A few of Sonoma County’s “hidden gem” top wineries won’t be found down some winding, one-lane back road—they are hidden right in the middle of Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa is Sonoma County’s largest and most populous city, with a population of more than 171,000. Long overlooked as the “flyover country” of wine country, by travelers breezing through the center of town on the elevated US 101 freeway, Santa Rosa’s suburbs and historic neighborhoods are home to many of Sonoma County’s winemakers and winery personnel, and increasingly, to some of its more interesting wineries.
You’ll encounter a few Santa Rosa wine tasting rooms in the downtown area, wine tasting in working cellars in several “warehouse winery” clusters in light industrial areas of town, and in a rural area west of town that is a prime subregion for Russian River Valley wines.
Northwest Santa Rosa
This small, family-owned and –operated winery in the Russian River Valley region is based on the principle that exceptional wines are made better when created with a commitment to environmental and social responsibility. Using grapes from 100-year-old, sustainable, and organic vineyards, they craft Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, and red blends with traditional winemaking practices — including 100 percent native yeast fermentation and actually foot stomping every single grape. Although its mailing address is the tiny community of Fulton, the winery is actually located just off River Road in northwest Santa Rosa.
Stunning views be darned, one of Sonoma County’s most beautiful wineries is situated in a beige warehouse in an industrial business park—just down the slope from the original site of Nagasawa’s Fountaingrove Winery. A runaway success started in the 1990s by Adam and Dianna Lee, Siduri is a favorite among California Pinot Noir fans. Now featuring an actual tasting bar within the bustling production facility!
Just around the corner from Siduri, Eric Kent barrels down some of the most toothsome Syrah in the county, with fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well, and each bottle of each vintage is labeled with a unique art print from up-and-coming artists. Just be warned that the custom crush/co-op winery in which they operate is like a candy store of up-and-coming and hard-to-find small wine labels, if you can read a barrel head—and they’re not all available to taste!
Described as a master of the “Zen of Zin,” pioneering winemaker Carol Shelton started her career in the 1970s, but challenges old notions of the “feminine touch” in winemaking with her bold, ripe Zinfandels, Petite Sirahs and flamboyant “Wild Thing” rosé. The tasting room is a cozy little office of the no-nonsense warehouse winery.
In the same complex of looming, beige warehouses on Santa Rosa’s Coffey Lane, a number of individual wineries and a custom crush operation housing yet more small labels operate. Donelan may be a new name to anyone who hasn’t heard that “cult Syrah” is just a much a thing as “cult Cabernet” with many wine lovers and collectors. Sourcing Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (as a “gateway drug” to their fantastic Syrah, they joke), this is just another example of a winery you mightn’t have known is open to the curious visitor, by appointment.
While the vineyards are located in the Russian River Valley, the tasting room is situated just two blocks to the east—actually that distance from the official boundary of the appellation, in downtown Santa Rosa.
A row of commercial buildings on the purposeful frontage road Cleveland Avenue have been transformed into Santa Rosa Vintners Square, a special place to visit. D’Argenzio highlights Italian-style wines along with Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
A couple of vinous dreamers started this small winery on a shoestring and a dream. Now, they make small lots from unusual locations and grape varieties throughout California and offer a relaxed tasting setting amid the barrel room.
West of Santa Rosa
Several miles west of downtown Santa Rosa, Battaglini’s old vine Zinfandel vineyards are located in the heart of Russian River Valley Zinfandel territory.
This was Zinfandel central around the turn of the twentieth century, and it continues to be a source of some of the county’s most deeply fruited and alluring wines. Battaglini’s small, homespun tasting room is one of a kind.
Kathleen Inman is the force behind this boutique grower and producer, offering her own sparkling wine as well as still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—and EV charging!
The walkway to this small family winery’s tasting room doubles as its crush pad. Here, amid everyday operations in a courtyard setting, you’ll find familiar wines like Pinot Noir and Zinfandel with a novel, but old school low-alcohol twist, and sparkling wines that are now made entirely in-house—an artisanal rarity, even in Sonoma County.
This is by no means a complete list of Santa Rosa area wineries. New tasting rooms may appear on an upcoming stroll through town, so give it a chance when in Sonoma County wine country—many restaurants will also have a good list of area wines.
A grandaddy of Russian River Valley wineries, at only forty-something, De Loach is now helmed by forty-something scion of a Burgundian winemaking family, Jean-Charles Boisset. Traditional tasting of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel up front, with educational appellation and blending experiences available, as well as a Biodynamic garden walk.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.