Across Sonoma County, more and more wineries are incorporating a food experience into their tastings, moving beyond complimentary crackers to offering restaurant-style meals.
What could be more Wine County romantic, after all, than enjoying a gourmet picnic alongside a great glass, all brightened by views of the vineyards?
Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood
Many people dream of a European style winery, and Chateau St. Jean delivers with a meticulously manicured landscape, castle style architecture and endless lawns framed by vineyards.
The Charcuterie at the Chateau private group tasting (minimum 10 people) includes fine meats and artisan cheeses plus a flight of four wines ($55). For added enjoyment, box lunches are availble (for an additional $35 per person), to be enjoyed at the shaded picnic tables in the fountain garden, and followed up with a game of bocce ball.
Details: Chateau St. Jean, 8555 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood
La Cucina at VJB Vineyards & Cellars, Kenwood
The Belmonte family winery includes a Tuscan courtyard marketplace featuring many different things: La Cucina's deli and espresso bar, a Neapolitan style Red Rooster pizza salon with an outdoor wood-fired oven, a gelato and hand-crafted chocolate shop, the Kenwood Pasta Company featuring fresh pasta to enjoy at home, and a Tommy Bahama clothing boutique, all anchored by a large wine tasting room.
Matriarch and executive chef Maria Belmonte makes her own tomato sauces and pestos, to complement dishes including a generously stuffed prosciutto cotto and Jarlsberg panino, wood-fired garlic-lemon chicken drumsticks, white bean salad, and cheese or salumi boards decorated with olives, crostini, nuts and fruit.
Guests sip and snack on the courtyard patio piazza, and sometimes, for special events, opera singers serenade from a second story balcony.
Details: VJB Vineyards, 60 Shaw Ave., Kenwood
Ram’s Gate Winery, Sonoma
The gorgeous hilltop winery offers some of the best views in Carneros, with plenty of patio tables overlooking the vineyards. For a true taste of nature, enjoy a private Carneros Estate Picnic for Two. Begin with a guided tasting, then select your favorite to pair with your picnic.
Tuck the bottle of your choice into a wicker basket filled with an ample assortment of mouthwatering delicacies. Meander through the vineyards to a picnicker’s paradise, with a personal valet on hand to set up your picnic at a spot with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Note that picnics are limited to seasonable availability and weather ($175 per couple, reservations required). Or, dine in the vineyard on the thoughtfully crafted, three-hour Vineyard Table Experience.
It begins with a Sommelier consultation before your visit, and includes a tour of the most exclusive areas of the winery on a relaxed, ambling, behind-the-scenes adventure, followed by a seated and customized tasting of five wines with pairings, held outdoors in the vineyard ($250 per person for four to 10 guests). Note: No outside food allowed.
Details: Ram's Gate, 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma
Ledson Winery, Kenwood
The fully stocked gourmet market is a fixture at this 16,000 square foot French Normandy winery known as "The Castle."
Start by tasting and selecting favorite wines at the hosted bars, then tour the manicured grounds with picnic areas shadowed by majestic, 100-year old oak trees.
After you’ve found the perfect spot, enjoy a feast of salads, sandwiches, cheeses, and cookies from the winery deli. One favorite bite is the Hwy 12 sandwich, with cucumber, avocado, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, spring mix, red onions, pepperoncini, and balsamic vinaigrette on whole wheat, sourdough, or as a lettuce wrap.
Details: Ledson Winery, 7335 Sonoma Highway (Highway 12), Kenwood
Korbel Champagne Cellars, Guerneville
Best known for its Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, this legendary destination features in-depth tours of its historic champagne cellars and the elaborate rose garden, ending, of course, with a tasting.
This is also where you can get lunch at the Korbel Delicatessen and Market, with its patio seating amid the redwoods. Gourmet sandwiches celebrate Sonoma County flavors with artisan cheeses, local produce, and meats like elegant prosciutto or juicy tri-tip.
Details: Korbel Champagne Cellars, 13250 River Road, Guerneville
Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Geyserville
Sit on the patio next to the sparkling swimming pool , and enjoy tasty crepes, pizzas, salads, panini, gelato, cocktails, and wines by the glass from the Pool Café.
Friendly staff will even deliver your order directly to your poolside lounge chair. (Note: Pool passes not required to dine at the Poolside Café.)
You can also enjoy pizzas, salads, or sandwiches on the Rustic restaurant terrace overlooking Alexander Valley – perhaps a muffaletta, or a classic Caesar.
Details: Francis Ford Coppla Winery, 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville
Landmark Vineyards at Hop Kiln Estate, Healdsburg
Experience the rich history of winegrowing in the region at Landmark Vineyards at the Hop Kiln Estate, located in the heart of the Russian River Valley. The iconic location has grown wine grapes on the property since the late 1800s.
The tasting room is housed in a preserved historical landmark, an old stone hop kiln building, from the era when hops and beer were big in Sonoma County. Choose from indoor and outdoor tasting experiences, and enjoy expansive vineyard views in a historic setting.
Each day the tasting room pours limited-production Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the estate and from surrounding vineyards. A delicious array of local cheeses and charcuterie are available as a build-your-own picnic option.
Details: Landmark Vineyards at Hop Kiln Estate, 6050 Westside Road, Healdsburg
Gundlach-Bundschu Winery, Sonoma
Enjoy the outdoor beauty and views that only Sonoma Valley has to offer at Gunlach-Bundshu, which in the warm summer months offers a relaxing and seated wine tasting in its gorgeous Vista Courtyard, under the olive trees and overlooking the pond.
Guests may choose from carefully selected flights, and locally sourced food pairings are available for purchase to accompany the wines. Reservations are recommended.
Details: Gundlach-Bunschu Winery, 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma
Cline Cellars, Sonoma
Picnic tables can be reserved on the graciously landscaped grounds, in view of the vineyards, pond and the old estate home, in a garden decorated with statues of turtles, donkeys, and birds.
With the purchase of a bottle (or more) of Cline wine, the cost is $10 per person for up to two hours; each table seats eight, with a maximum of two tables. After the meal, check out the museum room showcasing California's original missions.
Details: Cline Cellars, 24737 Highway 121 (Arnold Drive), Sonoma
Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, Sonoma
The Tour, Tasting & Vintner's Picnic Box Lunch includes a guided tour of this historic winery, wine tasting, and a casual picnic lunch ($55, reservations required). Founded by Samuele Sebatiani in 1904, the winery has been led by winemaker Mark Lyon since 1979.
The winery offers concentrated, complex wines across all tiers, from the Sonoma County Selection to the Proprietor's Selection.
Details: Sebastiani Winery, 389 Fourth St. E., Sonoma
Dry Creek Vineyard, Healdsburg
The beautiful picnic grounds at this family winery make a wonderful setting to enjoy their wines with a snack (pick up provisions at the Dry Creek General Store on your way to the winery).
And the winery offers a Private Wine Flight and Picnic Lunch from May through September. This experience features a box lunch with fresh seasonal menu options, plus Dry Creek Vineyard Wines. $40 per person with a two person minimum, 10 person maximum; 48 hour advance notice required.
Details: Dry Creek Vineyard, 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg
Which Sonoma County wineries have picnics?
- Chateau St. Jean
- VJB Vineyards & Cellars
- Ram's Gate
- Ledson Winery
- Korbel Winery
- Francis Ford Coppola Winery
- Paradise Ridge Estate
- Gundlach-Bundschu Winery
- Cline Cellars
- Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery
- Dry Creek Vineyard
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.