Wine tasting in Sonoma County is often more than just about the wine – it’s savoring the gorgeous winery settings. From lavish gardens, to art displays, to creative tours, there’s something to keep everyone entertained.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
The elaborate estate on the edge of Geyserville is a wonder of resort style from one of Hollywood's famous writers and directors. It gives a great dose of glam, since the enormous European-style chateau is topped with a glass pyramid, the property boasts a giant swimming pool open to the public (seasonal), and a museum brims with movie memorabilia. Plan some time to enjoy a meal in the on-site Rustic restaurant, too.
Details: 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville.
Benziger Family Winery
The magic begins as soon as you pull up to the grand garden entrance, which is lavishly planted amid endless manicured vineyard rows trellising up and over Sonoma Mountain at the entrance to Jack London State Park. The love of the land is obvious, and proven, since all the family wines from the four estate vineyards are certified sustainable, organic or Biodynamic. Since much of the property is open to the public, it can be a lot to take in, but the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour makes it as easy as hopping on a cute little shuttle train. A 45-minute tour traverses through the grapevines, visits the fermentation facility and crush pad, and offers the chance to check out the barrel caves, all capped by a wine tasting. Just note that while walk-ups are welcome, the ride is very popular, so 24-hour advance reservations are recommended.
Details: 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen.
You can choose from one – or both – of two tasting rooms, called Villa Fiore and the Enoteca-Prevail Room. Each is architecturally grand in European style, decorated in luxury with touches like mahogany and black granite, accented by Renaissance murals and an elaborate gift shop, plus cobblestone floor cave. But save time to soak up the five acres of gardens, too, which bloom with more than 10,000 tulips and daffodils in the spring, and wow in the fall with Italian/French style geometric plantings, more than 2000 species of trees and shrubs, fountains, sculptures, and rare-to-the-area specimens like Portuguese cork trees.
Details: 8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg.
The hilltop estate defines “majesty,” overlooking the breathtaking beauty of Sonoma Valley and accented with its own vineyards, olive groves and wetlands. The Tuscan inspired architecture fits Sonoma’s lovely Mediterranean weather, and just as in Italy, there is plenty of great food to go with the great wine. First stop: a tasting, to discover your favorite wines. Second stop: the Marketplace, to pack a picnic of gourmet foods. The estate produces many of its own specialties, such as conserves, marinades, oils, vinegars, vinaigrettes, tapenades, glazes, honey, mustards, and pasta and pizza sauces, and many products are dashed with a delicious bit of wine. Enjoy a complimentary tasting at the food cart, then fill your basket with your favorite fresh made sandwiches, salads, antipasti, soups, and fruit salads. The patio is a wonderful place to lunch or snack, on the edge of the wetlands where more than 500 species of birds that have been spotted. Just added: a new Private Outlook Tasting, in a cozy cabana overlooking the wetlands – it includes a flight of reserve wines paired with locally sourced cheeses.
Details: 25200 Arnold Drive, Sonoma.
This is a wonderful place to learn about the remarkable history of wines, and how they’re made. This legendary winery features in-depth tours of its historic champagne cellars, ending, of course, with a tasting. The 50-minute expedition explores the museum, with artifacts dating back to the winery’s founding in 1882, to its current status as largest volume producer of premium traditional Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine in the United States. There’s also brandy and still wines, and lunch or a snack at the Delicatessen and Market is a must, lounging on the patio and deck amid the redwoods. Gardens originally planted in the 1880s can be viewed year-round, as the landscape shifts with the seasons and the Sonoma County weather – one highlight is the many antique rose varietals.
Details: 13250 River Road, Guerneville.
Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857, this is the oldest commercial winery in California, complete with caves that are actual historical landmarks. The aging tombs have recently been renovated for modern safety measures, and now are decorated salon style with elaborate gilded tasting bars, chandeliers and period costumed mannequins. Guided paired tastings are the best way to explore everything, where a host first offers the barrel wine, then the finished wine, and explains the evolution. Sometimes your guide will be a fellow dressed as “The Count,” in honor of the winery’s 19th Century founder. And be sure to check out the winery artifacts museum on the upper level – the laser lit winery tools actually move and dance to a narrated soundtrack.
Details: 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma.
One of the first wineries established in the Russian River Valley back in 1975, the property was recently renovated for a European Marie Antoinette theme. That means costumed mannequins, antique art, and experiences like “Taste of France.” Here, you discover the Burgundian origins of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Or, you can don a Marie Antoinette style wig (really) and enjoy your own blending session. Pop into the ultra-chic, private JCB tasting room on-site, too, for a tasting surrounded by chandeliers, leopard skin throw wraps, a punk wig display, and laser lit barrels.
Details: 1791 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa
Paradise Ridge Winery
The views from the expansive veranda and poetry terrace at this hillside estate are gorgeous year-round, overlooking vineyards leading to the Marijke’s Grove outdoor sculpture gallery. Here, you’ll find original art pieces including a temple from Burning Man, and a giant “LOVE” sculpture that welcomes climbing and clambering. On Wednesday evenings from mid-May to mid-October, 6 p.m. to sunset, the winery hosts and official Wines & Sunsets party, featuring local food vendors and popular live music bands in addition to the wines from the Russian River Valley and the Rockpile Viticultural Area. Plan on a feast from Rosso Pizzeria, offering tableside service for wood-fired pies, flatbreads and salads.
Details: 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa
Chalk Hill Estate Winery
If horses are your passion, this 1,477-acre winery in Alexander Valley has partnered with Wine Country Trail Rides for jaunts through the vineyard, past ponds, and into the wilderness. Owner Rafael Hernandez is local professional polo player who, in competitions, leads trail rides out of the adjacent stable that used to house Olympic-caliber dressage horses. Much of the path is right along the 350 acres of vineyards planted in 60 varieties from Viognier to Malbec to Petit Verdot. Rides conclude with complimentary wine from those very grapes, enjoyed in the elegant tasting room.
Details: 10300 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg
The Belmonte family recently expanded their winery to include a Tuscan courtyard marketplace featuring La Cucina deli and espresso bar, a Neapolitan style pizza salon with an outdoor wood-fired oven, a gelato and pastry shop, and a gourmet grocery, all anchored by a large wine tasting bar. Matriarch and executive chef Maria Belmonte makes her own tomato sauces and pestos, to complement dishes including a generously stuffed prosciutto cotto and Jarlsberg panino, wood-fired garlic-lemon chicken drumsticks, white bean salad, and cheese or salumi boards decorated in olives, crostini, nuts and fruit. Guests sip and snack on the courtyard patio piazza, and sometimes, for special events, operas singers serenade from a second story balcony.
Details: 60 Shaw Avenue, Kenwood
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.