To get the best view you must climb, of course, and a road trip in the rugged hills of Sonoma County occasionally rewards the intrepid traveler with another welcome sight: wine tasting!
Many of the wineries in Sonoma County are located along scenic rural roads—even a few of the main highways through wine country, like sections of routes 12 and 116, are officially designated as California Scenic Highways. But there are miles and miles of less-traveled roads to explore. Roll the windows down, take in the scent of California bay from the forest, and round a bend around a lonely, chaparral-studded mountainside to find one of these verdant vineyards suddenly come into view.
The coastal fog usually clears by the time its reached Annapolis, an eight-mile drive from misty Sea Ranch on the edge of the continent. In a sunny clearing surrounded by mixed redwood and fir forest—Russian immigrants, not long after the Fort Ross era, cleared the land for apple orchards a century and a half ago—the Scalabrini family hand-watered a vineyard into existence in 1978. Annapolis will clear your head of conventional thinking about what is Sonoma Coast wine, too: Sonoma Coast Cabernet? You’ll find it here, as well as popular Gewürztraminer and Barbera. If this rustic and bucolic vineyard feels like the ideal wedding spot, ask about it—they do ’em!
Details: 26055 Soda Springs Road, Annapolis. Open daily 12–5pm. 707.886.5460.
Nothing remains of the vineyard that the Russian-American Company planted in 1817 at Fort Ross. This Fort Ross was founded in the 1990s, high above that historic site, by South African émigrés Linda and Lester Schwartz. Thanks in large part to their efforts, the region was recognized as the Fort Ross-Seaview viticultural area in 2012. Appearing out of the forested hills like a mountain lodge, this tasting room does offer Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown in sometimes extreme, maritime conditions, but also something special for South African wine fans: Pinotage!
Details: 15725 Meyers Grade Road, Jenner. Open daily 10am–5:30pm; winter hours, to 4:30pm. 707.847.3460.
There’s something about being way out there that leads these wineries to some more edgy varietal choices, too: Gustafson pours bright, refreshing Riesling at their stunning, ridge top estate as well as Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Technically located in the Dry Creek Valley AVA, Gustafson is perched far above the valley, and is one of the few stops along twisting, winding Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Road (if continuing on to the coast, be aware that this is a long and winding road). Preview the wines at their downtown Healdsburg tasting room if you like, but the estate offers a one-of-a-kind experience and views of Lake Sonoma—there are no wineries to visit along Rockpile Road on the next ridge over.
Details: 9100 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville, CA 95441. Open to the public Saturdays, 10am–4pm. Friday, Sunday and Monday by appointment, 11am–3pm. 707.433.2371.
Some people may think of this critically acclaimed winery as a Napa producer, but the family takes pride in the fact that the ranch is split between the counties—indeed, regulations require that a line be drawn down the crush pad to separate the two! A winery and vineyard at various times since 1869, Pride Mountain is known today for its Sonoma-Napa Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Seated tastings and tours available.
Details: 3000 Summit Trail, Santa Rosa, CA 95404. By appointment daily except Tuesday. Tastings $30; salon tasting and cave tour, $90. 707.963.4949.
Who knows, there may be one other winery that has a talking dog on their website, but there’s no other winery in the new Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak viticultural area. At 2,000 feet, Bob Dog awaits visitors faithfully at the estate’s Sky Pine Vineyards high above Alexander Valley. Big, mountain-grown Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc at this out-of-the-way destination, with 30-mile views and a folksy sense of humor. What more could you want on a Sonoma joyride?
Details: 31955 Pine Mountain Road, Cloverdale. Morning or afternoon tours. 707.756.2471
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.