While bocce ball courts are a dime a dozen in California Wine Country, croquet seems to be a long lost lawn game. But like plaid and overalls, Sonoma County’s Sonoma-Cutrer Winery is bringing this leisurely sport back into style with their one-of-a-kind Chardonnay & Croquet experience.
While croquet is a time-honored tradition that traces its roots back to the UK in the late 1800s, the game of croquet at Sonoma-Cutrer goes all the way back to 1984. Set in a peaceful setting surrounded by vineyards and oak trees, their two courts are well known and revered by croquet players and fans around the world, for the winery hosted the Croquet World Championship for 17 years. Today, you are invited take a spin on Sonoma-Cutrer’s perfectly-manicured championship grass where legends still swing their wooden mallets and expertly hit balls through wickets.
Combining Sonoma-Cutrer’s premium wines (despite the experience name, you’ll get to taste a lot a lot more than chardonnay) and gourmet food with old-fashioned fun, Chardonnay & Croquet is ideal for groups — the bigger, the better — and is perfect for all sorts of occasions, from a double date to a girls’ day out. Like golf, the game may seem slow and serious, but you will be surprised how much fun you can have swinging the mallets with friends. The day completely exceeded my group’s expectations and I’m here to give you all the details. Insider Tip: I would definitely recommend getting fully into the spirit of the game and coordinating with all players to show up in traditional croquet whites. If anything, it makes for better photo ops.
We were offered a choice between enjoying our picnic lunch before or after croquet, and given our 1:00 pm start time, we chose to eat first. Besides, we would need our energy for the game ahead. Our group was seated on the Grand Terrace overlooking the croquet courts for a casual lunch, which set the stage for some friendly competition. Winery Chef Kevin Markey prepared a lovely spread of chicken sandwiches with chips, a couscous salad, and pistachio sugar cookies for dessert. This was all accompanied by mini, self-serve bottles of Sonoma-Cutrer chardonnay and pinot noir, which we were able to sip at our leisure.
While the croquet rules are simple and the game can be played by all fitness and experience levels, croquet is harder than it looks. Luckily, Sonoma-Cutrer brings in a Pro, in our case Mike, to help as you play.
We split up into teams of two players and were grouped in fours in a Round Robin Tournament format. We learned the basics of how to properly swing the croquet mallet (between our legs) and the game’s objective (get the ball through each wicket before the other team). Mike was just a few feet away from the croquet lawn whenever we needed help with strategy or attempting advanced moves, like chipping one’s ball over another, which I tried unsuccessfully. The friendly staff at Sonoma-Cutrer also brought over a delightful cheese and charcuterie board and of course, more wine. We were allowed to choose two additional bottles from their list, selecting from pinot noir, chardonnay, rosé, and sauvignon blanc — all sourced from their Sonoma County vineyards — and we even got to take the GoVino Sonoma-Cutrer wine glass home as a souvenir.
We had such a wicket good time (see what I did there?) with the first game that we decided to play one more, reconfiguring our teams from ladies vs. gents to couple vs. couple. In hindsight, we should have placed a friendly bet, as I was on the winning team both rounds!