Top Wineries in Santa Rosa
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" area 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
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.
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.
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 produces about 3,000 cases a year, including limited productions of Italian varietals like Sagarantino, Agliancio, Tocal Friulano, Montepulciano, Barbera, Moscato, and Sangiovese, plus many Sonoma County staples like Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
After visiting the square's tasting room, look around a bit. Santa Rosa Vintners Square is the brain child of D'Argenzio Winery founder Ray D'Argenzio, who envisioned providing the culinary conversant of the community with all their wine and food needs in one central area – which means there's lot to see and savor.
The Fogbelt Brewery taproom offers a handful of flagship release beers, along with a variety of seasonal and rotating experimental brews, as well as tasty seasonal pub fare. Cibo Rustico Pizzeria offers fine Italian and Sonoma County wines, local and imported beer, and Italian-style, thin-crust pizza made with authentic imported ingredients. And as the only cold-pressed juicery in Santa Rosa, Juice on the Square offers fresh, raw, all natural, organic, cold-pressed juice, as well as elixirs, wheatgrass shots, fresh juice to order, organic coffee, and tea.
West of Santa Rosa
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 (electric vehicle) charging!
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.
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.
Founded in 2003 by pioneering growers and vintners Cecil and Christine De Loach, and helmed today by their grandson, winemaker Jason De Loach, Hook & Ladder showcases the diversity of the appellation the family helped to define, in a portfolio of limited-production bottlings from their Russian River Valley estate vineyards. The name Hook & Ladder pays homage to Cecil De Loach’s 17- year career as a San Francisco firefighter.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.