Formerly an old cowboy store, and originally, the Jackpot Gas Station in the 1950s and 60s, Sonoma Roadside is a new wine country destination located at the gateway of Sonoma Valley. A bit like a mini, toned-down Cornerstone, Sonoma Roadside features a wine country chic furniture store, an eclectic general store, culinary garden and a “rhône-alone” wine tasting room.
Owner Craig Miller, who’s also a co-owner of the Sonoma Hotel, said he modeled the property after the quaint roadside shops scattered throughout New England, which he visits every year to collect antiques.
“I go to New England a lot and buy antiques for the store, and there are so many cute places back there. That’s what I wanted. I love going there. We stop at all these great places, so that’s the kind of feel I wanted,” said Miller.
Miller’s two stores, Harvest Home and Fat Pilgrim, occupy the property’s main building. To complete the collective, he brought in Sondra Bernstein of the girl & the fig, who has opened The Rhône Room and tends to the on-site farm.
The only thing still missing from Sonoma Roadside? Food. But Miller says they’ll be adding pre-packed eats soon.
& Fat Pilgrim
Started in San Francisco, the Harvest Home furniture store has been in existence since 1991. Miller moved to California from Texas in 1987, after earning his advertising degree from Southern Methodist University. He needed a job, so he got one as a salesman in a furniture store.
“There was a guy in San Francisco that was one of my customers, and he and his wife said, ‘Why don’t you move to San Francisco and let’s open up a store together and give it a shot?’ So, I thought, I’ve got nothing else, I just got out of college, let’s do it,” said Miller. “That store lasted about two years and then I opened Harvest Home, my own business.”
Over the years, Miller has had several locations for his store, the longest standing of which was near his home on the Sonoma square for 19 years. Harvest Home sells casual furniture with a clean and rustic wine country vibe. This is not furniture that’s meant to collect dust in a sitting room that’s hardly ever used, but cozy furniture that fits right into the life of busy families with pets and kids. Pretty much everything is customizable, including bookcases and cabinets, sofas and arm chairs.
In 2011, Miller purchased the Sonoma Roadside property and opened his Harvest Home sister shop, Fat Pilgrim.
A quirky general store and antiques shop, you can find something silly or thoughtful for everyone in your life (including yourself) at Fat Pilgrim. Shop wine country knickknacks, cookbooks, candles, and even snarky surprises for your best girlfriends, like an oven mitt that reads, “Bitches get stuff done” and a lip balm that comes in unusual flavors like Pineapple Brown Sugar and Black Cherry Papaya.
One of Miller’s favorite novelty items? A bonnet for your cat.
The store also sells its own line of lotions and soaps in scents like Tea Olive, sauces like a Zinfandel Tri Tip Grill Marinade and preserves like Lemon Curd and Pepper Jelly. Miller even has some of his artwork, canvas prints of original watercolors he painted of animals from his father’s Texas ranch, for sale.
Out back are the many antiques Miller collects on his yearly trips to New England, like old trunks from the 1800s that people often repurpose as coffee tables.
It took him a handful of years before he acquired the necessary permits for the extensive additions and renovations he wanted to make on the property, but finally, he was able to move his Harvest Home location in with Fat Pilgrim, which he closed for a year during the construction. The large space, which flows freely from one store to the other — like a Marshalls and HomeGoods — opened this past June.
“The two work so well together. We’re crazy busy with Fat Pilgrim at Christmas, and Harvest Home is busy the rest of the year,” Miller said.
The relocation of Harvest Home has even had some unexpected benefits.
“The locals followed Harvest Home back here,” said Miller. “They’re even buying more stuff because they don’t have to walk halfway to the other side of the square to get to their car. They can park right here. That never even crossed our minds.”
Yet there was still a small, empty building next door and Miller had his sights set on a tasting room in order to make Sonoma Roadside a true destination for both locals and tourists. He received proposals for just about every other type of business — a dance school, lawyers’ office, brewery, distillery, liquor store and restaurant — but finally, the right partnership with Bernstein came along organically.
Miller and Bernstein go way back, for Bernstein is a tenant (for her restaurant) at the Sonoma Hotel. In recent years, she had also taken over the culinary garden at Sonoma Roadside, sourcing some ingredients from it for the girl & the fig. When Miller approached her about opening a tasting room for her 10-year wine venture, it seemed like a natural, obvious fit.
The Rhône Room & The Farm
A decade ago, Bernstein, who is mostly known for her culinary prowess thanks to the girl & the fig’s restaurant on the Sonoma Plaza, cafe and wine bar in Glen Ellen, catering company and most recently, the fig rig food truck, ventured into the wine business.
The first the girl & the fig wine, Tres Bonnes Annees (a syrah), was released on the 10th anniversary of the restaurant. Her interest in Rhône varietals specifically harps back to nostalgic visits to France during her 20s.
“It kind of happened because I couldn’t really figure out my wine list when we first opened (the girl & the fig in Glen Ellen). I had a really small amount of money, and I could only afford 10-12 wines. I ended up going downtown to the Wine Exchange and bought everything that was a Rhône varietal, just kind of reaching back to my time in France,” she said. “Being young and impressionable for someone in food and wine, I always loved how food tasted better with a lot of those wines.”
Around the same time she opened the restaurant, Rhône varietals were beginning to appear in California, the Rhône Rangers organization was founded, and by the early 2000s, the popularity of Rhône varietals started to grow. She’s now produced 14 small-production wines — all rhônes — the result of partnering with several different winemakers.
When the opportunity came around for her to open a tasting room at Sonoma Roadside, Bernstein looked at it as a chance to educate more people on Rhône wines, everything from syrah and viognier to grenache and cinsault.
“I want to create an experience that’s a little different from the experience you would typically have in wine country. I love drinking certain chardonnays and most pinots, but I was like, ‘How do we kind of stand out? How do we make it different?’” she said.
“We turn people on to some of this stuff, and try to take the intimidation factor out of it. There’s people that come in and say, ‘You don’t have a chardonnay?’ And, I’m like, ‘Sorry, I don’t have sushi either.’ I get to make those choices and I do believe I can please them all. If someone will let themselves go, I believe there are wines here that they will like.”
After a long year of renovating the building, The Rhône Room finally opened up at Sonoma Roadside in September. But, after everything that happened with the North Bay fires, which stopped just a block away from Sonoma Roadside, Bernstein said it feels like she had to do the opening all over again this winter.
The Rhône Room serves Bernstein’s “House Wines” in addition to rhône wines from other producers. Visitors can opt for four tasters of wine for $10 (waived with a purchase), buy a flight, or taste by the glass or bottle. Out back, The Rhône Room has a patio next to the culinary garden, which Bernstein calls The Farm.
At less than an acre, she said that less than five percent of the girl & the fig produce comes from the garden. So like the tasting room, it serves mostly an educational purpose.
“I think it teaches us all so much about the land. We’re getting stuff from it that we use for our specials throughout the weekend, but I also really care a lot about buying stuff from our locals,” she said.
The Farm also sometimes offers tours, scavenger hunts for kids, viticulture workshops and meet-and-greets with the chickens.
“People are fascinated,” said Bernstein. “They can leave their glass here and wander through, and obviously when it’s really full and beautiful, people love it.”
Sonoma Roadside is located at 20820 Broadway, Sonoma. Harvest Home and Fat Pilgrim are open daily, 11 a.m.—5 p.m. (10 a.m.—5 p.m. on Sunday). The Rhône Room is open Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.—5 p.m., and by appointment Monday-Thursday.