The Valley of the Moon

By Kate Riley September 30, 2013

It was one of those weekends that combined evening hours spent with great friends in celebration of a birthday, and a day spent journeying to a farm in search of beautiful pumpkins and seasonal produce (the squash, the tomatoes, so good). I’ve realized stepping away from the computer on the weekends is pure delight, and it’s in those hours of ignoring the screens or smartphone that I feel like I’m really living. 

Last week, Matt and I stole away for a day to one of our favorite destinations in Sonoma County, the idyllic Valley of the Moon. The author Jack London lived in the territory – its name originates from the Native American Miwok tribe who referred to this special region nestled between mountains and hills as the “Valley of the Moon”.

I thought I’d share some snaps of what’s happening in the high season which begins in late September and lasts through late November. The harvest and crush are in full swing as each grape reaches the ripe and ready point. The tourists are arriving from all around the world to soak up the sunshine and indulge in the flavors of the region.

sonoma valley of the moon vineyard

The vineyards sprawl for miles and miles in Sonoma and Napa counties and grapes are planted strategically by terroir. There are a few wineries that (lucky for the us) plant rows of different varietals adjacent to each other in a small plot of land to show the difference between a merlot, a cabernet, a syrah, a zinfandel, a chardonnay, and a sauvignon blanc.

Every varietal is ready to be picked at a different time over the course of the harvest season. Each grape is distinct, down to its color, flavor, cluster, and even the characteristics of the leaves, yet they all thrive in this place we’re lucky to call our backyard. 

different varietals and leaves


We observed the “punch down” process for red wine at a local winery. During fermentation, the red grape skins rise to the top and form a cap. They use a special tool to “punch down” that cap that is formed in the bin – the point is to sink the berry skins down into the juice several times a day to extract even more flavor from the varietal. Cool huh? This video shows you more of the process.

punching down


We have so many favorite wineries in the Valley of the Moon, we love Ledson for its impressive castle estate and red wines, and Landmark for their chardonnays, but I thought I’d highlight three others today. As you travel along Highway 12 from Santa Rosa to the Sonoma Square you’ll also find the famous St. Francis Winery, with beautiful tasting room, grounds, and vineyards that surround the property.

st francis door

st francis fireplace

st francis wines

st francis winery statue


Our friend Chris at St. Francis Winery is showing us how the grapes are not quite ready for harvest, the seeds inside are still green and the sugar hasn’t reached optimum level, but they will be soon with more sunshine.

fruit not ripe

seed too green


Down the road a little ways is another popular stop Chateau St. Jean which feels in many ways like you’ve been transported to Europe.  The grounds are filled with boxwood hedges, potted citrus, flowing fountains, and fine gravel that crackles in between your feet just like when you stroll the formal gardens of France. And their Cinq Cepages wine is an all time favorite!

row of citrus

fountain chateau st jean

statue at chateau st jean

chateau st jean potted botanical

chateau st jean courtyard

doorway chateau st jean


Another worthy stop is Kunde, they have a beautiful tasting room, grounds, and offer mountain top tastings by reservation.

kunde entrance

kunde tasting room corks

kunde wine tasting

wine barrel wall


This map is helpful for navigating the region, look for the three wineries mentioned in the town of Glen Ellen along Highway 12.

valley of the moon wine map

map source

We grabbed a perfect lunch another favorite place to eat, one I forgot to mention in this previous article about the perfect day trip to Sonoma. On the square, down an alley, tucked into a small courtyard, delight in the culinary deliciousness of LaSalette for contemporary Portuguese flavors with California flair, we love this local favorite.

daily fish lasalette


Won’t you come and visit us sometime? There is so much to see and taste!


More food and wine related articles:

wine tasting party

cheese course essentials

heirloom tomato festival

Throw a Wine Tasting Party

Cheese Course Essentials

The Wine Country’s Tomato Festival


Tomorrow is the big day for the Autumn Tablescape & Vignette Link Party, I’ll be posting at noon EST/9 PST – can’t wait to see your festive fall ideas!



  1. Love wine. I were in Mendoza in Argentina this year. i would definitely come back there. the wine is just gorgeous. We’ve rented two bikes and we visited few wineries. So wanna do it again.

    So jealous of your trip, sounds like a great day

    Kisses from Ireland

  2. My husband and I just arrived back from Sonoma/Napa late last week! We visited all of the wineries you beautifully described here. Cinq Cepages was also one of our favorites! We had such a wonderful time visiting – best vacation we’ve had thus far. You are so lucky to live surrounded by such beauty and tranquility. Counting down the days until we can come visit again!

  3. Hi Kate,

    I have discovered your blog some time ago and just love it.
    This post very nice, what a great region.
    I so happy that you like portuguese cuisine, since I am portuguese
    and also living in a wine region (in the south of Portugal). Did you taste our wines too?

    Kisses from Portugal.

  4. As always Kate, your photographs are amazing! I know the place is amazing already but you’ve just managed to capture it’s beauty all the more! Keep ’em coming dear!

  5. Ahhh Sonoma! It is one of our all time favorite places to visit. We have been there four times the last being in May for my brothers wedding. Our favorite winery to visit is Benzinger, they have a great tour, the grounds are fabulous . Pick up a picnic lunch in Glen Ellen and enjoy it with a bottle of wine at Benzinger.

  6. We’ve been to both Sonoma and Napa. We prefer the smaller family owned wineries. Petroni Vineyards and Hawley are favorites. We sat with the wine maker at Pasterick in the wine cave for seemed like hours enjoying his stories and wine. (we heard later that he was very talkitive with us, could it have been all the wine??) How lucky are you to live there!! So envious

  7. This was so much fun to read – we used to live in Sonoma County, just off Hwy 12!!! There are truly too many wonderful wineries to mention and it truly is a beautiful place..
    Glad you had a nice weekend!
    Leah: )

  8. I went to Napa Valley this past spring and fell in love with everything about it-vineyards, restaurants, stores, etc. I’m so glad I didn’t visit Sonoma because now I have an excuse to go back!

  9. Your great Sonoma post today is giving me a little itch for a day trip! This time of year is so stunning in wine country! One Sonoma fave of ours is to visit the Olive Press. Last time we were there during the Community Press (November I think?) and it was great fun. I think our kiddos might like to check out the beautiful machines now that they are old enough. Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. Ahhhh, such fond memories! Thank you for sharing, Kate. My husband and I were in Sonoma last November and visited Gunlach Bundschu on a Segway tour (sooo fun!) that originated on the Square. A perfect weekend getaway for these wine-lover Chicagoans.

  11. Great tour and fabulous pictures!! I live in Canada, and with the frost already attacking my grapes, I have decided to try my hand at ice wine. We made a small batch of God’s nectar last year, with great success. Would love to visit California one of these years and tour the vineyards!! Always such breathtaking pictures when I tag along on a virtual tour with you! Thanks for sharing.

  12. What a magnificent place! Everything is just so perfect. The vineyard is so lovely, the decorations are so cool and it’s just a beautiful place to visit and stay. You’re so lucky to get there!

  13. We are huge Sonoma fans. Ledson is one of our favorites too…we joined the wine club back in 2008 :)

    Definitely adding Kunde to my list for next year when we head back out there.

  14. We just spent last Saturday in Napa…visiting new wineries that I have not been to before. Such a wonderful way to spend a fall day. I feel blessed to live so close to this amazing region. Thanks for the tips to seeking out new fabulous places to visit next time!

  15. So funny! I’m in the middle of that book, Valley of the Moon. Great read, and interesting how London was about 100 years ahead of the game talking about sustainable farming.

  16. Loved this post! We recently moved to the California Central Coast, they have some awesome wineries out here too!

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