On a perfect day, it's great to just hangout in the manicured garden and patio with views of the vineyards and mountains.

On a perfect day, it’s great to just hangout in the manicured garden and patio with views of the vineyards and mountains.

SANTA ROSA, Calif.
It’s a busy time in wine country as the annual crush begins at many wineries. In fact, the crush — the harvesting of grapes and crushing into juice to turn into wine — probably started last month for some and will continue for the next few weeks, depending on the region.

Last Saturday, I was invited by the St. Francis Winery to join a behind-the-scenes tour of its operations in the midst of crush season. I got to see all aspects of the winery operations, from the vineyards to the barrel room to the dining area where we got a sampling of the popular wine and food pairing.

The 40-year-old winery is an established label. I’ve tasted the wine and seen the brand at stores, but I’d never been to the actual vineyards and tasting room, partly because I have yet to fully explore the various Sonoma wineries, which often gets overlooked in favor of Napa.

Platter from the wine and food pairing included pickled vegetables, figs, and pork pate.

Platter from the wine and food pairing included pickled vegetables, figs, and pork pate.

But I found the winery an enjoyable spot to experience wine. It didn’t hurt that we had amazing weather last weekend, which makes the view from the patio just that more sparkling. The food from Chef Bryan Jones, who joined the winery about five months ago from the Fig Cafe and Wine Bar,  is also sophisticated and perfectly paired with the wine. (The wine and food option cost $50 and is so popular they’re booked for the next two months.)

St. Francis is known for being the first winery to produce merlot as a variety on its own (as opposed to being a grape to blend with other varieties), but ironically we didn’t have any merlot during the tour. Maybe because of the warm weather, we stuck mostly with sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, which were all smooth and complex. Today, St. Francis is a certified sustainable vineyard.

Along with its wine and food pairing program, St. Francis also puts on monthly Taste of Sonoma events where a local artisan food maker showcases his or her product paired with St. Francis’ wine. So there’s always something happening to make the drive up north worth it.

The deets: St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, 100 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.stfranciswinery.com

Grapes are full and ready for picking at the vineyard

Grapes are full and ready for picking at the vineyard

Vineyard manager Jake Terrell talks about caring for the vines and how they handled this year's drought.

Vineyard manager Jake Terrell talks about caring for the vines and how they handled this year’s drought.

A row of viognier vines

A block of viognier vines

Wine making is a science as well, as we learned when we visited the lab.

Wine making is a science as well, as we learned when we visited the lab.

A winery employee measures out wine to be tested as they monitor the development of the wine over time.

A winery employee measures out wine to be tested as they monitor the development of the wine over time.

We got to taste sauvignon blanc that barely finished fermenting. It was cloudy and sweet.

We got to taste sauvignon blanc that barely finished fermenting. It was cloudy and sweet.

Grapes brought in and ready to process.

Grapes brought in and ready to process.

Chris Louton, one of the two winemakers at St. Francis, talks about the freshly picked grapes.

Chris Louton, one of the two winemakers at St. Francis, talks about the freshly picked grapes.

Grapes getting processed

Grapes getting processed

The tasting room

The tasting room

Christopher Silva, president and CEO of St. Francis Winery, talks about the chardonnay we tasted.

Christopher Silva, president and CEO of St. Francis Winery, talks about the chardonnay we tasted.

The wine and food pairing started off with an heirloom tomato salad with padron peppers.

The wine and food pairing started off with an heirloom tomato salad with padron peppers.

Platter of almonds, blue cheese with prunes, and a small salad

Platter of almonds, blue cheese with prunes, and a small salad

Willie is the dog of vineyard manager Terrell, and he gets to hangout in the vineyards all day running around and playing in the dirt. I want his job.

Willie is the dog of vineyard manager Terrell, and he gets to hangout in the vineyards all day running around and playing in the dirt. I want his job.

Dessert of figs with fig mousse in a shell

Dessert of figs with fig mousse in a shell

Chef Bryan Jones showing us the garden where he picks his ingredients for his wine and food pairing menu.

Chef Bryan Jones showing us the garden where he picks his ingredients for his wine and food pairing menu.

The last few tomatoes of the summer at the garden.

The last few tomatoes of the summer at the garden.

The wine we tried at St. Francis paired nicely with the food, experience and view. What better way to celebrate the 2014 crush.

The wine we tried at St. Francis paired nicely with the food, experience and view. What better way to celebrate the 2014 crush?

2 Responses to Grape Crush Tour of St. Francis Winery + Vineyards in Sonoma County

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    What a fun time. And that fig dessert looks heavenly. Did you save me one? 😉

    • Ben Ben says:

      Sorry, couldn’t keep those things from keeping because they were so creamy (like ice cream) everyone scooped them up! 😉