Many wineries release new vintages in spring, so it’s a great time to visit one of these local spots. Given current public health considerations, you should always call ahead to make tasting reservations, but don’t let that slow you down, as same-day appointments are often available.
The Benziger family migrated from New York state more than 40 years ago, focused on growing and producing premium wines in a prime spot on the shoulder of Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen, near Jack London State Historic Park. The Benzigers began farming with conventional techniques but by 1995 had switched over entirely to biodynamic practices.
The Benzigers use creative crop rotation and composting, along with natural minerals and herbs, to maintain vineyards that are healthy and chemical free. The estate was officially certified as a biodynamic farm 20 years ago.
Outdoor seated tastings ($30) last about 45 minutes and draw selections from across the winery’s portfolio. A 90-minute private estate tour and tasting ($60) includes an in-depth exploration of the biodynamic farm practices. The family is known for its Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a large selection of red blends. A new release, the 2020 North Coast Rosé, will likely be on the tasting menu this month, or might be offered as a special splash, says senior marketing manager Carley Burns. “This wine is crisp and well balanced, bursting with fragrant citrus blossom aromas and delicate strawberry essence, reminiscent of warm summer days.”
Benziger Family Winery picked up gold medals for three different Pinot Noir selections at the Press Democrat’s 2020 North Coast Wine Challenge, together with a gold for the Joaquin’s Inferno red blend.
1883 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, 707-935-3000. By appointment only; reservations available online.
The Rafanelli family, with a rich history in winemaking that goes back four generations, bottle Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. This has always been a by-appointment-only destination, primarily because their sought-after wines are produced in limited quantities. Here you’ll have the full attention of the host: just one seated tasting is offered at a time in a stunning garden setting with views, and costs $75 for a table of up to six guests (waived with purchase). Two to four people is prime for a more intimate experience, says winemaker Rashell (Shelly) Rafanelli. “Most of the time your one-on-one host will be a member of our family, and you can ask for as much or as little wine education as you like during your visit. This method of welcoming our tasting guests one party at a time was so popular in 2020 that we plan to continue it this year.”
4685 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-1385.
Noah and Kelly Dorrance, the team behind Reeve Wines, launched this new label to spotlight high-quality Sonoma-grown-only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. According to owner Kelly, there’s one flight currently on the tasting menu at $25, featuring Blanc de Gris, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
“We are planning to revamp our food program,” she says, “but for now we’re offering spiced nuts with this flight that are made by SingleThread Restaurant, across the street.”
118 North St., Healdsburg, 707-387-7058.
Outdoor spaces at this winery are some of the most scenic in Sonoma Valley, showcasing rolling vineyards and more than 400 heritage olive trees. A tasting for two ($35 per pair) features a flight of wines served by carafe; wines by the glass are also offered (starting at $10). B.R. Cohn produces an extensive collection of whites and reds, including award-winning Russian River Valley Chardonnay, together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and a Malbec — all created from grapes grown in the winery’s Olive Hill Estate vineyards.
15000 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen, 707-938-4064.
The focus is on sparkling wine, a passion shared by the three sisters who founded the label. They offer three different tastings, all $20: a flight of four sparklers, a mixed flight of sparkling and still wines, and a flight of the stills, and if you choose, caviar to accompany your wines for an additional cost.
New releases this month include the winery’s still wines –– Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and rosé. “The rosé is very Provence in style, and all the wines are done in the French style,” says tasting room manager Christine Cureton. “But the rosé really exudes ‘French’ to me.” Breathless won many gold medals in 2020 in competitions including the Sunset International Wine Competition, the North Coast Wine Challenge, and the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.
499 Moore Lane, Healdsburg, 707-395-7300.
Jordan embraces the warm spring weather when it reopens to guests for the first time since November with a series of vineyard hikes during Earth Week ($110, April 22 to 25). Tickets go on sale April 7. A four-mile trek winds through the 1,200-acre estate that encompasses woods, meadows, olive orchards, new pollinator sanctuaries and vineyards. The hikes conclude with a lunch on the terrace, featuring greens, vegetables and foraged flowers from the estate, along with tastings of the winery’s cuvée sparkler, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. “While new vintages won’t be released until August, we are still pouring our 40th-anniversary vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon , our 2018 Chardonnay, and the Jordan Cuvée Champagne by AR Lenoble,” says communications director Lisa Mattson. Spring vineyard hikes will also be hosted on May 7 and 8.
1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, 800-654-1213.
A 90-minute private walking tour and seated tasting called the Alfresco Estate Visit ($40) is offered on weekends at this winery in the heart of the Petaluma Gap AVA, known for cool climate vineyards that produce exceptional Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. “Our lineup of wines rotates, as our production is small,” explains hospitality manager Steven Harlor. “Our Pinot Gris should grace the tasting menu this month — until we release our rosé in late spring. We’ll also pour some of our flagship Chardonnays and Pinots, for which we are best known.”
5875 Lakeville Highway, Petaluma, 707-765-2117.
Several roomy outdoor spaces on this property make tasting a special occasion. At one time, the restored main barn was the home of renowned grapegrowers, the late Richard and Saralee Kunde.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the stars at La Crema, with fruit sourced locally and from Monterey County. La Crema offers seated tastings ($30 for five wines), along with a guided walking tour and tasting ($75). Or, buy a bottle of wine from the tasting room and reserve one of the outdoor picnic tables ($50 per table); a formal tasting will not be conducted, but you’re welcome to bring your own food.
3575 Slusser Road, Windsor, 707-525-6200.
Landmark is popular for its spacious courtyard area, which offers lovely views of the surrounding hills. It’s the ideal setting to enjoy single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. (signature tasting, $35).
The reserve tasting ($70) is offered three times daily, with selections from the single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinots, along with a Bordeaux blend made by Landmark’s sister winery, Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles. “That extra taste of the Justin is something to draw visitors in to our special reserve tasting,” explains hospitality and tasting room manager Donna Carroll. “It’s the last pour of that flight, which also includes a cheese plate.”
101 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, 707-833-0053.
With a tasting room overlooking Dry Creek Valley, Papapietro Perry was created by Ben and Yolanda Papapietro and Bruce and Renae Perry. Zinfandel and Chardonnay are on the menu (and possibly a limited amount of Rosé of Pinot), but the winery is best known for its Pinot Noir. Papapietro Perry received the Best of Show Red Wine award in the Press Democrat’s 2020 North Coast Wine Challenge for its 777 Clones Pinot Noir from 2017. A 60-minute patio tasting of five wines is $25; add a charcuterie board for $20.
4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-0422.
This is one of the more interesting tasting experiences on the Sonoma Plaza. Tasting are held in the the historic Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe, which is well worth a visit. The basic tasting is a flight of Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs ($50), but guests can also choose a food-and-wine pairing ($85). Three Sticks will release seven new wines this month, including a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc. The winery received two gold medals in the Press Democrat’s 2020 North Coast Wine Challenge, one for its 2018 Gap’s Crown Chardonnay and one for the 2018 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir.
143 W. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-996-3328.
By: Jean Saylor Doppenberg