A-tisket, a-tasket, can you bring your own picnic basket to a Sonoma County winery?
Now that reservations are required to taste wine at local wineries, appointments must also be made for picnicking on site. This means winery picnickers will have a formal start and finish time, with appointments generally lasting 90 minutes. No more lingering for an afternoon or whenever the mood strikes, because wineries must allow for physical distancing and make time between guests’ visits to sanitize tables, chairs and other surfaces.
However — and it’s a big, positive however — those 90 minutes will be relatively private, without intrusion from others. No fighting for a space to place your blanket. No kids or dogs trampling through your lunch. Wines are delivered to each picnic space, with servers having the time to explain the selections, answer questions, recommend a restaurant for dinner when asked or leave picnickers alone if that’s what they prefer.
In fact, picnicking at Sonoma wineries has become a more focused and engaging experience thanks, backhandedly, to COVID-19. Many producers have upgraded their picnic areas with fashionable seating, umbrellas, views of creeks and rivers and, most notably, by offering lunches and snacks to those who didn’t have time to pack a basket.
A side note: It’s an obscure reality that some wineries are prohibited from allowing picnicking by their county use permits. A “no picnicking” sign doesn’t necessarily mean the winery doesn’t welcome this all-American activity on its grounds; it’s rather a posting to keep the producer from potentially losing its alcohol beverage license by inadvertently breaking the rules. A winery’s permit also defines the distance from the tasting room within which wine can be legally consumed. Visitors can’t take their bottle of wine and wander out of bounds to enjoy it in private.
Here is a sampling of Sonoma County wineries that welcome picnickers, divided into two groups: those that allow guests to bring their own food to accompany paid-for tastings and those that provide fare to accompany the wines purchased. In all cases, call ahead or visit websites to learn about picnic options and policies, and remember to make reservations.
BYOB — Bring your own basket
Bill and Betsy Nachbaur have long welcomed picnicking tasters to their eastern Russian River Valley vineyard and winery, located between Healdsburg and Windsor. Going against the chardonnay/pinot noir grain, they produce the varietals they love to drink: robust zinfandels, sangioveses, syrahs, cabernet francs, dolcettos and field-blend red wines from old vines. Bill leads vineyard tours, and tastings are conducted in a picnic area next to Alegria Vineyard. The Nachbaurs suggest guests pick up picnic fare before their visit at Big John’s Market in Healdsburg or Oliver’s Market in Windsor. PizzaLeah in Windsor sells off-the-charts delicious and inventive pizzas, to go.
12040 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, 707-433-6440.
Tote your goodie-filled basket to this winery at the north end of Westside Road near Healdsburg, where everyone is welcome to sit outside the geodesic-dome facility and taste the wines in three designated picnic areas, all with views of upper Russian River Valley and the Mayacamas mountain range. You can sit near a pond, under a 60-foot-tall oak tree or on a lawn that slopes toward a bocce court open to guests. Bottle purchases or tasting flights are necessary to reserve picnic space. Don’t miss the heady Poizin Zinfandel, elegant Gap’s Crown Chardonnay and racy Redwood Road Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
2201 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-2222
Debra Mathy’s dog-friendly winery sells cheese and charcuterie boards to accompany guests’ own lunch baskets, allowed with tastings by appointment. The grounds are gorgeous and welcoming, the vibe rustic and calming and the wines excellent and fairly priced, sourced from the estate and top-notch vineyards including Stuhlmuller, Bacigalupi, Terra de Promissio and Maple. From chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir to zinfandel and syrah to petite sirah, the range is broad and impressive.
8533 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, 707-431-2700
This Dry Creek Valley winery (and its adjacent VML Winery) is a picnicker’s dream with three areas devoted to those who like to bring their own eats (and with cheeses and charcuterie available to buy by the basket-less hungry). The Olive Grove is the most intimate space, with just five tables. The Patio is protected by tree branches that provide shade, and music makes for a lively time. The Picnic Table area is shaded and affords guests — kids are welcome — views of farm animals that are a part of Truett Hurst’s biodynamic farming practices. Pygmy goats are the sociable stars, and human kids can feed them from dispensers (25 cents). Adults will savor the sauvignon blancs, zinfandels and petite sirahs.
5610 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-9545
BYOP — Buy your own picnic
How do you elevate a picnic-themed wine experience? Turn the de rigueur table into a private cabana. Cline recently debuted light-filled and airy cabanas near its Great Lawn, each accommodating four to six guests for a 2-hour stay. A chilled bottle of Nancy’s Sparkling Cuvee awaits, as well as a “picnic” basket of provisions, including salami, cheeses, nuts and crackers. A host assigned to each cabana takes and delivers additional bottle orders, and parking is available in a VIP lot. After slaking your thirst with Nancy’s bubbly, try the numerous zinfandels produced, many from century-old vines, viognier and syrah from the family’s Petaluma Gap vineyard.
24737 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-940-4044
Picnicking has long been a feature of this chardonnay and pinot noir producer’s menu of options for visitors. The Kenwood setting is gorgeous with a patio and fountain surrounded by gardens and an expansive lawn that, pre-COVID-19, hosted guests toting their own picnic blankets and baskets, and who played cornhole to keep the blood moving. Today the experience is more refined, with visitors creating their own picnic fare from the winery’s selection of local cheeses, charcuterie, grab-and-go items and gourmet popcorn. Guests also can add a plate of cheese, charcuterie, jams, nuts and berries to any tasting experience. A new addition is the Sensory Tasting Experience, which tests the five senses through a wine tasting with fresh herbs and flowers and ends with a guided tour of the grounds.
101 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, 707-833-0218
Hanna’s Picnic Under the Big Oak Tree on the estate includes a gourmet lunch and a tasting flight of five wines. Additional bottles can be purchased at a 10% discount. Owner Christine Hanna is an excellent chef and author of “The Winemaker Cooks” cookbook. The lunch is guaranteed to be delicious, as are Hanna’s sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignons.
9280 Highway 128, Healdsburg, 707-431-4310, x116
This eastern Russian River Valley wine estate produces two brands, Notre Vue (“our view”) and Balverne, the latter an abandoned brand revitalized by owners Bob and Renee Stein. Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and rosés made from pinot noir and Rhone-variety grapes are among the stellar wines made here, and they’re great mates for sipping during the Lakeside Lunch — a gourmet sandwich, seasonal salad, chips and a light dessert. The lunch is served on one of the Steins’ Lakeside Pavilions, overlooking a reservoir and cooled by Russian River breezes. The 250 acres of estate vineyards span the Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill appellations; another 350 acres are dedicated to Forever Wild open space.
11010 Estate Lane, Windsor, 707-433-4050
Feel transported to a small Mexican village by visiting this Sonoma Carneros winery for tastings, bottle purchases and picnic provisions. Hand-carved furniture imported from Michoacán, earthen pots, rustic stone-tile flooring and wrought-iron chandeliers reflect the birthplace of Reynaldo Robledo, who, with his family, opened the first wine tasting room in the U.S. by a migrant worker from Mexico, in 2003. The Robledos grow grapes in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties and their sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, tempranillos and cabernet sauvignons are made predominantly from estate-grown grapes. Savor them with a selection of cheeses, salami and crackers available for purchase.
21901 Bonness Road, Sonoma, 888-939-6903
By: Linda Murphy