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Square Deal

There's much that's new in olde Sonoma



If it seems like nothing changes in the city of Sonoma, that's exactly the point of the place.

The mélange of straw and horse manure baked into the adobe bricks that hold the place up hasn't gone anywhere in the last 170 years, and neither has the parade of sun-dress- and Bermuda-shorts-clad tourists who come to see it, in more recent decades.

But while making the rounds of Sonoma Plaza on a recent afternoon, it occurred to me that a lot has changed in the winetasting scene in the past few years. Let's get at least a little up to date:

On the east end of town, Gundlach Bundschu, a veritable graybeard of wineries, has inexplicably become one of the hottest destinations among the pick-a-decade-younger-than-you set. To better accommodate the weekend crush, Gun Bun recently added on-the-spot scheduling and a "Donkey Bar," built from an authentic donkey shed (with photos of the hopefully not shedless donkeys behind the bar) for by-the-glass service on the patio.

To top that, you might see, on certain afternoons, a local gentleman rather purposefully walking a pony across the plaza from the big picture windows at Pangloss Cellars on the corner of East Napa and First. We last visited CEO Christian Borcher at Repris, the "sister winery" in the hills above Sonoma. Pangloss, named after the optimistic character in Voltaire's Candide, is the place to enjoy their more available wine with local cheeses and meaty treats from Petaluma's Thistle Meats.

Down an alley on the east side of the Plaza, Eric K. James is long gone, but "American Music Hall" Sonoma Speakeasy pours both beer and wine, to a danceable beat.

On the south side, the bachelor heartthrobs of Envolve no longer pour Pinot for whatever bachelorette partygoers possess the attention span to remember why it was important to be there. In their place, Sonoma-Loeb, the Sonoma County arm of Napa's high-end Chappellet Winery, pours wine that's so apparently diverting, I saw a touring cyclist with an alarmingly bloody crash wound brush it off at the bar—it's nothing, he said, taking another sip.

The notice of ownership change is nothing to fear at Sigh Sonoma, as it's still owned by local Jayme Powers. "I incorporated with myself," explains Powers, who's known to saber a bottle of Champagne now and then outside her cozy little sparkling wine shop. Powers says that her neighbors, Fulcrum, who present a rather more solemn storefront than former tenant, the Two Amigos, serve up a sensuous Pinot.

Thirsty neighbors, or "Drouthy Neebors," are still welcome further on at MacLaren, but you have to search for it, while Westwood is still worth the search—wherever it is.


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