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Wine Tasting Itinerary: Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys in 3 Days

A "long weekend in Sonoma Wine Country" has a great ring to it. However, in a region that includes 17 unique wine regions and more than 400 wineries, just figuring out where to begin can be overwhelming. But there's no need to stress! We're taking the guesswork out of your wine weekend with a three-day guide to sipping, swirling, and sleeping in some of Sonoma County's (and the world's) greatest appellations: the Alexander Valley, the Dry Creek Valley, and the Russian River Valley.

Alexander Valley

Wake up refreshed for your first day in Wine Country at one of Geyserville's small, historic lodges. Founded in the mid-1800s when geothermal springs were discovered nearby, Geyserville's managed to retain its small-town charm in the modern era. For an overnight experience that's as quaint as Geyserville itself, sleep in the Victorian Hope-Merrill House bed and breakfast, or opt for the airy and affordable Geyserville Inn.

It's a good idea to fuel up before you start swigging. If your inn doesn't offer breakfast, make a pit stop downtown for coffee and pastries at Geyserville Mud, or, for something a bit heartier, opt for French toast, omelets, or benedicts down the street at the Geyserville Grille (formerly Hoffman House).

From Geyserville's town center, it's a few miles' drive down Redwood Highway to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Whether this is your first wine tasting experience or your 1,000th, we guarantee you've never seen anything like this. The "Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now" director combines a little bit of everything he loves at his wine wonderland: Italian food, vines, and of course movies. Indulge in lunch at the onsite restaurant Rustic; taste "director's cut" Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Noir; and ogle memorabilia from Coppola's movies, including the car from "Tucker," costumes from "Apocalypse Now," Don Corleone's desk, and even a few Oscar statuettes.

There's more Italian food on the menu north of the winery at Catelli's, a third-generation-owned Geyserville classic specializing in handmade ravioli and other California-inspired cuisine from the old country.

After your first taste of wine country at Coppola, head out to Route 128, just east of Redwood Highway. De Lorimier Winery, just across the Russian River from Catelli's, is known as a destination for both wine and art. Sip award-winning Zinfandels in the winery's gallery/tasting room while admiring local paintings, or stroll the winery's extensive gardens (you can even bring your own picnic for an al-fresco lunch). 

As you continue southeast on Route 128, you'll start passing more wineries than you could possibly visit. Luckily, you can't go wrong no matter which direction you choose. Try Hawkes Winery for Chardonnay and Merlot with rolling vineyard views, Soda Rock Winery for Bordeaux-style varietals in a laid-back setting, or make a quick detour onto Alexander Valley Road, where Jordan Winery offers estate tours and tastings by appointment. 

Feeling tired already? Better get some rest, because tomorrow's a new day with lots of new wines to discover!

Reset your system in style with a night at Healdsburg's elegant Madrona Manor Wine Country Inn & Restaurant, a stunning country-chic boutique property that's been ranked as one of the best hotels in the world. For something a bit more low-key, try the Irish Rose Inn, offering both cottage and traditional B&B-style lodging.

Dry Creek Valley

After breakfast at your inn, head into downtown Healdsburg. Famous for its boutique shopping, country-chic cafes, and lovely town square, Healdsburg is the perfect spot to spend a few hours warming up for a day of wine tasting.

If you're eager to get started right away, Healdsburg's town center is just as well equipped for wine tasting as it is for leisurely strolls. In fact, dozens of local wineries, including Toad Hollow Vineyards, Ferrari-Carano, and Stonestreet, have tasting rooms scattered around the town center.

For a more vineyard-centric experience, spend the day exploring another Sonoma County appellation, the Dry Creek Valley. Drive North on Dry Creek Road and you'll discover a mix of high-end, high-design wine castles and mom-and-pop charmers.

Once on Dry Creek Road, you'll soon see road signs pointing you in so many directions, you may not know which way to look. At Mauritson Winery you can sample everything from Cabernet to Rose. Less than a mile away, the family-owned Dry Creek Vineyard offers a variety of tasting experiences, lovely picnic grounds, warm hospitality, and free Wi-Fi. 

A bit further up Dry Creek Road, don't miss the Dry Creek General Store. A grocery by day and old-school country tavern by night, the store sells fresh deli sandwiches and other goodies perfect for a vineyard picnic.

As you continue North on Dry Creek Road, you'll pass dozens of wineries, all worth a stop. But if you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, there are a few standouts.

The Family Wineries Dry Creek Tasting Room brings together the wines of six different small, family vineyards, making it an easy stop for lots of variety. Further up Dry Creek Road, near the turnoff for Yoakim Bridge Road, don't miss the Yoakim Bridge Vineyards & Winery. Here, the wine is made, sold, and poured by the couple that owns the place, and they're full of both personality and anecdotes (don't leave without a jar of the raspberry sauce crafted and sold on-site by the duo of former culinary school students).

A bit further down Yoakim Bridge Road, just off West Dry Creek Road, Raymond Burr Vineyards is the eponymous former estate of the star of TV's "Perry Mason." Today, the winery's just as famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon as it is for its collection of Burr memorabilia.

Keep cruising up West Dry Creek Road and you'll eventually hit Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, that rare destination that manages to hit the perfect balance of swanky and laid-back. All tasting experiences here are itinerant: guests sip each glass in a different location on the property.

The last stop is inside Bella's gorgeous wine caves — this is one of just a handful of wineries in the area that allow walk-in cave tastings.Outside, the winery is all back-yard BBQ vibes: play bean-bag toss or work a hula-hoop while you sip Zinfandel on the sunny lawn.

If you stay to the east on Dry Creek Road, make your northernmost stop Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery. This splashy wine palace is done up in the style of a fabulous Italian villa, with European-style gardens and vineyard views to match. Tasting menus are tailored to preferences for white or red, Pinot or Cab, and everything in between. On your way back stop at Wilson Winery, a small boutique Dry Creek Valley winery with a great vineyard view from its tasting deck.

Call it a day at the Raford Inn, an 1880 plantation-style B&B with a long porch that's perfect for watching twilight fall over the vineyards.

In nearby Forestville, the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant is consistently ranked as one of the top hotels in the world. Legendary for its luxurious rooms and a restaurant where the local bounty stars, this may be one of the most splurge-worthy spots in all of Sonoma County. If you choose not to have dinner at the inn's on-site restaurant, try going local at Backyard, whose menu changes with the season and, often, the day.

Russian River Valley

Go all-out for your last breakfast of the wine tour - you'll be glad you did once you're out tasting in the Russian River Valley. Sample the excellent morning menus at the Raford or the Farmhouse Inn, or, in Healdsburg, try some southern fare at the popular Parish Café. This New Orleans-style restaurant has won legions of loyal locals with favorites like breakfast po' boy sandwiches, bananas Foster pain perdu, and café au lait with chicory.

This afternoon is all about the Russian River Valley appellation. Start your journey by heading West on the aptly named River Road.

You can follow the same road all the way out to Korbel Champagne Cellars, arguably one of the most famous names in sparkling wine. A few glasses of bubbly make for a light and easy first tasting of the day.

Of course, if you view sparkling wine as more of an aperitif, there are great dining options nearby for a post-tasting lunch. In Guerneville, a bit further west on River Road, you'll find a vacation paradise on the banks of the Russian River.

The town's main street is lined with cafes, but the two main culinary draws here are Big Bottom Market, with its sandwiches, salads, and artisan grocery items, and Boon Eat + Drink, whose California bistro-style plates elevate simple, fresh ingredients.

If you'd rather focus your day on smaller-scale wineries, head East on River Road at the start of your day. Joseph Swan Vineyards, just off the main thoroughfare on Trenton Road, is the kind of intimate setting where you'll often find the winemakers themselves pouring your Pinot Noir.

A bit further down River Road, turn off onto Olivet Road for a stop at Hook & Ladder Vineyards. Owned (and named) by a former San Francisco firefighter, this winery's set in one of the oldest vineyards in the valley, and produces everything from Zinfandel to Gewurztraminer. Keep driving West on River Road for a tasting at Martinelli Winery & Vineyards, where visitors sip inside a turn-of-the-century hops barn.  

Further down the road, turn off onto Fulton Road to visit one of the biggest names in Sonoma County wines: Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates & Garden. The large estate, complete with lavish gardens, offers guests the chance to build their own tasting flights with four choices from a seasonal selection of eight classic or reserve wines.

Finish your long wine weekend in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County's largest city. Not far from Kendall Jackson, on Redwood Highway, stop for the night at the Vintners Inn. Surrounded by nearly 100 acres of vineyards, this is wine country luxury at its best. The inn's on-site restaurant, John Ash & Co., bears the name of one of the area's most legendary chefs.

A short drive down Redwood Highway in the city's posh Fountaingrove neighborhood, the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country is a wonderful place to relax with in-room spa treatments and easy access to local golf courses.

Smaller, B&B-style accommodations also shine in Santa Rosa. For example, book a room at the vibrant Gables Wine Country Inn for colorful, Victorian elegance.

End your night with dinner at John Ash & Co. or one of the many small restaurants that make downtown Santa Rosa a foodie favorite: Stark's Steak & Seafood serves up all manner of surf and turf as well as killer cocktails. The Spinster Sisters is downtown's destination for refined comfort food in a setting that's part dining room, part art gallery. And the Third Street Aleworks Brewpub and Russian River Brewing Company each dish up crave-worth pub food to complement Sonoma County's other favorite libation: micro-brewed local beer.

Looking for more on Sonoma County Wine Country? Check out WineRoad.com, which offers convenient wine-tasting passes and exciting wine events throughout the year.

Written by Sonoma Insider Jessica Quandt