Is the winter holiday season the best time to visit Sonoma County wineries? It is hard to pick a favorite: in spring, the weather is fine and the wine has mellowed in barrel, ready for early sampling; in summer, the vineyards are green and the wine cellars are nice and cool; in the fall, the buzz of the crush creates excitement. Let’s just say that the winter holidays are in the top four.
And here are four excellent reasons to visit Sonoma County wine country over the holidays:
1. Warm your hands: In the winter, cool wine caves and cellars are often actually warmer than outside: a steady 55 to 60 degrees. And some wineries have a fire going, making the tasting room cozy.
2. Weekend traffic headed for malls, shopping centers and movie theaters is headed in the opposite direction of a weekend drive through wine country.
3. Many wineries bottle before harvest, in July and August, and then release the wines after they’re settled down, in the late fall and winter.
4. Sparkling wines for the holidays—need we say more?
Korbel is Sonoma County’s classic holiday wine tasting destination. Nestled in the redwoods above the Russian River, this iconic winery was founded in 1882, and the original red brick building houses a visitor center with a mini movie theater and museum. Check in for a free tour at the historic railroad station, and cap it off with a tasting of still and sparkling wines in the winery’s vintage tasting room that’s decorated for the season, lights, tree and all. Then, pick out your own gourmet cheese and charcuterie selection at the Korbel deli. Wine highlights include sparkling rouge and Korbel’s top-end cuvée, Le Premier.
Details:13250 River Road, Guerneville 95446.
History has come alive at Buena Vista, Sonoma County’s original commercial winery, founded in 1857 by “Count” Agoston Haraszthy. While the focus is on classic, Sonoma County varietal wines, you can also toast to the future of the past here with French champagne. Tours of the restored, 1860s champagne cellars and Wine Tool Museum are available daily—often led by “the Count” himself. Or just warm yourself by the crackling fire in a tasting room filled with historic artifacts. Stuffed lion (pictured on a visit to Buena Vista during the 2014 holiday season) may not be included, but watch for the crocodile.
Details: 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476
Often called Sonoma County’s “wine castle,” Ledson is actually styled like a Normandy chateau. But few wineries match it for dramatic visuals, and the holidays are the perfect time to visit, when the interior is decked out with poinsettias and the gothic spires are draped with holiday lights. A wine range of wines, plus a full deli.
Details: 7335 Hwy. 12, Kenwood, CA 95409
Count on this picturesque Sonoma Valley winery for holiday decor inside, pretty scenery outside, and a well-stocked tasting room with lots of wine-related gift ideas. Wines include Chateau St. Jean’s highly regarded Cinq Cépages Bordeaux-styled blend, and classic late harvest Riesling.
Details: 8555 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452
The curl of smoke above this Dry Creek Valley winery makes it a welcome sight on dark winter days. Built in the style of a mountain lakeside lodge, Lambert Bridge offers the warmth of a large, stone hearth inside. Cozy up to a pour of Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon in the warmly lit, redwood-paneled tasting room, or sit down under candelabra for a gourmet food pairing (limited schedule) in the barrel room.
Details: 4085 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Holiday wine in European Christmas markets means glühwein and glögg, hot, spiced beverages that warm the hands and the spirit on chilly winter days. Dry Creek Valley’s West Wines, run by Swedish expats Bengt Akerlind and Katarina Bonde, serves glögg and cookies amid Swedish Christmas decor, November 27 through 29, 2015.
Details: 1000 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Double up on stocking stuffer shopping and wine sipping at this rambling winery and wine country gourmet food products collective. Taste olive oil at Dry Creek Olive Company & Trattore wines, find gifts and sauces while sampling boutique wines at Family Wineries Tasting Room, and stock up on family-made bag-in-a-box Sonoma County Zinfandel at Peterson Winery.
Details: 4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.