Sonoma County’s original “wine city,” the historic city of Sonoma is enjoying a wine tourism renaissance today. Dozens of tasting rooms can be found on a leisurely stroll around the shaded square, Sonoma Plaza, where a monument marks the “Bear Flag Revolt” of 1846, and more are reachable by a short bicycle ride or drive.
The Plaza itself is a popular picnic destination, while the day’s activities, whether combining shopping with history, or wine tasting with cycling, can be plotted over coffee and a croissant at coffee shops like Basque Boulangerie Café.
Around the Plaza
Start the day with sparkling wine, as we call the bubbly stuff, and imported Champagne at this stylish “bubble bar.” Its new location sports a central bar, window nook, and cushy lounge area.
An art gallery and tasting room with a sense of whimsy, Adastra offers Carneros Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from certified organic grapes and affordable Ed’s Red — which pairs well with mammoth, they say.
Peruse the gallery at Bump, a husband-and-wife owned adventure in wine and art. Sonoma Valley Zinfandel.
Based on the Italian concept of an enoteca as a place to sample, drink, and buy wine from local producers, this wine bar and shop dedicates its 250+ “wine wall” to showcasing hard-to-find gems from both Sonoma winemakers and the world at large. Wines are offered by the flight, glass, or bottle, and you can order Tuscan soul food from the Della Santina’s restaurant located right next door.
New to the Plaza but not to making bold, flavorful Zinfandel, this small winery offers Rhône-style wines as well.
Wander down one of the Plaza’s several “hidden” alleyways and sample Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon in this bright, contemporary-styled tasting room.
Design, history and wine buffs will find plenty to interest them in the meticulously restored Vallejo-Casteñada adobe, which was originally built of mud and straw bricks circa 1842. Period-style furniture and details; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rhône-style blend from the Durell Vineyard.
A few steps off the plaza in a little house with shaded, front yard seating, this is a favorite with wine tasters. Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.
The cozy brick and half-timbered cottage serves to showcase Pinot Noir from around the West Coast. Contemplate a glass of Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir under the redwoods out back or in the front yard.
In the spirit of old Sonoma, the first taste is free at Highway 12, in the historic Mission Hardware building.
This high-style wine lounge opened a new perspective on the Plaza wine in 2015, with the renovation of this 1902 building. Private tasting rooms, wine bar, and a variety of seating in this spacious hangout, inspired by Voltaire’s Candide. Charcuterie and cheese pairings.
Screenwriter Robert Kamen penned hits like the Karate Kid — and wine country-themed A Walk in the Clouds. Fun, film-themed t-shirts, and mountain-grown Cabernet.
The logo is a lounge chair, and you can’t help but relax with a glass of winemaker Erich Bradley’s sumptuous Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
That’s not all—more tasting rooms may be discovered on the Plaza or a few steps down side streets.
On the south side of Sonoma Plaza, the Sonoma Court Shops, aka Vine Alley, evokes a European scene with its fountain, pastel stucco walls and tiled walkway.
A white wine lover’s haven: not only Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but Pinot Grigio, Roussanne, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc — even Trousseau Gris, a rare grape grown in the Russian River Valley.
This recent addition, opened in June 2016, plays to the Pinot Noir crowd. Compare wine from appellations to the north and south of Sonoma County with top local vineyards like Gap’s Crown.
Triathlon-competing entrepreneur brings high energy style to this new tasting lounge, where the top offering is a “super Syrah.”
Centrally located at the end of the main alley, by a courtyard and fountain, this tasting room features an exclusive series of cool climate Sonoma County wines, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Syrah with a Scottish accent at MacLaren, where “Drouthy Neebors,” or thirsty neighbors, are welcome.
Instead of a walk-up bar, expect an informative, guided tasting with table or sofa seating at this out-of-the-way little salon. Estate wines from the biodynamically farmed Annadel Gap vineyard include Syrah, Pinot Noir, and rare Counoise.
In the Sonoma Neighborhood
These notable wineries are located within walking distance, bicycling distance, or a short car trip from Sonoma Plaza.
A pleasant walk a few blocks east of the Mission San Francisco Solano leads to one of Sonoma’s oldest wineries, Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery. Picnic area and Cherry Block Cabernet Sauvignon.
At the end of Old Winery Road, you’ll find a very old winery, indeed. Legendary vintner “Count” Agoston Haraszthy founded Buena Vista in 1857. In recent years, Jean-Charles Boisset restored the “Champagne cellars” and created an engaging exhibit that features wine tools.
The Zin abides at the original home of “No Wimpy Wines,” and staff are always on the ball at this fun, friendly Zinfandel-centric hangout.
Mythology buffs will enjoy the reference to wild man Enkidu, the wingman to King Gilgamesh in the ancient epic, while Shamhat Rosé should have a civilizing effect on anyone. Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Zinfandel.
Adventuresome visitors can tour the vineyards in an open-air Pinzgauer military vehicle, peer in the wine caves, and then order wines from the outdoor bar overlooking the valley, or taste in the stone cellar.
Where to Stay in Sonoma
Sonoma makes it easy to stay the night and walk to dinner, shopping, and wine tasting.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.