Just as with restaurants, the launch of a new wine tasting room can take weeks, even months, longer than the owners had projected. Construction delays, furnishings trapped on cargo ships waiting for docking space, a shallow employee pool, backups in permit approvals and alcohol sales licenses awarded only after intense scrutiny — any of these can stall a grand opening.
Add the repercussions of COVID-19, and it’s happily shocking when a new tasting room comes close to meeting its initially announced opening date.
One that should “come close” this year is Bacchus Landing on the western outskirts of Healdsburg. Arguably the most anticipated Sonoma tasting venue set to open in the past year, the owners had expected to unlock the gate in time for Independence Day weekend, but a licensing delay moved the opening to mid-July. Bacchus Landing, home to small, family-run wineries pouring their bottlings in five separate tasting rooms, also includes the Market coffee, deli and artisanal food shop; event spaces; picnic areas; and bocce courts on a 3-acre property.
Another almost-on-time venue, Marine Layer Wines in downtown Healdsburg, originally set June 1 for its debut and now appears ready to open in late July. Once it opens, Marine Layer, owned by former Banshee Wines partner Baron Ziegler, promises flights of high-end, single-vineyard Sonoma Coast chardonnays and pinot noirs accompanied by enticing small bites beyond cheese and charcuterie.
For the impatient, three other local tasting rooms have recently opened, post-pandemic pressure, and are poised to add depth and complexity to the Sonoma wine tasting scene: Abbot’s Passage Winery & Mercantile in Glen Ellen, Orsi Family Vineyards in Healdsburg and Sosie Wines in downtown Sonoma.
Visit these bright, shiny-new tasting venues now and in the near future:
On a property originally home to Valley of the Moon Winery (vines planted in 1863, cellar built in 1887), Katie Bundschu has put a modern twist on this historic Glen Ellen winery estate.
Set to open with full services July 1, Abbot’s Passage is Katie Bundschu’s baby, an extension of her family’s Gundlach Bundschu wine business. The venue offers tastings and bottle service at picnic tables in the Olive Grove; food-and-wine experiences among old zinfandel vines; and plates of crackers, cheeses, charcuterie, dried fruits and pickled vegetables, many of them housemade.
The wine stars are Rhone-style, field-blend reds and the bracing, perfect-for-summer Sunblink, a mix of roussanne, marsanne and grenache blanc. The Mercantile sells glassware, jewelry, hats, totes and other goods chosen by Bundschu, who embraces women-owned businesses and locally sourced crafts.
777 Madrone Road, Glen Ellen, 707-939-3017
Siblings Monica and Francisco Lopez, along with their parents, Al and Dina Lopez, began work on Bacchus Landing in 2015. It includes a tasting space for their Aldina Vineyards wines and those of other small producers, with a family-friendly vibe, food components and hospitality spaces. It’s preparing for a mid-July opening.
Bacchus Landing sports a large central piazza; multiple seating options; the Market for coffee, wine-friendly bites and gourmet food items; and Frank’s Place, an area devoted to bocce courts, picnic tables, lawn games, music, herb gardens and fruit trees. Aldina, Montagne Russe Wines and 13th & Third Wines are the opening tasting room tenants; AldenAlli and Dot Wine will join them later this summer and other wineries are in the process of leasing space.
14210 Bacchus Landing Way, Healdsburg
Baron Ziegler and Rob Fischer, teammates when they created Banshee Wines and opened a hip tasting room in downtown Healdsburg in 2012, are at it again, yet with a much different business model.
Banshee’s partners sold a majority share of the business to Foley Family Wines in 2018. For Marine Layer, owner Ziegler and winemaker Fischer focus on single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs from cool-climate Sonoma Coast vineyards ($30-$65) rather than Banshee’s regional blends that enticed younger drinkers with good-value pricing and vinyl records playing in the laid-back tasting room.
Coincidentally, the Marine Layer tasting room is just a few steps from Banshee, and Ziegler is leasing the former Flight Deck Tasting Lounge, Vintage Wine Estates’ multibrand tasting room. Initially scheduled to open July 1, the extensively remodeled Marine Layer now targets late July for its debut. The 3,200-square-foot space will offer wine flights and bites from local purveyors.
308 B Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8214
Orsi Family Vineyards
Schioppettino, anyone? How about a taste of fiano, barbera, Montepulciano or sangiovese? Winery and vineyard proprietor Bernie Orsi offers these Italian varietals and more at the tasting room he opened recently in the former Geyser Peak Winery (and before that, Alderbrook Winery) west of Healdsburg off Westside Road (it’s also a neighbor of Bacchus Landing).
Orsi, whose roots trace to Italy’s Lucca region, is a multilevel businessman successful in beer sales and marketing (he’s known by some as the “Father of Pabst Blue Ribbon”), real estate and grapegrowing. He purchased a cattle ranch in Healdsburg in 1990, planted wine grapes to sell to wineries and eventually added Italian varietals.
Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon are still grown on this Dry Creek Valley property and sold in the Orsi tasting room. Yet it’s the unusual Italian-style bottlings that are nearest and dearest to Bernie’s heart and make this a worthwhile stop.
2306 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg, 707-732-4660, orsifamilyvineyards.com
Their new tasting room in downtown Sonoma is an energizing lift for Sosie owners Scott MacFiggen and Regina Bustamante. They lost the grapes for their 2020 vintage wines to smoke taint from wildfires, and the pandemic stalled their efforts to build their business.
“Prior to the pandemic, (we) had an aggressive growth strategy which included expanding our distribution network and doing events around California such as West Coast Craft and Outside Lands,” the couple said via email. “Unfortunately, COVID put all of these plans on hold, causing us to quickly shift gears to a direct-to-consumer strategy. The shift was difficult, but the success gave us the confidence to invest in a tasting room in downtown Sonoma months before COVID restrictions were set to be lifted.”
MacFiggen makes the wines at Sugarloaf Crush in Sonoma Valley, where he and Bustamante also host tastings, sometimes out of a barrel. Yet the tasting room is now the most convenient way for fans of organically and sustainably farmed wines, produced with as little intervention as possible, to taste them. The sparkling wines, roussanne, pinot noir and red blends are generous in flavor and texture, yet elegant and crisp.
25 E. Napa St., Suite C, Sonoma, 707-721-1405
By: Linda Murphy