Wine Country Experiences Sonoma County

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE that stunning Sonoma County—with its more than 55 miles of Pacific coastline, mighty redwood forests,and valley after fertile valley of family farms that yield a bounty of produce—lies in such close proximity to a big city. 

Published: 7/14/2016

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE that stunning Sonoma County—with its more than 55 miles of Pacific coastline, mighty redwood forests,and valley after fertile valley of family farms that yield a bounty of produce—lies in such close proximity to a big city. When it comes to wine country experiences, Sonoma County has so much to offer, starting with more than 425 wineries and 17 distinct wine growing areas. Besides a splendid and varied terrain and plenty of legendary wine, there are unique resorts and spas, quiet country roads,coast and sea villages, more than 50 state and regional parks, and oodles of farmers’ markets and locavore restaurants that list their ingredients and farms of origin on their menus.The only hard part about visiting Sonoma County is deciding where to begin!

Terrific tastings

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards offers a widely acclaimed multicourse Wine & Food Pairing at three different seatings five days per week. Executive Chef Bryan Jones creates an assortment of small dishes to pair with hand-selected St. Francis artisan wines. Guests enjoy a fine dining presentation at a shared table with stunning views of the winery’s Wild Oak Estate Vineyard and the Mayacamas Mountains.

The production of Sparkling wine is a fascinating process, and Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards guides guests through each step in its Bubbles and Bites experience.The 90-minute adventure starts with a private tour followed by a guided tasting conducted by a wine educator. The special pairing of seasonal bites and wines is held in the winery’s spectacular Vista Room, which affords splendid vineyard views.

For a relaxing and educational tasting in the Dry Creek Valley, Papapietro Perry’s Pinot on the Patio is a fun seated tasting of five distinct Pinot Noirs served in Riedel stemware, paired with carefully chosen cheeses that leave you wondering where the wine ends and the cheese begins. Located just off Dry Creek Road, the winery provides views of the Dry Creek Valley.

On weekends Seghesio Family Vineyards offers the Family Tables experience: lunch featuring the most exclusive wines from the Seghesio library paired with Chef Peter Janiak’s seasonal recipes. Guests are given a tour of the barrel cellar, samples of house-cured salumi, and led into the Founder’s Room for this unique private dining experience.

Interesting places

The grounds where Fountaingrove Inn and The Steakhouse @ Equus now stand were the site of a late-1870s commune, which included a winery that produced 90 percent of the region’s wine.The Round Barn, built in 1899, still stands today and points the way to a great place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a very special hotel with an award-winning concierge who’ll put you in touch with many more local experiences.

In 1908, Frank Nervo Sr. hired contractor and stone mason Peter Moroni to build a winery building that would resist earthquakes. Constructed with a cement floor, heavy-linked chains, and massive floor joists, the Old Stone Building now serves as Trione Vineyards & Winery’s spectacular event center. It is open for arranged tours that give guests a great historical perspective.

Reminiscent of those found in the south of France, the gardens at Chateau St. Jean are considered some of the county’s most beautiful.The elegant landscape is meticulously maintained and provides an ideal picnic spot, with benches and tables set around the property. With so many gardens to choose from, you may have a hard time deciding where to sit!

Zzzzs & B&Bs

Shhhh…hh! The small barrel room and tasting area at Tara Bella Winery has a secret upstairs: a gorgeous room and balcony overlooking the vines.They call it “the B,” short for bed-and -breakfast. If you want to tuck yourself in among the vineyards and wake up to birds singing in the morning and all the basic creature comforts except a TV, call them and tell them we sent you. The stunning Sonoma Coast is romantic, wild, and home to Bodega Bay Lodge & Spa and The Inn at the Tides. These cozy retreats are great starting points for many adventures from sampling Hogg Island oysters and artisan cheeses and canoeing the Russian River to hiking the Redwood Forest and taking a scenic drive along the Sonoma Coast.

Wine savvy

Each week, the wine educator at Anaba Wines chooses a different focus for the wine education experience, a one-hour session offered Fridays through Mondays. Anything including viticulture, harvest news, barrel samples, fermentation practices, wine pairings, and sensory evaluations might be covered, and guests are invited to get involved.

Patz & Hall’s latest educational offering provides an in-depth perspective on the characteristics of a specific sub-appellation in Sonoma County. Using its single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs as the reference, the characteristics of their vineyards are explored. The 90- minute session is led by a wine educator in the Sonoma House.

For a focus on the renowned Russian RiverValley, Gary Farrell Winery’s Sense of Place Terroir Tasting, often led by a certified sommelier, is an educational experience. Guests are guided through a curated flight of current and library release wines—six exceptional single vineyard wines from the Russian River Valley and beyond— with artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, dried fruits, and nuts.

For a better understanding of gravity flow winemaking, make a reservation in advance for a tour at Moshin Vineyards. Founded by a former San Jose State University math instructor, the winery’s four-tier system is built into the slope of the land. There’s no such thing as a silly question at this friendly winery, so ask away.

Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery’s Historical Vines & Wine Vineyard Tour & Tasting begins in the winery’s historical Mission Vineyard where, conditions permitting, you can sample grapes right off the vine. In just a little more than an hour, you will gain a good deal of knowledge about the history and viticulture of Sonoma County.

Just chillin’

The iconic Castle at Ledson Winery & Vineyards really knows how to make guests feel welcome. After you’ve had a chance to admire the spectacular staircase and foyer, you’ll be guided to the tasting of your choice at one of four general bars or a private tasting hosted upstairs in a tasting suite. Afterward, visit the gourmet marketplace, have a picnic under the oaks, and then head to Sonoma Plaza where you can dine and stay at Ledson Hotel.

Madrone Estate at Valley of the Moon Winery rests in a beautiful setting amidst 100- year-old vines. On Thursdays through Saturdays, the winery offers an exquisite estate reserve tasting featuring five limited-production winery exclusive wines paired with artisan cheeses and charcuterie to those who make reservations in advance.

Every other Sunday morning, Comstock Wines Estate Vineyards hosts Yoga in the Vineyard, an hour-long gentle, invigorating yoga class for all levels, taught by local yoga instructors. A refreshing glass of Sauvignon Blanc and continental breakfast follows.

The grounds of White Oak Vineyards and Winery are great for a picnic after a wine tasting inside. Make a reservation in advance for a seated tasting of five wines paired with special bites and enjoy the new bistro-style tables created from old oak barrels. After your tasting, explore the two-story art gallery and then settle in for your picnic in the courtyard near the giant gorilla sculpture.

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2016 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.