Best wine country chocolate souvenir
When we stopped by Wine Country Chocolates’ Glen Ellen location on our summer chocolateering road trip, we found it was closed that day. Luckily, we happened to be there as the chocolatiers were loading up their van, and they told us we could visit their shop on Sonoma Plaza or see them that evening at the farmers market in the plaza.
First wine country chocolate tasting room
We were sorry we couldn’t check out the Glen Ellen shop because it was the first chocolate tasting shop opened in Sonoma County (2006). Plus you can watch them making chocolates there through a window into their kitchen, which is always interesting.
Luckily for us, the shop’s location, Jack London Village, is interesting in itself. The site and structures were originally a sawmill, and it still sports the waterwheel used to power the mill. Over time, it was converted to a grist mill, a winery, and finally to the eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, and public art it is today.
The location has a lot of levels, nooks and crannies, and lots of wood exteriors. It reminded me of Oakland’s own Jack London Village, demolished in the early 2000s, but a similarly funky wood-clad outdoor mall with lots of little shops and eateries. It’s a charming place for a chocolatier.
Easy & fun chocolate shopping
After strolling about the premises, we hopped back in the car and drove over to Sonoma, which is also historically charming, to visit the other Wine Country Chocolates shop. It’s in a cute commercial alley off the plaza in downtown Sonoma and open 7 days a week, so it’s a more convenient location than the Glen Ellen shop.
While it is missing the open-kitchen attraction of the Glen Ellen shop, the Sonoma Plaza shop is plenty entertaining with a riot of chocolate offerings displayed with energetically handwritten signs. Not counting the bonbons, there over 30 different chocolate confections from molded and dipped chocolates to bars, barks, mediants, toffee, and caramels, and even more unusual offerings like sugar-free chocolates, antioxidant bars, rocky road, and non-pareils.
They are no slouches when it comes to bonbons either: The day we were there, there were 27 different types of bonbons in the case, ranging from fruits and nuts to spices and booze. I feel confident that no matter what your chocolate leanings are, you will find something to like here, whether it’s a bonbon flavor or one of the other chocolate offerings.
Simple, free tastings
Like the original shop, there are free chocolate tastings, with no reservations. It’s quite no frills, though. When we visited, there were 3 containers of chocolate discs, each with different cacao percentages, which you could help yourself to, and one flavored ganache (apricot the day we visited) served on tasting spoons.
They use Guittard chocolate, so both the discs and ganache were good quality; and we thought the apricot ganache was particularly yummy: tangy, not too sweet, and distinctively apricot. We even included one of the apricot bonbons in our sample box because we liked it so much. When we had it later, we could smell both apricot and chocolate before we bit into it. (The piece of dried apricot on top might have helped.) The dark chocolate shell was good and provided a nice texture contrast with the soft ganache and chewy dried apricot.
Hard to go wrong
We liked all of the bonbons we bought, but thought some were especially good. The Elvis, with layers of peanut butter and banana inside, smelled of banana first, then peanut butter. It had that wonderful grainy Reeses peanut butter texture, but in a dark chocolate shell (which I prefer) The 3 flavors were balanced initially, but the banana taste lasting the longest.
Like the Elvis, the rest of the bonbons were all dark chocolate. I thought I smelled rum in the crème brûlée, but the flavor was more butterscotch, which lingered. Inside the Boysenberry with Blackberry Honey dark shell was a liquid layer on top of ganache. It was very berry tasting. The honey complimented the chocolate and dark berry flavors nicely, with the berry flavor outlasting the chocolate at the end.
Dulce de Leche had a nice caramel flavor and had a toffee-ish texture with a little crunchy sugar in the middle. The Mint had a minty smell and immediate minty taste. It was a little grainy, with a good balance between the chocolate and mint, and a nice mint chocolate aftertaste. The Cappuccino Tiramisu was very chocolatey, with a really smooth ganache. It was only a little coffee-ish; I expected it to be stronger, but I liked that instead it was so chocolatey.
In addition to the bonbons, we also tried the sour cherry bark and vanilla caramels. We liked them both.
The bark was attractively packaged in a clear plastic pillow box tied with gold. We thought it would make a nice gift for people who love cherry chocolates. The bark is a 61% dark chocolate full of Montmorency cherries — no scrimping on ingredients, and no cherry liqueur to gin up the flavors. The first flavor hit was the tart dried cherries followed by really good chocolate. Simple, but satisfying.
The vanilla caramels were also good — a non-chocolate option, they were soft caramels with a pronounced vanilla flavor and a nice richness.
They know what they are doing
I think the minds behind Wine Country Chocolates, mother-and-daughter team Betty & Caroline Kelly, really get what people want from chocolate. They made their shop very exciting with a large variety of chocolates; they made the shopping experience very nice with friendly, knowledgeable staff; and they make good chocolate with quality ingredients which they sell at a reasonable price: $2 bonbons for example.
They also had the ingenious idea to sell branded cooler bags for people to stash their purchases in, which they can later use as insulated lunch boxes.
If you are looking for wine country souvenirs that aren’t bottles of wine, I recommend visiting Wine Country Chocolates in Sonoma or Glen Ellen. They have a wide variety of good quality chocolates reasonably priced, and the shopping experience is enjoyable. If you can’t make it to one of their shops, you can buy Wine Country Chocolates online.
A writer/designer, Nancy lives in Oakland with Ronnie (AKA cacaopod), her husband of many years & fellow chocolate enthusiast.