Across Sonoma County, more and more wineries are incorporating a food experience into their tastings, moving beyond complimentary crackers to offering restaurant-style meals.
What could be more Wine County romantic, after all, than enjoying a gourmet picnic alongside a great glass, all brightened by views of the vineyards?
Chateau St. Jean
Many people dream of a European style winery, and Chateau St. Jean delivers with a meticulously manicured landscape, castle style architecture and endless lawns framed by vineyards. The Charcuterie at the Chateau tasting includes fine meats andartisan cheeses plus wines flights served on the patio ($45). You can also purchase gourmet sandwiches and salads in the tasting room market, to be enjoyed at the shaded picnic tables in the fountain garden, and followed up with a game of bocce ball.
Details: Chateau St. Jean, 8555 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-257-5784.
La Cucina at VJB Vineyards & Cellars
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: VJB Vineyeards, 60 Shaw Ave., Kenwood, 707-833-2300.
The gorgeous hilltop winery offers some of the best views in Carneros, a garden that helps feed a mini farmers’ market at the winery entrance, a dining area with a community table for by-appointment chef’s tastings, and plenty of patio tables overlooking the vineyards. For a true taste of nature, a picturesque, wine-inspired epicurean picnic by the pond awaits. Start by selecting a Ram's Gate appellation wine, or upgrade to a single-vineyard bottling. Executive Chef Taylr Behnam crafts an assortment of mouthwatering delicacies to pair with your chosen wine, tucked into a real wicker basket alongside a blanket. Guests stroll through the vineyards to secluded spots nestled between the vines and a serene pond, spread out their blankets, and relax. Note that picnics are limited to seasonal availability and weather; reserve at 707-721-8700 ($175 per couple).
Details: Ram's Gate, 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-721-8700.
The fully stocked gourmet market is a fixture at this 16,000 square foot French Normandy winery known as "The Castle."
Start by tasting and selecting favorite wines at the hosted bars, then tour the manicured grounds with picnic areas shadowed by majestic, 100-year old oak trees.
After you’ve found the perfect spot, enjoy a feast of salads, sandwiches, cheeses and cookies from the winery deli. One favorite bite is the Wine Country Veggie Sammy of pesto, mozzarella, provolone, pepperoncini, sliced tomato, red onion and lettuce in a whole-grain lavash wrap, toasted on the panini grill.
Details: Ledson Winery, 7335 Sonoma Highway (Highway 12), Kenwood, 707-833-2330.
Viansa Winery & Marketplace
At this elegant Carneros winery, hosts invite you to enjoy by-the-glass wines with your picnic on the large terrace overlooking the Valley. And what a picnic - the deli and marketplace brims with wood fired pizzas, big salads, super-stuffed sandwiches, cheeses, artisan breads, pastries and, of course, more wine. The prosciutto sandwich is rich, the cheese plate is classic, and flavors can be inventive, like a lovely artichoke and garlic chicken pizza (even better followed by cookies and cream gelato).
Details: Viansa Winery, 25200 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-935-5738.
Best known for its Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, this legendary destination features in-depth tours of its historic champagne cellars and the elaborate rose garden, ending, of course, with a tasting. This is also where you can get lunch at the Korbel Delicatessen and Market, with its patio seating amid the redwoods. Gourmet sandwiches celebrate Sonoma County flavors with artisan cheeses, local produce, and meats like elegant prosciutto or juicy tri-tip.
Details: Korbel Winery, 13250 River Road, Guerneville, 707-824-7316.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Sit on the patio next to the sparkling swimming pool , and enjoy taste crepes, pizzas, salads, panini, gelato, cocktails, and wines by the glass from the Pool Café. Friendly staff will even deliver your order directly to your poolside lounge chair. You can also enjoy pizzas, salads, or sandwiches on the Rustic restaurant terrace overlooking Alexander Valley – perhaps a muffaletta, or a classic Caesar.
Details: Francis Ford Coppla Winery, 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1471.
Paradise Ridge Estate
Wander the sculpture gardens, then head to the hillside tasting room and terrace overlooking the vineyards for daily artisanal wine and cheese pairings, or the special Pizza in Paradise offered during the summer, with pizza hand made using local ingriedients and fired in the outdoor pizza oven. For a full-out picnic, Wine Club members can enjoy Picnicking in Paradise, where groups of up to six can bring their own food with the purchase of at least one bottle of wine for every two people.
Details: Paradise Ridge Winery, 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-528-9463.
Enjoy the outdoor beauty and views that only Sonoma Valley has to offer at Gunlach Bundshu, which in the warm summer months offers a relaxing and seated wine tasting in its gorgeous Vista Courtyard, under the olive trees and overlooking the pond. Guests may choose from carefully selected flights, and locally sourced food pairings are available for purchase to accompany the wines. Reservations are recommended.
Details: Gundlach-Bunschu Winery, 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma, 707-938-5277.
Picnic tables can be reserved on the graciously landscaped grounds, in view of the vineyards, pond and the old estate home, in a garden decorated with statues of turtles, donkeys and birds. The cost is $15 per hour with a two hour maximum, but each table seats eight, and you are welcome bring your own food to put on the winery’s plates. After the meal, check out the museum room showcasing California's original missions.
Details: Cline Cellars, 24737 Highway 121 (Arnold Drive), Sonoma, 707-940-4000.
Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery
The Tour, Tasting & Lunch includes a guided tour of this historic winery, wine tasting, and a gourmet bistro-style picnic lunch on the patio ($65, reservations required). Other delicious diversions include Sebastiani wines paired with artisan cheeses, or a tasting of hand-picked Scharffen Berger Chocolates paired with Sebastiani wines.
Details: Sebastiani Winery, 389 Fourth St. E., Sonoma, 707-933-3230.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.