10 Unique Winery Experiences in Sonoma Wine Country

Lavender fields at Matzanzas Creek Winery in Sonoma County's Bennett Valley

Weary, somewhat bleary of the spin-sniff-sip-swallow-or-spit wine tasting experience? These Sonoma County wineries offer a little something extra to pair with your cabernet. Parterre gardens, swimming pools and outdoor art galleries, riding horses and trolleys — there’s plenty of reason to venture outside the tasting room on your next Sonoma Wine Country trip. 

A trip to Germany at Schug Carneros Estate Winery, Sonoma

French, Italian and Spanish accents abound at Sonoma and Napa wineries, so a visit to Walter Schug’s German-styled winery in Carneros is as refreshing as a trocken riesling.

Courtesy of Schug Carneros Estate Winery
Schug Carneros Estate Winery 

Schug, who died in 2015 at age 80, grew up at Staatsweingut Assmannshausen in Germany’s Rhine Valley. Bit by the winegrowing bug, he eventually made his way to Napa Valley, as winemaker for Joseph Phelps Winery. In 1983, he founded his own winery estate yard in Sonoma Carneros, the production facility and tasting room designed with the peaked roof and timber framing typical in the Rhine. All the original winemaking equipment came from Germany and some of it remains, most strikingly the 669-gallon wood oval aging casks, some of them elaborately carved.

Riesling is no longer in the Schug repertoire, the grape not ideally suited to Sonoma’s sunny climate. Instead, Schug took the pinot noir (spatburgunder) route, adding chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and other varietals to the mix. His children continue the business, with German-American Johannes Scheid the winemaker.

Wine tasting at Schug

Wine tasting at Schug Carneros Estate Winery 

The Cave Tour & Tasting Experience ($75) includes a walk around the property and through the production area and caves, followed by a seated tasting of current-release and Heritage Reserve wines, served with snacks.

Outdoor art gallery at The Donum Estate, Sonoma

Wineries have long been places for visitors to view art and photography on the walls of tasting rooms. Sculptures welcome guests at estate entrances and within sight of tasters.

Keith Haring's 1987 sculpture, "King and Queen," on display at The Donum Estate

Keith Haring’s 1987 sculpture, “King and Queen,” on display at The Donum Estate

Now, Donum has taken artistic displays well beyond the usual, dotting its 200-acre Carneros estate with 50-some large-scale, open-air sculptures from artists including Ai Weiwei, Keith Haring, Subodh Gupta and Doug Aitken. Adding to the high-end artistry: the tasting area designed by Danish architect David Thulstrup, known for his interior design of world-class Noma restaurant in Copenhagen.

The basic way to enjoy Donum is to book its Carneros Experience ($95), which includes a walking tour of the estate and tastes of its rosé, chardonnay and pinot noir. The Explore Experience ($175) is a two-hour, all-terrain-vehicle tour of the estate and tasting of wines served with seasonal bites and, of course, views of the artwork.

Humming Bees and Lavender Fields at Matanzas Creek Winery, Santa Rosa

Matanzas Creek Winery in Bennett Valley has been a haven for wine enthusiasts and lavender-lovers since 1991. Guests to the winery can sip sauvignon blanc on a terrace overlooking fields of lilac and amethyst; the soothingly seductive perfumes wafting in the breeze to the hum of bees shifting busily among the blossoms.

Matanzas lavender fields are farmed organically and are cut, bundled and hung to barn dry after reaching full bloom. Then the dried blossoms are used in culinary, bath, body and home products sold in the winery’s lavender market.

Living History at Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma

Founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, Buena Vista is California’s first premium winery. Haraszthy, a vivacious and eccentric pioneer, immigrated from Europe in 1840 in search of the good life. Following in the footsteps of the forty-niners, he found the perfect terroir for “purple gold.” As the self proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista,” Haraszthy established a reputation as an experimental vintner, a shrewd businessman and a flamboyant evangelist. (He died as he had lived, dramatically, in an alligator-infested river in the jungles of Nicaragua). 

Cancan dancers help recreate the Gold Rush-era history at Buena Vista Winery

Cancan dancers kick up their heels at Buena Vista Winery’s Living History Extravaganza  

The legend of Haraszhty and his winery is now recreated by Buena Vista owner Jean-Charles Boisset, a modern-day version of the eccentric count. The winery hosts a series of events throughout the year, including a Living History Extravaganza. 

A Taste of History at Three Sticks Wines, Sonoma

The historic Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe is the longest occupied residence in Sonoma and one of the town’s few remaining buildings from California’s Mexican period. Constructed by Captain Salvador Vallejo (the infamous brother of General Mariano Vallejo) in 1842, the Adobe has been carefully restored by owners Bill and Eva Price. 

Three Sticks Wines' tasting room at the Vallejo-Castenada Adobe in Sonoma

Three Sticks Wines’ private tasting room at the Vallejo-Castenada Adobe in Sonoma 

The Prices now house a private tasting room for their Three Sticks wine label in the historic Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe. Visitors can tour the Adobe and take in the history, while tasting pinots and chardonnays and then finish the experience with a meal prepared by the celebrated chefs at El Dorado Kitchen.

Horsing Around in the Vines, Triple Creek Horse Outfit at Jack London State Park

Triple Creek Horse Outfit takes you on horseback rides through the vineyards at Jack London State Park

Triple Creek offers guided horseback tours at Jack London State Historic Park in the magical Valley of the Moon. The park features fine riding trails through Jack and Charmian London’s Beauty Ranch, which wind around acres of vineyards, through open oak woodlands and under shady groves of majestic redwoods. 

Exterior of VJB Cellars, a winery in the Sonoma County town of Kenwood

Triple Creek Horse Outfit rides include a wine tasting at VJB Cellars

All Triple Creek Horse Outfit rides include a complimentary wine tasting at nearby VJB Cellars in Kenwood. The winery also has a gourmet Italian deli and sells wood-fired pizza, gelato and more.

Cabernet On a Cable Car, Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley

Lack a designated driver? The Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley might be just what you’re looking for. Built from the blueprints of an 1890’s San Francisco cable car, the trolley safely trundles wine enthusiasts on a six-hour ride through Sonoma Valley.

Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley

Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley 

The journey begins at Sonoma Plaza and then makes three stops at local wineries for private tasting experiences. Included in the package is a guide, a boxed lunch, views of the bucolic Wine Country landscape and plenty of bottled water. 

Wine Wonderland at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville

Bringing someone under 21 on a wine tasting trip may not seem the best of ideas — that is, unless you are destined for Francis Ford Coppola’s winery. The famous filmmaker’s Geyserville estate is a wonderland with wine.

Red vintage car in the film memorabilia collection at Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Part of the film memorabilia collection at Francis Ford Coppola Winery 

Film memorabilia (including Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather) and Academy Awards are on display. 

One of the two pools at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery

One of the two pools at Francis Ford Coppola Winery 

Plus, its two swimming pools (3,600 square feet in total) are surrounded by chaise lounges, cabanas and bocce courts — and there is always plenty of wine for the adults.

Tulips and Trees at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, Healdsburg

Ever experienced a tulip emergency? The Ferrari-Carano winery has a Tulip-Hotline set up in the late winter/early spring months for fans eager not to miss the winery’s 10,000 tulips in bloom. The five-acre winery’s gardens also feature over 2,000 species of trees and shrubs, a variety of perennials and annuals (the tulips and daffodils take center stage in the spring), waterfalls that flow into fish-filled ponds, and bronze sculptures from renowned artists Dennis Smith, Douglas Van Howd and Jane DeDecker. 

Visitors wander the five-acre gardens at Ferrari Carrano Vineyards and Winery

Visitors can wander the five-acre gardens at Ferrari-Carrano Vineyards and Winery 

Visitors walk through the flower garden at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg. The Italian/French parterre gardens accentuate classic geometric shapes. The Enclosed Garden at the front of Villa Fiore (the estate winery) has a park-like setting, its design more relaxed, its emphasis on color and texture.

An All-Terrain Adventure at Chenoweth Wines, Sebastopol

When you make the turn onto the retired tractor-lined driveway at Chenoweth Wines, the unpretentious setting immediately makes you happy you’ve arrived.

You can take an ATV tour through the vineyards at Chenoweth Wines - Photo by Loren Hansen Photography

You can take an ATV tour through the vineyards at Chenoweth Wines – Photo by Loren Hansen Photography

With 800 acres of land, from redwoods to vineyards, there’s plenty to see here. But it’s the how you get to see it – buckled into an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) – that adds even more bragging rights to a busy day of wine tasting. 

Written by Sofia Englund, with contributions by Dana Rebmann

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