A view of orange and red vines from above in Russian River Valley
Russian River Valley

Meet the Winemakers of Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast

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There are plenty of options for touring and tasting Sonoma County wine country, from tasting-room appointments to sit-down wine pairings with chef-prepared gourmet nibbles. However, it can be difficult to a tasting and tour hosted by winemakers themselves, talking about their vineyards, grapes, and craft.

Even at smaller cellars, winemakers are busy these days—if not in the vineyard or juggling multiple winemaking tasks, then jetting across the country to pitch their wine to restaurants and shops from Florida to Wisconsin.

Here's a roundup of several Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast wineries where you might be able to catch a tour and tasting with the winemaker—usually by appointment—to get the ultimate insider's view.

Inman Family Wines

A woman with short, blond hair holds two clusters of grapes
Kathleen Inman, Inman Family Wines

This little winery on Olivet Road has it all: estate vineyards, a cozy (but cool) little cellar, electric vehicle charging station, and usually a winery cat, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and-that's not all-bright and bubble, traditional method sparkling wine. It's a nice stop on the wine road any day, but when when winemaker and cofounder Kathleen Inman is available, she leads a personal tasting in the cellar steps away from the estate vineyard.

LaRue Wines

A woman with long, blond hair stands in a green vineyard
Katy Wilson, LaRue Wines

Having grown up in a California walnut orchard, and learned to drive a tractor before she learned to drive a car, Katy Wilson was already aiming for a career in agriculture when she enrolled in Cal Poly. But when here ag business 101 professor mentioned that winemaking was also an option, that was that-she was in. While consulting for several small wineries, Wilson also launched her own, highly acclaimed line of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made from small vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, named for her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue, who inspired her to do what she wanted in life. Katy Wilson hosts wine tastings by appointment at one of the small vineyards she sources grapes from, Emmaline Ann, near the hamlet of Freestone.

Small Vines Wines

A man holds a bin of freshly picked grapes in the vineyard
Paul Sloan, Small Vines Wines

Winegrower Paul Sloan has created a little piece of Burgundy in Sonoma County. In rolling hills of dusty, Goldridge soil northwest of the town of Sebastopol, amid Gravenstein apple orchards and Chardonnay vineyards alike, Sloan's Small Vines vineyards are so tightly spaced it takes a specialized French tractor to navigate the four-foot rows. Explaining his philosophy, which includes organic farming inputs as well, takes some work, but Sloan is convinced that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lovers will be convinced, too, after a tour and tasting at the family estate.

Old World Winery

Third-generation winegrower Darek Trowbridge holds an advanced degree in modern winemaking, but chooses to make wine the "old world" way: stomped by foot and fermented on natural yeasts, resulting in one-of-a-kind wines that express their terroir.

If the name evokes a romantic, simpler time when grapes were trodden under bare feet while the whole village came out to celebrate-naturally, that's exactly what harvest looks like at Old World Winery (many such feet belong to wine club members, or anyone who shows up to the tasting room and winery site during harvest).

The rest of the year, the self-professed "pastoral winemaker" (Trowbridge makes wine that fits the natural wine category, using only minimal sulfur and no winemaking additives) makes himself available, when time allows, for tours and tastings by appointment. 

Freeman Vineyard & Winery

Notable for boasting one of the few wine caves in this neck of the woods, Freeman also sources from some pretty boast-worthy vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, like Keefer and Heintz. Winemaker Akiko Freeman, who cofounded the winery with husband, Ken, got the promotion after pitching in with the crush and learning the craft with consulting winemaker Ed Kurtzman. Freeman hosts special tastings, and maybe a peek at the small estate vineyard set in a redwood forest, by appointment.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.