When there’s a chill in the air there’s a warm welcome at Sonoma County wine tasting rooms. The hospitality of Wine Country is a great pairing with the holiday season: A place to visit where you’re welcome to linger awhile, join in on free-flowing conversation, all while sipping wine. Gifts abound, even for the non-wine lovers on your list. And even if there’s no lazy curl of smoke rising above the tasting room chimney, wineries are a good place to warm your hands in the winter — cool wine caves are often actually warmer than outside: a steady 55 to 60 degrees!
Sonoma County’s classic holiday wine tasting destination, Korbel is 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, which ends with a sparkling “California Champagne” in the winery’s vintage tasting room that’s decorated for the season — lights, tree, and ornaments.
There may be no Sonoma County winery that goes as all-out on Christmas as this relative newcomer, which opened in 2011. Perched atop a hill at the “gate” of the Sonoma Carneros region, Ram’s Gate runs the fireplaces well into the day in most seasons — during the holiday season, they add fir trees and wreaths, park a crimson 1954 MG Convertible (a “Santa’s sleigh,” of sorts, filled with wine gifts) and offer a peek into what’s naughty and nice, wine-wise.
Furnished grandly in the modern rustic style, the winery’s star attraction year-round is wine and food pairings with chef-prepared micro-entrées like duck cassoulet with bacon and huckleberries.
History comes alive at Buena Vista. Founded in 1857 by “Count” Agoston Haraszthy, it was Sonoma County’s first commercial winery. While the focus is on classic Sonoma County varietal wines, you can also toast to the future of the past here with Champagne.
Cave tour alert: Tours of the restored, 1860s champagne cellars are available daily — sometimes led by “the Count” himself. Or just warm yourself by the fire in a tasting room filled with historic artifacts.
This monastically styled, picturesque Sonoma Valley winery can be counted on for fine scenery outside, and holiday decor inside. The tasting room is well stocked with wine-related gifts, and there’s a gourmet deli for lunching outside on Sonoma County’s warmer winter days.
Holiday favorites include Gewürztraminer, late-harvest Riesling, and Cinq Cépages Bordeaux-styled blend.
A curl of smoke above this Dry Creek Valley winery makes it a welcome sight on dark winter days, when it appears out of the gloom like a mountain lodge. Cozy up to a pour of Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon by the stone hearth at this warmly lit, redwood-paneled tasting room, or sit down under a candelabra in the barrel room.
This one’s on the list as much for the gift-shopping angle as the wines: Famed director Francis Coppola is said to personally ponder over and approve — if not downright invent — every item of merchandise for sale in the tasting room.
It’s a sprawling chateau-cum-film museum, displaying highlights from the director’s career, as well as a wide variety of wines for every taste, from Sofia sparkling wine for holiday toasting, to some serious Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
A Sonoma County favorite of sparkling wine is sparkling like never before, thanks to a recent remodel.
Although the fireplace is gone, the updated interior has the look of a modern-era ski lodge, and the view from the terrace of this Spanish-styled winery can be enjoyed with the accompaniment of an expanded menu of treats, to pair with holiday-favorite sparkling wines. Wine caves, too!
Cozy inside, with a wood stove to warm by on gloomy days, and paneled in knotty wood, on the outside the tasting room at Mill Creek looks like nothing so much as the image on a tin of holiday cookies — only the snow is missing to complete the scene. You’re likely to meet the family at Mill Creek, if they’re not busy working in the loft upstairs.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.