine not only by its quality and flavor, but also by the people and the meal that wine was savored with.”

Food & Wine Pairings take place several times a day (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Book at OpenTable.com

Expert tip: For groups of 8-16 the winery offers a new Seven-Course Prix Fixe Private Estate Dinner experience. For $135 per person with wine pairings it seems like a perfect way to celebrate a special occasion, or an excuse to get your friends together.

St. Francis also does special event dinners designed by Chef Bush including Dinner Under the Stars held every summer, the Wild Game Dinner held every November, and Ode to Crab Dinner held every December. During the summer you can see movies outdoors on the winery grounds.

WineryCritic Ratings

9/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

9/10 Location

9/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

9/10 Other experiences: Food pairings, Tours, Private tastings

9/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff

10/10 Friendliness of staff

9/10 Signage & ease of access

9/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required: No appointments are required for tastings in the tasting room. Reservations are recommended for Food & Wine Pairings. Reservations are mandatory, at least 72 hours in advance, for the Estate Dinner experiences.

Address: 100 Pythian Road at Highway 12, Santa Rosa, CA 95409

www.stfranciswinery.com

Tasting room hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm daily Tasting fee: $10 for a 30 minute tasting, choose five wines from the menu

  • Wine & Food Pairing, Daily $45 (Club $36). Friday to Sunday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm; Monday & Thursday at 11am and 2pm (Closed Tuesday & Wednesday)
  • Private Estate Dinners, Appointment only, $135 per person + tax & gratuity. Seven-Course prix fix, Offered Tuesday – Sunday, 6:30pm-9pm. Groups of 8-16 only. Must book at least 72 hours in advance
  • Estate Vineyard Tour & Tasting, weekdays at 1:30pm weather permitting $20 (Club $16)
  • Cheese & Charcuterie with wine tasting $25 (Club $20). Available daily.

Good for: Foodies, aspiring chefs, couples, groups, special occasions

Wines produced: Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Meritage, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Port, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cuvée Blanc (Marsanne & Roussanne), Zinfandel.

What’s nearby: Kunde Family Estate, Chateau St. Jean Winery, Landmark Vineyards, Ledson Winery & Vineyards

Appellation/District: Sonoma Valley

Contact for appointments: (707) 833-0255

Date of visit: July 19, 2013

E-mail: mindy@winerycritic.com

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