While the eclectic West Sonoma County town of Sebastopol still celebrates its apple heritage not once but twice a year — with the Apple Blossom Festival in spring and Gravenstein Apple Fair in late summer — wine lovers can pay tribute to the grape all year long thanks to a burgeoning Sebastopol wine tasting scene.
Sebastopol is located within both the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast viticultural areas, and is situated at the crossroads of Highway 116 (which leads to the north to the river and the redwoods at Guerneville) and Highway 12 (on the way to Bodega Bay and the Sonoma Coast beaches).
Wine tasting in town is centered in The Barlow, a production and retail development created from older warehouses and a former apple processing plant. It’s an easy walk from Sebastopol’s Main Street and additional parking near the town plaza, and is also easy to get to by bike path from both Santa Rosa and Forestville.
Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in this rustic-hip wine lounge, Sebastopol’s hotspot for the “new California wine.” Pax Wines was founded by Pax Mahle, who also owns Wind Gap Wines (which previously had a tasting room in this same location). Pax Wines offers offer seasonal wine tasting flights of current releases as well as wines by the glass or bottle, wines on tap, and growlers to go.
James MacPhail launched his Pinot Noir-focused brand back in 2002, when the Sonoma Coast was still a risky frontier of winemaking. After his whimsical label with little red wagons appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator, he partnered with Hess Collection.
The industrial-chic styled tasting room features a Radio Flyer sculpture and Pinot Noir from vineyards like Dutton Ranch, Pratt, and Sangiacomo.
The newest addition to the Barlow’s tasting room trail, Friedeman is a small-lot, family-owned winery focusing on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown on the cool, western edge of the Russian River Valley.
Primus front man Les Claypool discovered a love for wine when he moved to the Russian River Valley area, and his boutique wine brand shares the Purple Pachyderm love, by appointment only, in a rail car they call the “fancy booze caboose,” across the road from The Barlow. Claypool’s winemaker Katy Wilson also offers her own LaRue label here, and sometimes even takes visitors on a road trip to see the small, West County vineyards she sources Pinot Noir from, stopping for at bite at the Wild Flour Bread bakery.
Wineries in the Sebastopol Neighborhood
The Prather family grows grapes for “cult” producers whose allocated Pinot Noir and Syrah are regularly praised in Wine Advocate, but it’s not to hard to find their own little tasting room on Gravenstein Highway North a few minutes north of downtown.
Sonoma County Syrah at its best; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and estate Zinfandel, too.
This handsome little villa was built on a hill overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa wetlands. Take in the view from the patio and sample silky, caramel-scented Chardonnay and spicy, supple Pinot Noir.
Tucked into the trees on the outskirts of Sebastopol, Taft Street’s old apple canning facility setting, fair prices, and well-made Sonoma County wines — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel in particular — have endeared it to many new fans over the years.
Husband-and-wife team Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins pour all-organically grown Pinot Noir and hard apple cider at their rustically styled, barn-like tasting room on the north edge of town, on Gravenstein Highway. In fair weather, enjoy wines poured fresh from the keg and relax in the garden setting, or take a growler of toothsome Carignane to go.
By appointment, Freeman ushers visitors into a quiet cave for the contemplation of Pinot and Chardonnay amidst the redwood forest.
On hilly acreage west of Sebastopol, Littorai offers a personalized tour of their Biodynamic farm and tasting of Biodynamically grown wines by appointment only. An in-depth look at what founders Ted and Heidi Lemon believe is the future of environmentally conscious wine farming.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.