Winter is among the finest seasons for visiting Sonoma County wineries—surely in the top four, at the very least.
Vineyards may make for verdant vistas in spring and summer, and fall brings color amid the rush of harvest, but the gold and red hues that matter most to wine drinkers are locked up inside oak barrels and temperature-controlled steel tanks in the wine cellar all winter long. Meanwhile, the slower pace of winter in the winery, and the generally less-traveled season for wine tasters, creates an opening for longer and more candid conversations about wine in the tasting room.
Here’s a snapshot of three top reasons to visit Sonoma County wine country in the winter.
Return to the Cave
It’s rarely truly freezing in Sonoma County wine country in the winter. Yet there is no shortage of nippy days in January, even when there is abundant sunshine, and the place to go in that case is the depths of a nice, cool wine cave.
Sounds counterintuitive, but wine caves, tunneled deep underground, are designed to keep wine resting in oak barrels at a steady, cool temperature, around 58 degrees Fahrenheit (under 15 degrees Celsius). While that’s a welcome chill on a summer’s day, it can actually lend a quite cozy feeling on the more crisp and dry winter days, especially as wine caves also have a bit of humidity to them. Some wine caves are utilitarian through and through, grey sprayed-on concrete lined tunnels stacked with wine barrels, but atmospheric in their own way when a cask is tapped for a tasting of the new vintage; others are outfitted with mood lighting and furnished for comfort.
Not just a walk-through of a dank cellar, Deerfield Ranch’s visitor experience is situated entirely within a well-appointed, well-lit wine cave, complete with couches and chairs in which to lounge around and sample a wide range of Sonoma County wines.
Like the name says, they’ve got caves at Bella, dug deep into the hill under their old vine Lily Hill vineyard. Located at the end of West Dry Creek Road, Bella specializes in Zinfandel.
Visitors get a cave and cozy combo at Buena Vista, a tour of which includes a walk through eighteenth century wine caves cut into the rock of Sonoma hills in the style of Hungary’s Tokaj region. Afterwards, warm yourself under a painting of the Count of Buena Vista, Hungarian immigrant and entrepreneur extraordinaire Agoston Haraszthy at the tasting room in the historic press house.
The glow of chandeliers in the redwood barrel room lends rustic warmth to any wine tasting here, which includes suave Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Bordeaux varietals and blends. This winery, built like a north woods lodge, is always a welcome sight on a grey, cloudy winter’s day. Taste wine and linger by the stone hearth, or book a guided tasting flight with cheese and charcuterie in the warmly illuminated of the barrel room.
This family-run winery may not have caves or chandeliers, but it just looks so darn cozy it’s all but guaranteed to draw you in when skies turn cloudy and a slight chill’s in the air. Could be that the tasting room, complete with mill wheel, resembles one of those picturesque holiday tableaux printed on tins of peppermints and shortbread cookies. Whatever the case, all the wines are above average at Mill Creek, where lovers of off-dry Gewürztraminer can find common ground with fans of rich, flavorful Merlot.
This moderne-barn-style outpost on a windy hillock in Carneros may look a bit drafty, but it’s quite well heated and decked out for the holidays, too. New wine and food pairings feature seasonally focused fare, and can feel somewhat sumptuous by the time the last pour is quaffed. Sparkling wine and top-notch Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are winery-only favorites here.
Wander the Wineland
The Winter Wineland, hosted by Sonoma County’s Wine Road winery trade group, might be the only wine event to feature a breakfast, not a dinner, with the winemakers! Dozens of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley wineries open on one weekend for just one fee, so it’s a great way to get to know some of these wineries in the off-season. You just may warm up to some new Sonoma County favorites.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.