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For Whom the Bell Tolls—Holiday Tasting at St. Francis Winery

A bell, made by the people who fashion them for the Vatican, rings out across the vineyard. Mt. Hood and autumn vines are a beautiful backdrop.

The rows of vineyards flanking Highway 12 through Sonoma Valley are prettier than ever at this time of year and businesses are decked out for the holidays, making it a wonderful time for winetasting.

On Sunday, I was so smitten with the view that I stopped to take a few quick pictures of golden vines at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. I was lured deeper into the property by a tree shedding its red leaves in the breeze, creating a carpet on the grass beside a picnic bench. Just as I was framing the tree in my camera, a jack rabbit rushed through the scene!

Then the Mayacamas Mountains, standing between Sonoma and Napa valleys, caught my gaze through those golden vines.

What a sensory experience. By that stage, I was ready for wine tasting.

The deep resonance of the St. Francis bell, high in a tower above the entrance, echoes throughout the grounds every hour. A plaque near the door explains that it was made in Assissi, the home of St. Francis, by the same manufacturers who have been making bells for the Vatican since the 12th century AD.

As if that wasn't enough of a welcome, the huge Christmas tree and cozy glow of the winetasting room did it.

One of the great things about winetasting is meeting people from all over the world and from all walks of life. I chatted with a nurse from Boston and her friend from San Francisco, as well as a couple visiting from Atlanta. I enjoyed talking to a St. Francis staff person originally from Peru, as I sampled their fabulous cuvee blanc and their deep moody reds. I especially liked their "old vine" Amman zinfandel. Hospitality hostess Tina told me that when St. Francis names one of its wines "old vine" it means the vines are at least 50 years old.

"Our old vines aren't irrigated, so the flavor of the fruit is more concentrated from the struggle to produce," she said.

Hmm. Seems like an analogy for the human experience, I thought.

"The taste is more fruit-forward," she said. "You get less of the tannins or alcohol. Our wines are very balanced."

Indeed.

I finished off my visit with their Fireside Charcuterie. This was a pairing of a "flight" of three tastings with a plate of thinly sliced pastrami, whole grain mustard, frisee salad, lemon vinaigrette, herbed pork shank terrine, sweet currant and red cabbage relish, apple cranberry compote, French gold triple-creamed brie, seasonal fruit and ciabatta crostini.

Delectable.

Happy holidays everyone.

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is at 100 Pythian Road in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma Valley.

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