All Sonoma County may seem as green as a garden in springtime: hills are lush with grass after the rains, trees have leafed out, and grapevine buds have greeted the sun. But there’s a lot more to see and appreciate, botanically speaking, at Sonoma County wineries than the celebrated “bloom” of the grapevines—which isn’t really much to see, since the flowers are so tiny!
If your passion is for horticulture, or you just enjoy a quiet stroll in hidden tea garden, start your journey at one of these Sonoma County wineries that offer a surprising diversity of gorgeous gardens. From the first tulips of spring to the fruits of summer and fall color, winery gardens range from ornamental to culinary, while some are integral working parts of the biodynamic system of the vineyard.
Winery garden central in Dry Creek Valley, Ferrari-Carano’s Italianate Villa Fiore visitor center and winery is surrounded by four acres of gardens.
Call the “Tulip Hotline” (707.433.5349) in late winter and early spring for an update on the first blooms; roses step it up in spring, and owner Rhonda Carano makes sure that there are flowers blooming year-round. Perfect for meditation, quiet conversation, or canoodling, the secluded tea garden is outfitted with benches and gazebos along meandering paths, and bridges over burbling streams.
Garden enthusiasts may know Longue Vue House and Gardens. Inspired by that famous New Orleans estate, which was owned by her grandparents, Matanzas Creek founder Sandra McIver planted her Bennett Valley winery estate with the assistance of landscape designer Gary Ratway. The naturalistic gardens feature soft colors of native plants and drought-hardy Mediterranean plants, culminating in three acres of lavender.
In June, the winery celebrates the blossoming lavender with the Days of Wine & Lavender event. The gardens have become a popular spot for marriage proposals, notably in the “secret garden” next to the lavender field. “So far out of seventeen proposals, we’ve had seventeen, I do’s,” says estate manager Bradford Yoell.
Roses greet the visitor at the entrance to K–J’s flagship visitor center in Fulton, just north of Santa Rosa along the 101 freeway. Venture to the right and find a whole lot more: a two-and-a-half acre botanical and viticultural extravaganza. Wander the viticultural demonstration vineyard, where each short row of grapevines is labeled with the varietal, from Cabernet to Symphony.
Around the gazebo, the red and white wine sensory gardens suggest “affinity” pairings of plants with aromas you might find in some wines—lemon verbena, for instance. Further on, find edible flowers and tomatoes galore—the Heirloom Tomato Festival is held here each September.
Set along quiet West Dry Creek Road, Quivira’s gardens are more than pretty to see: they’re a learning opportunity to better understand the winery’s Biodynamic practices.
Quivira grows herbs for their preparations, which are made in a “preparations tower” in the center of the garden. They also grow herbs and vegetables that are sold to restaurants in Healdsburg, and keep bees and chickens, as well.
The setting is bucolic, but you must sign up for the popular tractor-train tour to discover Benziger’s most important gardens: to farm this Sonoma Mountain hillside with sustainable and Biodynamic methods, the winery created insectaries, or islands of gardens specially suited to beneficial insect habitat.
Tours, tastings and picnic table seating are all available in Cline’s extensive, parklike grounds. Feed carp in the ponds, say hello to a collection of rescued exotic birds, and stop to smell one of 5,000 roses on the property on the path to the California Missions Museum.
The owners of this small family winery have made creative use of the naturally rocky, hillside setting above the Russian River Valley. They created a Japanese-style water garden along a path that winds through massive boulders, offering quiet places to sit and sip wine while listening to the murmuring of water.
An unassuming shrub turns out to be a rare, 200-year-old dwarf sequoia at this secluded estate, which is said to be the smallest sparkling wine house in California. The gardens were designed by 20th century landscape architect Thomas Church, who has been called the father of the modern “California” landscaping style. Tours are by appointment only, and include a tasting of exquisite sparkling wine.
Many people fondly remember actor Raymond Burr as “Perry Mason,” and other roles over his long career. Far fewer may know him as a preeminent orchid grower who, along with and his partner Robert Benevides, registered more than 250 new hybrids. Tours of the greenhouse are available by appointment on weekends only at 11am.
A romantic wine castle—more in the style of a French abby, actually—set against a backdrop of volcanic peaks, Chateau St. Jean reveals a garden of roses and dwarf citrus behind its courtyard walls.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.