Wine tasting has been a popular activity in Sonoma ever since Agoston “Count” Haraszthy sampled the efforts of his new neighbor, General Mariano Vallejo, and presumably said, “Not bad!”
The site of the 1846 Bear Flag revolt, the Sonoma Plaza has long been a favored spot to picnic with a bottle of wine. But there have never been more great opportunities to sample wine at tasting rooms around the Sonoma Plaza as there are today.
Let’s start on the west end of the Plaza and stroll around it clockwise, past the historic Barracks and Mission San Francisco Solano, founded in 1823, stopping in at a few tasting rooms along the way:
Who was Don Juan Casteñeda? Soak up Sonoma history while sipping wine at the meticulously restored Vallejo-Casteñada adobe, built of mud and straw bricks circa 1842. Designed by San Francisco decorator Ken Fulk, the interior is replete with period-style furniture and details. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Rhône-style blend from the Durell Vineyard.
Don’t fuss over pronouncing the name, because the Roche family is Irish-American, not French. This spot, located a few steps off the plaza in a little house, has been a longtime favorite with wine tasters for its outdoor seating, shaded by trees and umbrellas. Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.
Just around the corner and up the street a few addresses, this picturesque brick and half-timbered style cottage serves to showcase Pinot Noir from around the West Coast. Named for former US ambassador to Austria Kathyrn Walt Hall’s family, WALT features a small bar and window seating in the front, but there’s plenty of room to spread out and contemplate a glass of Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir under the redwoods out back.
A pleasant two or three block walk down East Spain Street, and left at 4th Street East, leads to one of Sonoma’s oldest wineries, Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery. Cabernet Sauvignon, pet friendly, and a picnic area.
Next door to the stately Sebastiani Theater, on the east side of the Plaza, you’ll find a local watering hole—a “bar bar” for those who want a break from wine tasting or shopping—that sometimes advertises, “Husband daycare—drop-offs welcome.”
In the spirit of old Sonoma, the first taste is free at Highway 12, in the historic Mission Hardware building.
Catty-cornered from Highway 12, Kamen is owned by screenwriter Robert Kamen, who penned hits like the Karate Kid. Fun, film-themed t-shirts and intense, mountain-grown Cabernet from Sonoma County’s Moon Mountain AVA.
You’ll find a few more tasting rooms on your way if you turn east for a jog down the block, to Sojourn. The logo here is a lounge chair, and you can’t help but relax with a glass of winemaker Erich Bradley’s sumptuous Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
A new vista opened onto the Sonoma Plaza wine scene in 2015, with the renovation of this 1902 building into a spacious, stylish wine lounge that takes inspiration from the eternally optimistic character in Voltaire’s Candide. Charcuterie and cheese pairings; many varietals, from Chenin Blanc to Zinfandel.
This cozy little cubbyhole of a shop is billed as Sonoma County’s only Champagne-only tasting room—and yes, you can sample French Champagne as well as Sonoma County sparkling wine, as we call the bubbly stuff. Owner Jayme Powers might even “saber” the bottle open.
If you’ve found Sigh, you’ve wandered down Vine Alley, a meandering courtyard on the south side of the Plaza that’s chockablock with wine tasting rooms. Newcomers include Chappellet Grower Collection, Fulcrum, and Bryter.
Turn left at Chappellet to check on the progress of new construction; turn right and find Syrah with a Scottish accent at MacLaren, where “Drouthy Neebors,” or thirsty neighbors, are welcome. Around the corner, Westwood Estate offers award-winning Pinot Noir and Rhône-style wines from their Annadel Estate vineyard.
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. Well-made Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Zinfandel also on offer at this sunny tasting room, just steps from the south side of the Plaza.
Across the street, peruse the gallery at Bump, a new husband-and-wife owned adventure in wine and art. Sonoma Valley Zinfandel.
New to the Plaza, Lake Sonoma is a sister winery to Valley of the Moon and Madrone Estate. Just a bit down one of the Plaza’s several “hidden” alleyways, sample Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Learn the best tips for wine tasting in Sonoma County before you go.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight