Leaving San Francisco on a perfect midsummer’s day with a cloudless blue sky, I headed up the 101 Freeway towards Santa Rosa. I followed 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 display happens once a year in June, when the lavender flowers are at their peak and the perfume is strongest just before being harvested.

The otherwise unique topography of the grape growing landscape is common in Sonoma County, and combined with the fields of ripening lavender, makes the area reminiscent of the Provencal landscape in 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, which create a microclimate of 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. 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.  Now, there are about 4,500 plants, divided into two varieties: Grosso, with a dark purple, almost amethyst colored flower which is heavily scented. This variety is used in perfumes and sachets for pillows, spa and bathroom on the other hand is a truer 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 becomes Monet meets Van Gogh — all 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 agitation would likely set off a loud buzz from the pollinating bees who I did not want to anger. At the top of the hill, there are chairs and umbrellas to sit and admire the view — and what a view. Gazing down at the fields of undulating lavender under a clear blue sky was a sight to behold.

The Mantanzas Creek Winery has a party on the third weekend of every June called “Days of Wine and Lavender” — an open house celebrating the lavender harvest.  The winery is closed to the public at this time and five hundred guests take advantage of this tranquility — and even 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, including outdoor music  with live bands and performers.  Different food stations were created under cover from the bright sun: dishes infused with lavender seasonings, prepared by top California chefs were served with wine tastings and pairings: “Sauvignon Blanc and Seafood,” “Merlot and Mushrooms” to name just a few.  Present to offer seminars on different aspects of the vineyard’s wine was the in-house winemaker, Marcia Torres Forno, a Chilean expat enologist with a solid background in every aspect of viticulture and wine making.

A cross section of  wines from Matanzas Creek Winery were served as well, providing a rare occasion to sample a selection of their wines in their natural setting.  Some of the wines being paired with the food were from the flagship Journey collection, a limited production that includes individually numbered bottlings of Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc  from the best barrels in the winery’s cellars — very sought after and collectible.  This year, two Magnums of their 1996 Journey Merlot were opened to accompany the food — the last three bottles of this same batch were sold later in the day for $500 apiece.

To further celebrate the occasion, the Lavender Barn was opened where guests could  see the various  products produced from the lavender harvest, all artisan made.  These included culinary items like tea, spice rubs,  lavender infused sugar and salt, cookies and baked goods — even the lavender stalks, which can be used for grilling for a flavor that will infuse meat or fish.  Additionally, 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.   Everything was beautifully bottled or presented in custom designed packaging, ready to be given as a gift.

To purchase any wines or lavender products from Matanzas Creek Winery, you can find it all on their website.

Matanzas Creek Winery
6097 Bennett Valley Road,
Santa Rosa, CA95404

Hours  10.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. daily

Telephone: (707) 528-6464

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the road less traveled