Leaving San Francisco on a perfect mid summer’s day with a cloudless blue sky, I headed up the 101 Freeway towards Santa Rosa, following a few twists and turns as dictated by the GPS until I arrived at 6097 Bennett Valley Road and saw the signpost indicating the entrance to Matanzas Creek Winery
As I arrived and gazed up the hill I was greeted by an unforgettable sight: fields of lavender in constant motion, choreographed waves of color gently swaying, caressed by the wind as if for a performance. This unique “performance” happens once a year in June, when the lavender flowers are at their peak and the perfume is strongest just before being harvested.
The topography of The Grape Growing landscape is familiar in Sonoma County and combined with the fields of ripening lavender, it is reminiscent of the Provencal landscape of the South of France. The Winery is located in the Bennett Valley, a small but important wine growing area with only 650 planted acres of vines, known to produce excellent cool climate varietals. Squeezed between three mountains, creating a micro climate with early morning fog and cool marine breezes, the terroir is also blessed with slightly volcanic soil that is well drained, lush and fertile. All these conditions are favorable for growing grapes and apply equally well to cultivating lavender and in 1991 two acres of land were set aside for a lavender garden on the Winery. Terraced beds were created, formed by walls of rough hewn natural rocks on either side of a slightly inclined path. There are now about 4,500 plants, divided into two varieties: Grosso, with a dark purple, almost amethyst colored flower, very heavily scented that is used in perfumes and sachets for pillows, spa and bathroom products and Provence, a true shade of lavender with a lighter perfume, used mostly in culinary products and seasonings.
The setting is picture perfect with cows languidly grazing on the gently sloping golden foothills covered with wild grasses. Mature olive and oak trees in contrasting greens add definition to the beds of lavender and the few sunflowers and roses that have crept in among the lavender “pop” with color against the backdrop. Even though this is California, standing in the lavender fields is like being in the middle of a Monet painting. Add the vibrant yellow sunflowers and it changes to Monet meets Van Gogh in Sonoma Wine Country.
The lavender is farmed organically to preserve the local ecosystem and is harvested in late June, when it ripens. Walking through the perfumed fields bursting with color, I was careful to disturb the swaying stems as little as possible, as any disturbance would likely set off a loud buzz from the pollinating bees that I did not want to anger. Walking to the top of the hill, there are chairs and umbrellas to sit and admire the view. Gazing down at the fields of undulating lavender under a clear blue sky was a sight to behold.
Once a year, the Mantanzas Creek Winery has a “party” on the third weekend of June, called “Days of Wine and Lavender” when tickets are sold for an Open House celebrating the Lavender Harvest. The Winery is closed to the public and five hundred guests take advantage of this invitation and at $125.00 per person they sell out at least two weeks before the Event. It has become so well known that people from around the world now attend. This year, the celebration was scheduled for June 25th, lasting from noon to 4.00 p.m. It included outdoor music with live bands and performers. Different food stations were created under cover from the bright sun and clear signage was displayed to direct the crowd. Dishes infused with lavender seasonings, prepared by top California Chefs were served with wine tastings and pairings, such as “Sauvignon Blanc and Seafood” or “Merlot and Mushrooms.” The in-house winemaker, Marcia Torres Forno, a Chilean ex-Pat enologist with a solid background in every aspect of viticulture and wine making, has successfully guided the wine program and was present to offer seminars on different aspects of wine.
A cross section of Wines from Matanzas Creek Winery were served providing a rare occasion to sample a selection of their wines. Some of the wines being paired with the food were from the flagship Journey collection produced by Matanzas Creek Winery. This is a limited production that includes Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, with individually numbered bottlings from the best barrels in the Winery’s cellars and are very sought after and collectible. This year, two Magnums of their 1996 Journey Merlot were opened, to accompany the food, a vintage Red wine from one of the earliest bottlings and the last three bottles of this same batch were sold later in the day for $500 a bottle.
To further celebrate the occasion, the Lavender Barn was opened where guests could see the various products produced from the lavender harvest, artisan made and Estate grown. These included culinary items like tea, spice rubs, lavender infused sugar and salt, cookies and baked goods and even the lavender stalks used for grilling that will infuse meat or fish. There was a range of body and spa products, such as scrubs , massage oils, lotions, sprays, bath salts, all with the calming perfume of lavender. Items are beautifully bottled or presented in custom designed packaging, ready to be given as a gift in their identifiable wrappings.
The next “Days of Wine and Lavender” Celebration will be held the third weekend of June next year, but there are two further celebrations this year at Matanzas Creek Winery. On September 10th, a “Harvest Celebration”, which refers to the Grape Harvest and on December 3rd, a celebration called “Tis the Season” for Christmas. The Tasting Room, perched on a hill that takes in the view is open during the year where one can sample their Award Winning selection of Estate produced wines or create a picnic in the beautiful grounds with wine, cheese and charcuterie. This is the Wine Country Life !!
To purchase any Wines or Lavender Products from Matanzas Creek Winery, you can find it all on their website: http://www.matanzascreek.com
Matanzas Creek Winery,
6097 Bennett Valley Road,
Santa Rosa, CA95404
Hours 10.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. daily. Please confirm
The drive from Union Square in San Francisco is 53 miles and will take about 1 hour 30 minutes each way depending on traffic.