Set Free in Sonoma: 36 Questions
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Wednesday, March 16, 2016
By Bekah Wright
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Photo courtesy of Bekah Wright


I’m Free! My friend Nahmi and I took the photo above during a trip to Northern California many years ago. And though we weren't the artistes behind the graffitti, it spoke to us. Yes, we were both going through break-ups at the time.

What we remember most about that long weekend – the feeling of waving goodbye to the day-in-day-out and unleashing our inner Thelma and Louise.

So, when our co-birthday celebration rolled around this fall, we seized an opportunity to celebrate in Sonoma. Waiting for us there – run through the grass barefoot, spin in circles ‘til you're dizzy, ignite your homework FREEDOM!

Seventy-two hours were open to myriad conversations. Having awoken at 5 a.m. to make an early departure, not much talking transpired beyond, "Caffeine?" prior to boarding the Santa Rosa-bound plane at LAX.

Seated in different rows, we bid each other adieu for the next 90 minutes with these parting words from Nahmi, "Can't wait to hear about yesterday's coffee date."

Settling in for the flight, my mind flittered over said date that had occurred not even 24 hours prior. It was more of a "blind introduction," I suppose. Two married friends had run into an old acquaintance of theirs who happens to live in my neighborhood. A lightbulb went off for them -- the gentleman and I had a lot in common. We should meet.

And so we had. Over pie. I'd brought along the 36 Questions to Fall in Love By from Mandy Len Catrone's TED Talk. These questions were said to accelerate intimacy/determine compatability. Having not read them, I figured they'd be great fodder for conversation. What could go wrong?

Photo by Bekah Wright


Wheels touching down roused me from a nap. We'd arrived in Sonoma.

The Charles M. Schultz - Sonoma County Airport (STS) is quaint. Walk off your plane onto the tarmac and luggage is unloaded right there. Folks dining on the restaurant patio wave a friendly hello as passengers walk into the terminal to pick up rental cars. Soon enough, we were driving away in ours.


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Nahmi's first observation: the surrounds of STS were different from those at LAX. Lush farmland promised vintages for taste-testing. Lucky for us, that was the first course of business on our itinerary.

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Stop One:  St. Francis Winery & Vineyards for a VIP pairing lunch. Upon arrival, a glass of chardonnay was placed in our hot little hands and a stroll around the grounds was advised. A big lunch and full bellies was ensured.

Our short jaunt revealed wind sculptures serving as art at every turn. Then there were the fields and fields of grape vines. The chiming of a bell cut our adventure short. It was one o'clock. Time for lunch.


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Stepping inside a dining area, we were impressed to see two semi-circular tables, ideally set up to give our hostess prime pouring angles. The setting felt a bit medieval (yes, we're Game of Thrones fans, so our brains immediately went there). The bevy of glasses set out for each guest were impressive in their own right.

Photo by Bekah Wright


Nahmi and I had private, VIP seating away from everyone else, which made us feel how I'm guessing married couples often do at their post-nuptial dinner. When it was revealed we were celebrating our birthdays, a veritable huzzah broke forth from the semi-circular tables, as our lunchmates toasted us. We were definitely feeling pretty special. 

Photo by Bekah Wright


Five courses commenced, beginning with the Pan Seared Halibut (this seafood/fish allergy person had a tofu alternative), St. Francis Garden Ratatouille, Saffron Banana Pepper Nage, Dehydrated Olive Oils and Smoked Paprika Oil.

The dish was paired with a 2014 White Wine Estate Cuvee Blanc from Sonoma Valley. Our host alerted the Cuvee Blanc had overtones of stone fruit and, when food introduced to wine flavor, it would send fruity flavors to background and bring out the more mineral tones of the wine.

Photo by Bekah Wright

Next up was an Heirloom Tomato Salad. This former tomato farmer made a taste comparison between Northern California tomatoes to those of North Carolina. Definitely different. Perhaps the wine country soil does similar good things to tomatoes as it does to grapes?

What brought on ooos and ahhhs was the basil panna cotta, very easily the most heavenly thing we'd ever tasted. The combination of the creaminess of cheese with the saltiness of pretzels bits was divine. Charred eggplant puree provided a smoky complement.

The salad was paired with St. Francis' 2012 Red Wine Cuvee lago, a selection from the winery's artisan series (available on site only) that's a 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% syrah.


Photo by Bekah Wright

The third course was a Cocoa Tortelli with Fresh Shelling Beans, Smoked Calabrian Chili Sausage and Roasted Tomato Sauce.

It was suggested that each element of the dish be tasted separately at first, in order to see how it was influenced by the 2012 Zinfandel from St. Francis' Montecillo Vineyard. The sausage would bring out the spiciness of Zin, the tomato sauce and tortelli would tone it down. Next, all ingredients were melded into a single bite.

Though an oenophile, Nahmi had never been to a wine pairing before. Her mouth was exploding was happiness. Which brought us to...


Photo by Bekah Wright


...The Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Smoked Smashed Potatoes and Garden Tomatillo Sauce. Our tasting note: OMG! The steak melted upon the tongue. Then there were the potatoes, which were roasted, then smoked, then fried. They were as decadent as it sounds.

A 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Francis' Lagomarsino complemeneted the steak and potatoes brilliantly. The spicy tomatilla sauce kicked the flavors up a notch.


Photo by Bekah Wright


As a finale, a Peach Fritter with Creme Brulee, Raspberries and House-Made Potato Chips were delivered. Ours came out complete with birthday candles. Sweet violets, which I'm sure were edible, were just too pretty to eat.

Poured into glasses was a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc. Sweet unto itself, the vintage was a perfect pairing for the dessert.


Photo by Bekah Wright


After lunch, we required a hammock/nap. As there were none of those to be had, we staked out a spot at an outdoor table and watched continued set-up for a wedding.

As women are wont to do, we talked about life and just how full ours are, particularly as we were heading into a weekend celebrating our days on this planet.

With the wedding venue coming to life, we reflected over years of romantic unions and how they'd shaped our lives.


Photo by Bekah Wright

"So, the date...," Nahmi queried, harkening back to our early morning flight.

"I was pretty sure I'd never hear from him again," I said, thinking back to less than 24 hours earlier. "But then we kissed goodbye."

Nahmi's eyebrows lifted with a question.

"Yes, more than once," I couldn't help but grin. "Maybe it was the 36 Questions to Fall in Love By. I dunno."

Remembering they were still in my purse, I pulled them out. Nahmi and I started at the top of the list and worked our way down. Even after all these decades of being friends, we still supplied answers that surprised each other.

The trip ahead promised even more revelations.

As the bride and groom arrived for their ceremony, we scooted out of the vineyard and set the rest of our weekend into motion.

Sonoma's magic was already unfolding. Stay tuned for Day Two!


For more information about Sonoma visit To be tantalized by more deliciousness at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, visit

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