Sebastopol is the gateway to the West County of Sonoma and it’s many gastronomic delights—restaurants, breweries, creameries and of course wineries and farms. But a gateway implies you simply pass through it on the way to somewhere else, which was the case in Sebastopol, at least until recently. While there used to be a few stops worth making in town, most of the action was found elsewhere. But not anymore.Welcome, Barlow Center!
The Barlow Center, a five-year-old outdoor food, wine and art retail complex conceived by local developer Barney Aldridge, brings many of the West County’s culinary offerings into one central location, making Sebastopol a destination in its own right.
The Barlow is built on the site of what were once apple processing facilities and other industrial, metal-sided buildings. Grapes have now surpassed apples as the local cash crop but the Barlow still pays homage to the noble Gravenstein. The buildings in the Barlow echo the location’s industrial past with uniform roll-top doors, metal facades and high ceilings. The bohemian essence of the West County is hard to capture but the Barlow gets pretty close.
The Barlow Center’s Beginnings
Guayaki Yerba Mate was on-site before the Barlow took shape and its metal, barn-like warehouse headquarters sets the visual tone for the development. The West County serves as an incubator for food and drink trends and Guayaki is a pioneer as the first brand to bring yerba mate to a wide market. The company supports the preservation and protection of South American rain forests with their fair trade certified yerba mate and is now one of the iconic lifestyle brands of Sonoma County. It’s not open to the public but the company has a huge skateboard half pipe inside its warehouse for mate-fueled skate parties.
The DIY, hands-on aesthetic of the West County is on display at the Spirit Works Distillery, makers of superb whiskey, gin and vodka, and at newcomer William Cofield, makers of British-style cheese, a bandage wrapped cheddar and a Stilton-inspired blue cheese. William Cofield operates a creamery and aging room right on site. (The first batches of cheese still have a few weeks to go before they’re ready.)
Sebastopol Food and Wine
My new Barlow Center favorite is Crooked Goat Brewery. Breweries are getting to be as common wineries in Sonoma County (it could be worse) and I was skeptical this new brewery would make it but the Barlow serves as great test market for food and drink brands and Crooked Goat is expanding into a nearby space to meet demand. In addition to their cool label (a piratical, eye-patch wearing goat) the brewery specializes in inventive, fruit and spice flavored brews and high-powered IPAs. I also like their canning machine so you can take a 32-ounce can of their beer home.
The Barlow also gets credit for appealing to both locals who don’t tolerate pretense and the commodification of the West County and tourists looking to get a taste of what the area is all about. It doesn’t get the attention of Napa Valley or San Francisco but Sebastopol in western Sonoma County is a culinary destination in its own right.
For more about Sonoma’s food and wine scene, check out our Sonoma series and be sure to send us your comments.