The Hunter Valley – Day 2

The Hunter Valley – Day 2

WINE TOUR DAY! Today marked our full wine day experience with Two Fat Blokes wine tours. We had a delicious breakfast at the Kirkton Hotel (that was included), went and checked out the smelly pigs in their barn, and got picked up for our tour promptly at 9:30 AM. Our super energetic guide, Julie, told us to keep our eyes out for kangaroos as we set out to pick up additional guests. It was only about 10 minutes into our drive to the next stop that we saw a bunch of them in the bush! It was so awesome to see them hopping around in the wild.

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We picked up a total of 10 other people and were on our way to our first winery by 10 AM. Apparently we were a bit early so Julie took us to her “secret” kangaroo spot in a vineyard. We pulled up and there must have been about 100 of them all hanging out along the road! It was so cool to see – there were even some mums with their joeys!

After snapping a few pictures, we were back in the bus and off to Mistletoe Winery. The vineyard was very pretty and chockablock with beautiful sculptures in the yard and an art gallery inside.

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We all lined up at the bar and started our tasting. The lady leading that tasting told us to be aware that, if we drank all of the wine at all of the tastings we would be drinking 2-2.5 bottles of wine each! Not including the glass of wine included for lunch and 3 beers at the brewery stop at the end of the day! Geesh! I usually never waste wine but that knowledge made it easier to just taste some of the pours I didn’t prefer. (I am a light weight after all!)

Our second stop was the Two Fat Blokes wine and cheese shop to sample 9 cheeses with 9 wines! We were taken to this cute room in the back of the shop and had quite the spread.

We were told to have a bite of the cheese to get the full flavor, sip the wine, and then have another bite of the cheese to see how that flavor changes with the wines influence. It was pretty substantial! I love cheese and wine so I was in truly a happy place! There was this feta with chives that was so to-die-for we bought some to share with my sister back in Sydney.

After we ate all of our cheese, we relaxed in the winery grounds for 15 minutes before heading to the next place for lunch. I was glad some hearty food was coming our way because I needed something to soak up all of the yummy wine (as you may start to tell from the photos moving forward)!

Our next stop was the Audrey Wilkinson winery. Julie told us that the wine makers used Audrey’s old photo as the logo for the winery and on all of the bottles. A few years in, an older local man came into the winery and asked why they used a photo of Audry’s brother as the main logo for the winery! Apparently, the wine makers didn’t realize the mistake but already had brand recognition and all of their marketing materials with the brother and not Audrey. To fix the problem, the took the photo of Audry’s head and photo shopped it on his brothers body to keep similar imagery. How crazy, right?

We had lunch on the veranda of the winery. Lunch was included with the tour and I assumed it was going to be something like our fabulous lunch on our Tuscany wine tour, but I was a bit wrong. We brought the lunch in coolers from the Two Fat Blokes restaurant and it consisted of pretty average cold meats, salad, and pasta salad. I was slightly disappointed but the rest of the day was so amazing that it did not bug me too much.

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Lunch’s disappointment quickly evaporated as we went inside after we ate for yet another tasting! We started with a Semillon, a wine specific to the Hunter Valley that has strong notes of lemon and lime. The white wines at Audrey were a little to tart for my taste, so we did not buy any, but they were still decent. The best was the desert wine at the end. It was delicious and our host even gave me extra when I finished mine first and joked that I never got any to start with!

The view from the winery was beautiful and we had to snap a pic – even our guide Julie wanted to be included!

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After another quick ride on the bus, we arrived at winery number 4, Ivanhoe. It also had amazing views and we sat on the porch tasting about 7 wines. Our host at this winery was very lively and apparently worked at Disney for several years so he could travel the world to the various parks. What a great way to see the world!

Our last winery for the day was one of my favorites because it included the chocolate pairing! We had 4 chocolates to taste with 7 different wines and they were soooo yummy (at least that is how I fuzzily remember it at this point). Ryan and I bought two bottles of wine and a few of the white chocolate coconut truffles to share with my sister. One of the bottles we bought had a picture that was supposed to be Marylin Monroe but she didn’t look anything like her.  She didn’t even have her signature mole! We still bought it though since, apparently on trips, we randomly buy things related to Marilyn like we did in Santa Fe!

We were getting very chummy and silly with the rest of our tour group by this point and the photo bombing continued at a hilarious pace!

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One last bus ride later we arrived at Hunter Valley Beer Co. – a micro brewery that only serves the surrounding area. The beer was pretty good and I know this because I usually don’t like beer and I LIKED the beer at HVB. We played some Aussie beer trivia (which I quickly lost at) and then got a tour of the beer making process. It was a nice way to end our big day.

Julie did a fabulous job of getting all of us safely back to our accommodation. One guy even drunkenly ran out of the bus at our hotel to go pee in a bush. That took us all by surprise!

Ryan and I had a 6:30 reservation for dinner at the hotel restaurant because we definitely we re not driving anywhere at that point. It was a set menu and we were already pretty full, so we decided to cancel our reso and get a pizza from the bar instead. We played pool while waiting and I did not get one single ball in! Of course, that had nothing to do with my skill and everything to do with the wine… right?!

Our dinner was served at the bar and my award-winning food photography skills really captured my bbq pork pizza….

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It truly was delicious though! After we filled up and I gave up trying to win at pool games, we relaxed on the patio of our room with another glass of wine before zonking out.

Continue on this adventure…

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Tuscany

Tuscany

Ryan couldn’t wait for today and our tour through Chianti wine country. His favorite wine’s of all are Chianti Classicos which are from the heart of the Chianti region in Tuscany and have black roosters on the label to signify that they are made with the right formula of Sangiovese grapes.

Chianti region in Italy

Our hotel didn’t include breakfast, so we walked to a little pastry shop to carbo-load on croissants and doughnuts before making our way to the train station to meet our Walkabout Florence tour group. Our tour guide, Lavi, was energetic and ready to go. She led us through the station and down to our smaller sized tour bus. There were about 15 people on our bus and it was the perfect size for a tour. Unlike some of our tours in Phuket, Thailand, we did not encounter any other tour groups during the rest of our day on this tour, making it very intimate and unique.

The drive to our first winery was about 50 minutes but it went by quickly as Lavi told us all about the history of Chianti wines. Apparently, in the days of the Romans, wine was terrible tasting. The Romans used any grapes they could find, didn’t prepare the wine well, and diluted it with 2 parts water. Because it tasted so bad, the Romans would add spices and other things to it to mask the taste and mainly drank wine for health reasons (it was safer than water in most cases). Over the years, people discovered that the way you grow the grapes, the size of the bunch, the altitude of the grapes, the soil, amount of skin used, and the aging process are all critical components to making a decent tasting wine. Harsher growing conditions and smaller grape yields typically give the best tasting wines. Not what you would typically think, right?

To grow a Chianti Classico, there are rules the govern all aspects of the wine making process so that the wine quality maintains the Classico standards. For example, the vines have to be planted close together so that they compete with one another for water and minerals. The wine makers do not water the plants so the vines have to drive their roots deep into the soil to find water. The vines have to be planted between a certain altitudes and on a slope because water is harder for them to get. Most importantly, all of the wines have to be at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. There are a slew of interesting rules that go into makings such amazing wines.

Our first winery was Villa Li Corti which sits on top of a hill on the 617 acre estate. We toured the vineyard and the olive groves before going inside to see the wine making process.

We took a tour of the barrel rooms…

And we got to see how olive oil is made. Apparently, “extra virgin” for olive oil means it came from the first press of the olives in the machine (below) after picking. Buyers be ware, the new and trendy “extra extra” virgin oil is just a marketing gimmick and the closest thing to “extra extra” would be eating raw olives.

We went up to the tasting room and sat at a 4 top table with bread and meats for us to try. We started talking to the other couple across from us and learned that they also got married on September 16th as well and were also on their honeymoon! Small world. We had a good conversation about all things wedding, living in Brooklyn, and other miscellaneous topics while drinking some delicious wines and eating the meats.

After tasting #1, it was off to our lunch location – La Cantinetta di Rignana. We bounced and swerved our way on the bus, deep into the heart of Tuscany, to this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was just as special as the restaurant we went to in Hvar and apparently, it was so good that George Clooney and his wife went their twice in the same week! The view was amazing and we were treated to an insanely good meal. George has good taste in food…

Up first were 4 different types of bruschetta: tomato and olive oil, chicken liver, “lardo” which is cured ham fat (like on prosciutto), and mushroom. My favorite two were the lardo and chicken liver – sounds gross but it was so good!

After that, we had two types of pasta: boar rigatoni and truffle ravioli. The shavings of truffle were huge and I am now addicted to everything truffle. It was family style so I had to share the ravioli, but I did not want to!

After lunch, Ryan and I walked through the vineyard and tried a grape that had fallen from the vine. IT was so good.

We hopped back on the bus and off to the third winery. The roads were very bumpy, windy, and narrow and we almost had some “too close to the edge of the cliff” moments… but we eventually made it to the Montemaggio estate. The manager gave us a tour of the vineyard and the gardens.

They were actually harvesting the grapes while we were there, so we got to see the grapes getting crushed and pushed into one of the big tanks. It was quite a treat to get to see all parts of the wine making process in action.

Grape sorting at the Montemaggio vineyard in Tuscany, Italy

We were led through the villa and up to the tasting terrace. There were cheese pairings with our wine and we must have tried 6 different, delicious varieties. The lady next to me was making very strange, monotone noises while our host was speaking, and Ryan was imitating her in a way that almost made me lose my wine a few times. Between his silliness and the wine, we had a blast!

After the last wine, it was back on the bus and to a little square for some shopping. There was an amazing butchery there that smelt heavenly, so we bought some meat and cheese to take back to the States.

After about a 50 minute bus ride back, it was time to say goodbye to our tour group, drop the wine and goodies we bought back at the hotel, and walk over to Il Latini for dinner. Like the night before when we first stumbled upon the restaurant, there were 30 people already there waiting for the doors to open. At least there was a line this time, instead of a massive, unorganized crowd. Thankfully, we had reservations and went to the front of the line to get in pretty easily once the doors opened.

The place was family style so everyone sat close together and it was a very social setting. There was a pre-fixed menu for $55 euro a person, but we were not that hungry, so we ordered a few things off of the menu instead and stuck with the table wine that was only 10 euro a bottle. Little did we know, our “small order” got us enough food for 10 people.

We got the 3 salami plate and did not realize that the “selection of 3 pastas” was actually 3 full servings of various pasta dishes!

After that, was the massive steak and two different, complementary desserts. Thank gosh we did not go for the tasting menu!

As it turns out, the couple next to us who did get the tasting menu didn’t get that much more food than us but they paid double! They got one additional entrée, but we were also given the same desert and a free bottle of desert wine! We started chatting with them about the sheer amount of food and what tasted the best. The couple was in town from California and were pretty fascinating. One was an artist and the other was in the energy business and we had a good convo about American politics for about 45 minutes until all of the wine finally disappeared. Overall, the dinner was very enjoyable and we would recommend Il Latini to anyone in Florence that is anywhere on the scale of very hungry to starving. You will get a delicious meal for a great price.

Hvar, Day 2

Hvar, Day 2

Today was a relaxing day. After 10.5 hours of sleep and a 9 AM wake up, we got some croissants (my favorite pastries in the world) and breakfast with a view at the hotel. Who cared about some of the missing amenities at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort when you have a pool like the below, including a water slide!

Our view at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

 

After breakfast, we grabbed some sun chairs by the pool. The pool had an endless edge which made our view amazing. At one point, they even turned on the water slide which I couldn’t resist! It took us a few attempts to get the slide technique down right for max speed. The pool was absolutely freezing as well but there were some other people enjoying it so, if they could do it, we could suck it up too!

Ryan got quite a few glasses of wine and read while I looked at Instagram memes and tried to relax. Around 1, we decided to get lunch. Ryan ordered pizza and focaccia and I changed mind mind at the last second from a smoothie to homemade spaghetti carbonara – we were not expecting the massive food portions (made to feed a village!) or we would have shared.

My massive lunch of carbonara at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

After lunch, we soaked up the sun for another hour before getting ready for our wine tour.

We met Mario, our tour driver, in the lobby around 3. He was a boisterous Croatian with a family history on the island of Hvar dating back over 600 years! Mario was our guide to two wineries around the island and then to a scenic dinner in an abandoned village. All along the drive, he told us fun facts, let us enjoy the look-out points, and showed us how to rub the natively grown rosemary in our hands for an amazing smell.

We arrived in Jesla, a little down on the other side of the island that was home to both of the wineries we were visiting. We walked quite a ways through the town to the little converted garage that served as the wine tasting room for Teo Huljic’s wine. Teo makes about 6-7,00 bottles of Hvar grown wine per year for the local people and restaurants. He also owns one of the best eateries in down called Konoba Huljic. Our wine guide was very knowledgeable about the grapes grown on Hvar, spoke over 5 languages, and provided some delicious olive tapenade, breads, and spreads to go with the wines.

All of our glasses were solid 5 oz pour, making for an excellent tasting! The owner, Teo, even joined us towards the end and showed me how to cork the bottles we bought.

We eventually walked back through the town to our next winery, Dubokovic. Since it was the end of tourist season, the town was totally empty, making it very romantic.

 

We finally arrived at our second winery and were led down to the basement barrel room. Again, talk about romantic! Our table was among the barrels of wine and it had red candles, wine, cheese, and an assortment of olive oil all made in Hvar for us to taste.

We were in for yet another treat when the winery owner himself lead our tasting, walking us through the various grapes and their personalities over the years. He even went above and beyond and let us try 9 different wines! All of them were very tasty, though Ryan and I had very different opinions on our favorite wine and olive oil – so we had to buy a bunch of them different ones to take home.

Eventually, we smelled, swirled, and sipped through all of our wines and were on toward our final stop, Stori Komin in Malo Grablje. To pass the time, our guide Mario challenged me to a singing competition. Little did we know, Mario was the Croatian equivalent to Josh Groban and sang in an acapella group. He sang traditional Croatia songs to us for about twenty minutes until we pulled up to the ruins of Malo Grablje!

Malo Grablje was abandoned many years ago and only one family remains. That family has a small, 8 table restaurant, Stori Komin, that looks over the valley. If you go to Hvar, you HAVE to visit Stori Komin. We walked through the abandoned homes on a dusk hike up to the restaurant, and Mario pointed out his great, great grandfather’s house among the dilapidated buildings.

Again, we had yet another stunning view from our table at the restaurant. We could also see our food cooking on the fire pit – talk about rustic!

We sat down at one of the tables and quickly started chatting with the only other couple at the restaurant, some very nice South Africans. We ended up talking to them our entire dinner, only pausing to thank our waitress for each dish she brought out. We started with some scrumptious anchovies in olive oil with capers from the area, fresh cheese, tomatoes, and prosciutto.

I ordered one glass of wine and they brought out a large pitcher instead! About halfway through, a bug flew into my pitcher and they brought out another brand new and full one! Talk about A) good service and B) a very lively wine induced dinner! Our main course was this insanely good lamb chop bake with potatoes and carrots. The smell of the lamb cooking on the stove throughout our dinner was so good and the finished product did not disappoint! All of that food was followed with desert of candied almonds, dried dates, and a yummy desert wine. We were stuffed!

The restaurant also had a dog named Cesar running around. He was so cute and reminded us of our puppy back home. Apparently, the family found him almost starved to death, stuck in a ditch in a grave yard, and they brought him back, fed him some food, and he never left. He was so cute and really enjoyed some of our left overs!

After about two hours of delicious food, wine, and great conversation, it was time to hop back in the car with Mario and drive to the hotel. On route, Mario stopped under the castle at the top of the mountain overlooking the harbor and told us how it used to be a disco. Him and his friends would climb into the tower window of the castle (below) to enter the night club and that was how he met his second wife. Mario was full of personality and some great stories!

We got back to our hotel around 10 PM and I fell into bed. We had an early morning for our boat ride to Split and Ryan told me I needed to pack before bed. I responded, with full conviction, that I was already packed and that I was going to sleep in as late as possible. Of course, in the morning, I awoke to the real situation – a suitcase that look like it exploded in the middle of the night with clothes strewn everywhere.. Note to self, wine-brain lies to you about your packing status!

Continue on our journey through Croatia…

Sonoma Bachelorette – Part 2

Sonoma Bachelorette – Part 2

We were taken to a little, three-sided barn where a long table was set up and we, yet again, had personalized menus for the party! All of those touches made things very special. Additionally, there were bread sticks and all of the girls went crazy of them – they were live savers after all of that wine from the vineyards before!

About half-way through our tasting, our wine connoisseur told us to grab our glasses because the rest of the tasting was on the go! He showed us around the grounds, through the barrel room, and into the vineyard…

They even had a chicken farm with multiple chicken coops and a peacock! After we finished the tour and the wine, it was time to hop back into our Sonoma Wine Tours shuttle and head back to our Airbnb.

We had three or so hours before our dinner reservation, so we decided to take full advantage of our awesome Airbnb’s back yard and jacuzzi! We popped some bottles, played “never have I ever”, and laughed until we were in tears.

Eventually, it was time to get ready and call Ubers to head to Harvest Mood Cafe for a delicious dinner. We were sat on the patio and it was pretty chilly, however, that kept us awake and talkative (we were all pretty tired from the day’s festivities). I had a delicious pesto pasta appetizer and chicken main, and then we all sang happy birthday to my sister and shared her celebratory chocolate cake (which may or not have been a good idea as there was debate to if she had mono or not!). It was so yummy but we sped through it so we could all get back inside into some warmth. While it was 70 and sunny during the day, the temperature dropped into the 40’s at night and we were not prepared!

While the initial plan was to go out after dinner, we were pretty tired, so we headed back to the Airbnb and to bed.

Sunday May 28th –

Today was “explore downtown Sonoma” day! We had a relaxed morning getting ready, eating bagels, and figuring out the game plan. We called some Ubers around 11 AM and took off to Sonoma square!

We originally wanted to do lunch at the famed The Girl and the Fig restaurant, however, even though we arrived when the doors opened, they did not have any tables open for the entire day! Roche Winery was right next store with an amazing patio, so we decided to go there instead. As luck would have it, the wine seller told us that The Girl and the Fig would deliver cheese and charcuterie to us on the patio, so we got the best of both worlds!

The wine was flowing, the cheese and meats were scrumptious, the weather couldn’t have been better, and I was with all of my best friends. I literally could not have been happier than I was on that patio.

After a few hours of enjoying, we decided to walk around the square and explore the stores and other wine cellars. Our first stop was the Sonoma Cheese Factory which, as you guessed, had lots and lots of cheese! Even better, they had wine and free cheese samples! We walked around and tasted all of the yummy cheese varieties and browsed all of the fun knickknacks they had for sale.

We continued our walk and smelt the incredibly seductive scent of freshly made ice-cream cones at Scoops. After being told by multiple people throughout our trip that Scoops was a must try, we could not resist some home-made ice-cream.

With ice-cream in hand, it was time to find some more wine. We found this enchanting flower path that led us to yet another tasting room!

The winery that we found had an awesome deal on wine bottles, so we bought quite a few, and the wine sellers told us we could drink the wine in the park! What a perfect plan. We walked back down the flowery path and about half of us made it across the street to the park before the other half was called back. A woman from a different wine room ran out after us and told us that we could get arrested for having wine outside of the part (which was about 100 yards away). We decided to “risk it” and all ran dramatically back across the street with great (sarcastic) relief when we made it unscathed! It was pretty fun being rebellious!

We found a nice area in the park to sit and enjoy our wine. About 30 minutes into that, this strange man in a dress shirt, athletic shorts, and Crocs started talking to us and was so creepy we had to move! We were getting pretty hungry at this point, so we decided to go to Sunflower Cafe for a Turkey Pesto sandwich that hit the spot.

The last place on our agenda for the day was Muscardini Cellars. They were having a big Memorial Day Weekend celebration with live music and they had a beautiful outdoor garden, so we were excited to check it out.

Unfortunately for us, the music was actually the day prior to our arrival, but we still had a marvelous time in the outdoor space.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the Airbnb for spaghetti night (sorry Betty)! For some reason, I was under the assumption we did not have enough garlic bread, so we asked our Uber driver where the best garlic bread in town was. He suggested some restaurant that was “on the way” and I called ahead to order a $25 loaf of garlic bread.. Let’s note that there was a lot of wine involved in the decision-making process here. Anyways, we get to the restaurant and I bought this giant pizza box filled with bread. About five minutes of driving later, our Uber driver stops on a hill and announces we were at our Airbnb – which was definitely false. Somehow the GPS had the right address but wrong county and we drove 20 minutes in the wrong direction! Oops. I supposed the good thing was that the other girls had pretty much finished cooking dinner by the time we finally arrived back with our now 3/4 full box of bread. We relaxed by the fire pit on the patio while, enjoying what was left of the sun’s rays, until the food was ready.

Dinner was delicious and, afterwards, we played bachelorette party games until late in the evening!

Monday May 29th –

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. We spent most of our last morning packing up the Airbnb. My sister was able to get us brunch reservations at The Girl and the Fig so we drove over and had a relaxing meal on their patio.

We were all tired, but in good spirits, and we decided to go to the Palace of Fine Arts on our way back to San Fransisco airport.

The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915. It was massive and so impressive. I would have never imagined such a thing would exist in the middle of San Fransisco!

The drive back to the airport was scary. Waze took us through the middle of San Fran and up some hills that were so steep, we didn’t think we were going to make it! I was driving and the girls in the back of my car kept telling me to “stop messing around”, since the accelerator on the car didn’t seem have enough power to make it, and to “just keep going!” through stop signs since stopping on the angle seemed like certain death. It was like a roller coaster and, thankfully, we survived! We made it to the airport and back to Dallas all in one piece.

Special thanks to all of my amazing friends who made this weekend one of the best of my life! Also thanks to M. Hood for taking some great photos!

Sonoma Bachelorette Weekend – Part 1

Sonoma Bachelorette Weekend – Part 1

For those readers that don’t know my exciting news.. I got engaged to the love of my life in August of last year! That day gave me so many exciting things to get day-dreaming about, including what I was going to do for my bachelorette party.

Figuring out when and where wasn’t too tough. I’ve been to Las Vegas a few times and that was a little too fast paced than what I wanted so it was easily nixed. I wanted as many of my girls to be able to attend as possible, so I didn’t want to go too far or make my friends take days off of work to attend. With all of those things in consideration, Memorial Day weekend seemed like the perfect 3-day weekend to take our quick getaway since it is not a religious / family oriented holiday or one that people usually travel for, and it is known for amazing weather before summer kicks in.

I love wine / wineries and had always thought Napa was a good option, but then I heard about the less crowded, less expensive, highly regarded, next door neighbor to Napa, Sonoma. Sonoma is a quick 3 hour flight and one hour drive from the SFO airport, so it fit right into the Memorial Day weekend timeline. With the dates and place settled, it was time to get planning!

Loxton Winery in Sonoma, California

My little (but taller) sister, Julia, lives in San Fransisco and just happens to be my Maid of Honor (because she is absolutely amazing and I love her to pieces). With my honeymoon, bridal shower, and wedding to plan, I gave Julia a quick outline of what I was thinking for the weekend and she did a fantastic job of planning and coordinating the bachelorette weekend details for all 12 of us and as they say, the rest is history…

Friday – May 26th

All of us were flying out to SFO after work on Friday and were getting in around 8:30 / 9:15 PM. I live close to quite a few of the girls that were on my flight so we all met up at one of the girl’s houses and her fiancé was nice enough to drive us to the airport. We got through the check-in process in under 15 minutes and decided to take the shuttle and hop terminals to find a wine bar and a bite to eat for dinner. Unfortunately, the wine bar told us that 40 minutes wouldn’t be enough time to get our dinner and back to our terminal for boarding, so we decided to find somewhere for takeout instead. We ended up at a Mediterranean placed called Cafe Izmir and found a bar tender who was ready to start our party! On top of our wine, he made us grape shots to celebrate and couldn’t stop gushing about his shot concocting capabilities. We couldn’t help but laugh with him. Once our to-go was ready, we raced back to our gate, hopped on the plane, and took off with no delay.

At Cafe Izmar in the DFW airport on the way to Sonoma!

We were taxing on the runway after landing and one of the stewardess came on over the loud-speaker. She congratulated the bride in seat D14 and wished our party “so much fun” over the long weekend! I turned bright red as all of the people around me looked at me, clapped, and wished us well, but it was super sweet!

Once we deplaned, we grabbed our bags and took the train to the car rental pick-up. After a bit of a complicated check-in, we got two cars, drove to the arrivals terminal to pick up the rest of the group, played Tetris to get our luggage in the trunks, and headed on the hour-long, windy drive to our Airbnb in Sonoma!

The Airbnb was AMAZING! It was a house with 4 big bed rooms, 6 beds and a huge couch that fit two people, a hot tub, fire pit, and bocce ball court. Each room has a wall of mirrors so there was plenty of “getting ready” space for all of the girls. Figuring out the bedding situation reminded me of America’s Next Top Model when all of the models run through the house on the first day, claiming bedrooms in a frenzy. It was pretty comical and everyone seemed happy for the most part. *Phew!*

With the time change and a late get in, we all got settled and went to bed so we would be well rested for Saturday’s shenanigans.

Saturday – May 27th

Conveniently for us, the 2-hour time change from Texas to California maked it feel like we slept in, even though we woke up at 8 AM after a very late night. Everyone was up on time and excited to hear our wine tour itinerary for the day from Julia while we cooked up breakfast tacos, drank mimosas, and got ready.

Mimosa for Day 1 in Sonoma

At 10 AM sharp, our stellar tour guide Soussan, from Sonoma Wine Tours, knocked on our door and we all piled into her van. We played an introduction / fun fact game so everyone could get to know each other on the way to Loxton Winery, our first stop of the three for the day.

My "Bride Tribe" at Loxton Winery in Sonoma, CA

Loxton Winery is owned by a Australian, 4th generation grape grower named Loxton. His family has been in the wine business for many years in South Australia, but he was the first to make his own wine and has been for years in Sonoma. We had a wonderful tasting in the barrel room of the winery and the wines just kept getting better! I ended up buying the best Port I’ve ever tasted and the only bottle I purchased that weekend from Loxton winery. (It probably helped that they served the Port with chocolate…)

Wine tasting at Loxton Winery in Sonoma, CA

Loxton himself came by during our tasting and was quite a character! We had a great time chatting about Australia as a few of us have Aussie and Kiwi roots. He even signed all of the bottles we bought with personal messages. The whole thing made for a great experience.

Hanging with Loxton at Loxton Winery in Sonoma, CA

After we finished at Loxton, it was off to VJB Winery for lunch and another tasting. I swear, VJB must have picked up an Italian villa and winery, flew it across the ocean, and dropped it in Sonoma! It was like I was back in Italy and I was in total heaven.

We did a quick tour of the property, saw the deli where the owners sell their hand-made pastas, meats, and other treats, and then sat in the beautiful courtyard for our tasting. We even had a personalized menu!

We ordered some pizzas to share and were mid-way through our flights when three dapperly dressed men came into the patio and started to sing! With an accordion in hand, the men sang some of my Rat Pack favorites and we couldn’t help but sing along. I requested that they come back and sing “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin, since my sister and I grew up signing that with our mom every time we cooked Italian food at home. After they made a round through all of the tables, they came back and serenaded us and I danced with my sister and the singers. It could not have been a better experience and was literally perfect – especially since we topped the lunch off with VJB’s home-made gelato afterwards!

Totally on Cloud 9, we said “Arrivederci” to our melodic gentleman, hopped into the van, and headed to Wellington Cellars for our last tasting of the day… which you can read all about in next week’s post!

*Photo cred to all of my girls from the trip, especially M. Hood!

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