Mary Calla, Farmhouse Inn concierge team,
back again exploring a new favorite
Sonoma County wine country backroads adventure.
Taking any backroad in Sonoma County leads away from the masses and gives a feeling of traveling back in time, back before six lane freeways, tract homes and box stores. Our wine country is crisscrossed with roads like this, little, windy, forgotten roads with speed limits regulated by cattle grates instead of radar guns. While many back roads will take you through the heart of wine country, the rest will lead you over the hills and through the redwoods to hidden gems throughout the north bay- all you need is dedication, a set of wheels and an appetite for adventure (and oysters). One of the joys of being a concierge at Farmhouse Inn is getting to share some of our secret favorites of the area.
Today I would like to share with you one of my recent favorite trips through the backroads of Sonoma wine country. Friday afternoon, the sun had come out and warmed everything for the first time since the rains had flooded much of Russian River Valley. I left Farmhouse Inn around 2pm and drove west through Russian River Valley and south towards Sebastopol. I caught up with Bodega Avenue and wound my way through apple orchards older than I am. Along the drive, orchards that line the road are a reminder that Sonoma County was once a great apple producing county, famous for the sweet juice produced by the Gravenstein variety. Soon, green pastures dotted with black and white Holsteins and fawn colored Jersey cows fill the landscape. West Sonoma county out towards Highway 1 and the coast is dairy country unlike any other, with views that encompass boulder-strewn pastures leading to the craggy Sonoma Coast and Pacific Ocean.
A left onto Freestone's Valley Ford Road leads through more dairy country and to Highway 1, through the little towns of Freestone and Tomales, towards my final destination: Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, CA. I was on my way to meet my sister Camille and our friend Lily for the release of a new beer called Marooned on Hog Island, produced by San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery.
Now I wouldn’t normally drive nearly an hour just to try a new beer, but when our friend Julian who works for Hog Island Oyster Co. invited us to come out for an afternoon on the bay enjoying fresh oysters, how could I say no?
When I arrived, I didn’t know yet where to find everybody, but figured I could follow the laughter and sound of happy people eating and drinking the fine fare of Northern California. I headed straight back to the picnic tables full of folks joyously shucking oysters and eating hearty bowls of steamer clams with white beans and sausage, adorned with hunks of rustic French bread perched on the lip of the bowl.
Those who were brave and determined were allowed to shuck their own oysters, or if you were like me, handed it to Julian or another Hog Island employee after several unsuccessful attempts. Those who wielded the blue glove and white-handled shucking knife earned a “SHUCK” stamp, and the trays of delicious little oysters, both raw and barbecued, kept flowing to our table. If you want to try it yourself here's a little video from our friends at About.com.
Hog Island Oysters has their own cookbook but here's a link to their recipe page if you need some ideas beyond the standard lemon juice.
21st Amendment’s Marooned on Hog Island is a beer with a story that tells of wayward sailors washing up on the shores of Sir Francis Drake Bay, living off their barrel of fine ale, a wild boar they were lucky enough to catch, and the oysters that grew within the bay. The beer itself is dark and malty, but not heavy or overly-hoppy. It washed down the rustic bread soaked in the white wine broth of the steamer clams and complimented the sweet, salty oysters plucked from Sir Francis Drake Bay like a match made in heaven (also known as Sonoma County). You might be thinking that Stout isn’t exactly what you might have in mind when eating oysters, but it’s just the opposite. The brew is even made with oyster shells from Hog Island, lending to the smooth, briny quality of the dark, chocolatey stout- sublime!
Sooner than we’d hoped, the sun was setting and the sky grew dark early, as winter days go. The warmth from the sun was gone, but the sunset was one for the books. Everyone still seated around their picnic tables produced whatever form of camera they possessed to snap shots of the brilliant pink and orange sky. As the edges of the horizon became darker and darker, the reflection of the sky on the water of the bay gave the evening and endless quality.
It was the perfect ending to an epically beautiful day, and as the story goes, we could think of worse fates than being Marooned on Hog Island. 'Til next time...