It's called “Carneros Sonoma,” and it’s one of the more secret wine regions of Sonoma Valley. One of the best-known destinations in the area is called Cornerstone, a center that spans an eclectic, nine-acre mix of lavish gardens, Sunset's Gardens + Outdoor Test Kitchen, sculptures, landscape architect installations, art and home design shops, Park 121 restaurant, periodic live music performances, and very often, assorted dogs taking their owners for walks. The Cornerstone arts, culinary and market center can be found just off of Arnold Drive-Highway 121 near the Hwy. 116-121 curve.
The Carneros Sonoma wine region is fed by the cooling breezes and fog of San Pablo Bay, the land nurtures spectacular cool climate grapes such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling wines, but also an ample array of other grapes like Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Cornerstone Sonoma property showcases three wine tasting rooms:
Eric Keating’s small-production winery sets a sleek, stylish mood with crisp gray and cream décor, gold-glowing pendant lighting, and an impressive, stocky wood bar. Specialties include Bordeaux varieties and Zinfandel, with many of the bottlings sold exclusively from the tasting room (but check with staff to discover some top notch restaurants that also carry Keating, too). Some standouts to savor include Cabernet Sauvignon from the 45 year-old Montecillo Vineyard in the Mayacamas mountain range overlooking Sonoma Valley, a Malbec and a Petite Sirah from the tiny Rockpile appellation, and Zinfandels from both Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley. Details: 23564 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
Tricycle Wine Partners owns two vineyards: Poseidon Vineyard at sea level in Carneros, and Obsidian Ridge at elevation 2,640 feet in the Mayacamas Mountains. The practice for their small-lot wines is so detailed that they cooper their own barrels, and host seminars on the artistic, traditional use of Hungarian oak. The tasting room is lovely with its rustic wood trim and landscape art, but the best seats are on the patio beneath the shade trees. Details: 3568 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
The corrugated metal cottage is so intimate that usually, there are bars set on the entry patio, too. Tom Meadowcroft specializes in Bordeaux grapes sourced from sustainable vineyards around Dry Creek, Carneros and Alexander Valley, crafting them in a salute to European wine heritage with California creativity. Stop in to taste at the bar or in the lounge, or make an appointment for a food and wine pairing with bites from neighboring Park 121. One of the most popular experiences is the Wine Country Picnic, including a gourmet lunch in the winery’s garden plus a tour of Sunset's Test Gardens – the menu is quite extensive, drawn from Park 121 or Girl & The Fig, with options like a lemon pepper tri-tip sandwich, or a salami sandwich with pears, red onion confit and brie on ciabatta. Details: 23574 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
Explore some other marvelous Carneros Sonoma wineries:
Coming up the winding drive, through the vineyards bordered by rose bushes towards the German chalet-style winery, it’s hard to imagine that there are also caves tucked into the bucolic hillside. Yet the stone structures are polished and glossy and lined with gorgeous barrels. Knowledgeable guides on the private tours offer a blend of the winery’s history, insight into the Carneros region, and an overview of Schug’s “secret” winemaking techniques. Start with a walk through the vineyard, cross over the crush pad, then continue into the winery and the wine caves where, what else, a glass of wine awaits. Details:602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma
The secret to these subtle stunners is preserving the distinctive fruit flavors and delicate aromas. Grapes are hand harvested in small lots, gently pressed, and handcrafted in the classic style of méthode champenoise for non-vintage Sonoma Brut, non-vintage Blanc de Noirs, vintage-dated Blanc de Blancs and a newly released Va de Vi. When the 335-acre Gloria Ferrer estate came on to the scene in 1986, in fact, sparkling wine was a new industry to the region, and this Spanish-inspired winery turned heads with its stylish setting, too. The winery’s sun-drenched Vista Terrace overlooks the estate vineyards, offering tastings paired with savory Spanish and local cheeses, meats, almonds and other delicacies. Details: 23555 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
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. The chef 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. Details: 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
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. 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
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.