Just one hour north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, you find yourself in California's charming wine country - Sonoma County. While it is certainly not uncommon to build castles in the air while sipping Sonoma County Chardonnay on a balmy summer day, some of our finest castles of wine are more than castles in the mind.
Over the years, inspired wine-sipping daydreamers have made good on their passion to make Sonoma County wines that rival the classic wines of Europe. And then, they marked their triumph by building European-style wine country idylls, grand chateaux, villas and, to most eyes, castles indeed, that are a pleasure to see and visit.
While we also love our wine barns, old hop kilns, and board-across-two-barrels tasting room bars, here are six top wine castles and chateaux to inspire the imagination.
Chateau St. Jean
Nestled among acres of vineyard, and beneath the dramatic volcanic cones of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in the Sonoma Valley, Chateau St. Jean might easily be mistaken for monastery in the French Alps. The buff-colored walls and red tiles roof of Chateau St. Jean evoke the monastic tradition of winemaking.
Built in the 1970s, the Chateau is named after a woman named Jean, so that’s how “St. Jean” is pronounced. Dwarf orange trees and roses grace the Mediterranean-style courtyard garden, a nice place to stroll or sit under shade at bistro tables.
Savor wines in the main tasting room; or sip limited releases in the reserve wines room in the adjacent “chateau,” which is actually a 1920 vacation home that preceded the winery. Stroll the Mediterranean-styled gardens, which are considered some of the most beautiful in Sonoma County. Enjoy a flight of wines paired with delicious local cheeses and charcuterie served on the romantic chateau patio, or splurge with the Cinq Reves Tasting, a rare opportunity to taste through a selection of older vintage Chateau St. Jean fine wines including the flagship Cinq Cepages.
8555 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-4134; open daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; tasting fee, $15 main, $25 reserve, $45 Charcuterie, $75 Cinq Reves.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery
Dressed in lush, green ivy and fringed with perfectly trimmed privets, Jordan very much appears like the Bordeaux chateau that Tom Jordan aimed to purchase before settling in the Alexander Valley.
It was a good move: Jordan’s Cabernet Sauvignon often ranks among American restaurateurs’ favorite brands. Take in the view from the upstairs library, then enter a dimly-lit parlor for a tasting seminar with wine paired with gourmet bites from the chef.
Thoroughly modern in their outlook, Jordan is now solar-powered, grows sustainable gardens, and offers a luxury bus tour of the property capped with a hilltop tasting (three hours, $120 per person).
1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, 800-654-1213; by appointment only; tasting fees vary.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
This Second French Empire-styled chateau is set among low, oak woodland hills in Alexander Valley.
There’s a bit of Denmark here, too, in that director Francis Ford Coppola’s renovation of the former Chateau Souverain called for an amusement park theme that echoes Copenhagen’s famed Tivoli Gardens.
Under its mansard roof and towers, modified with glass pyramid peaks by Coppola, the winery houses the director’s movie memorabilia like movie mobster Vito Corleone’s desk, Apocalypse Now “heads,” and the fully-rigged model warship from Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
The restaurant and terrace sport a smashing Alexander Valley view, and the poolside reservation system ensures that everyone is treated, if not like royalty, at least to their own chaise lounge and umbrella.
Read also: Winopolis: Francis Ford Coppola Winery Offers Something for Everyone.
300 Via Archemides, Geyserville, 707-857-1400; open daily, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; tasting fees vary.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
Wine castle, of wine Castile? No, silly, it’s Catalonian. This winery, set in the rolling hills of the Carneros region in southern Sonoma County, was designed to evoke both the historical California missions and the heritage of the Catalonian family, owners of the Freixenet cava brand.
Gloria Ferrer makes some of Sonoma County’s most popular, “go-to” sparkling wines.
Take the sparkling wine discovery tour — hold on there, Don Quixote, don’t joust with that giant, it’s Robbie the wine-bottling robot — and then settle on the terrace overlooking the Carneros wine region, or by the hearth, to enjoy sparkling wine flights and light snacks.
23555 Highway 121, Sonoma, 707-996-7256; open daily, 10 a.m.–4:45 p.m.; tasting fees vary.
Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery
Wine castle Italian-style, Ferrari-Carano’s “Villa Fiore” sits amid the winery’s Dry Creek Valley home vineyard.
Tea gardens invite strolling on the grounds, while downstairs, the Villa’s atmospherically-illuminated barrel room is one of the area’s most evocative of the old cellars of Europe.
The best wine tasting is in the adjacent Enoteca wine-tasting bar in a dramatic underground cellar.
8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-6700; open daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; tasting fees vary; guided tours by appointment only Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.
Ledson Winery & Vineyards
Lo, see you not this bastion of stone, looming above a vineyard verdant? Ledson gets top billing as Sonoma County’s wine castle because of its perfect pairing of gothic spires and archways with the rugged, mountainous backdrop of this particularly scenic stretch of the Sonoma Valley.
The style is French Normandy, not Valhalla, and it was originally built as a family residence. So many would-be wine tasters drove up to check it out, however, that the owner took the hint and opened his winery’s tasting room here.
Inside, it’s handsomely furnished, has private rooms and a second-floor seating area, and a full deli. Picnic grounds under the oaks.
Read also: Ledson Winery: The Castle in Kenwood, Sonoma Valley
7335 Highway 12, Kenwood, 707-537-3810; open daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; tasting fees $15-$47.