Discover Vineyards and Unique Wineries during Fall Season
The air is crisp, yet the sun shines warmly. Some grapes still hang from some vines, waiting for the final pluck of harvest, while others sit freshly fermenting in the tank. And already, the grape leaves are turning red-gold. It must be autumn in Sonoma County.
This is one of the great times to visit local wineries that celebrate the seasons with special attention to the outdoors and the intricacies of harvest. Toss on those comfortable clothes (remember to bring a light sweater) and get ready for long, leisurely exploration.
The magic begins as soon as you pull up to the grand garden entrance, which is lavishly planted amid endless manicured vineyard rows trellising up and over Sonoma Mountain at the entrance to Jack London State Park. The love of the land is obvious, and proven, since all the family wines from the four estate vineyards are certified sustainable, organic or Biodynamic. Since much of the property is open to the public, it can be a lot to take in, but the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour makes it as easy as hopping on a cute little shuttle train. A 45-minute tour traverses through the grapevines, visits the fermentation facility and crush pad, and offers the chance to check out the barrel caves, all capped by a wine tasting. Just note that while walk-ups are welcome, the ride is very popular, so 24-hour advance reservations are recommended.
More info: Benziger Family Winery, 1883 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen.
You can choose from one – or both – of two tasting rooms, called Villa Fiore and the Enoteca-Prevail Room. Each is architecturally grand in European style, decorated in luxury with touches like mahogany and black granite, accented by Renaissance murals and an elaborate gift shop, plus cobblestone floor cave. But save time to soak up the five acres of gardens, too, which bloom with more than 10,000 tulips and daffodils in the spring, and wow in the fall with Italian/French style geometric plantings, more than 2000 species of trees and shrubs, fountains, sculptures, and rare-to-the-area specimens like Portuguese cork trees.
More info: Ferrari-Carano, 8761 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg.
The hilltop estate defines “majesty,” overlooking the breathtaking beauty of Sonoma Valley and accented with its own vineyards, olive groves and wetlands. The Tuscan inspired architecture fits Sonoma’s lovely Mediterranean weather, and just as in Italy, there is plenty of great food to go with the great wine. First stop: a tasting, to discover your favorite wines. Second stop: the Marketplace, to pack a picnic of gourmet foods. The estate produces many of its own specialties, such as conserves, marinades, oils, vinegars, vinaigrettes, tapenades, glazes, honey, mustards, and pasta and pizza sauces, and many products are dashed with a delicious bit of wine. Enjoy a complimentary tasting at the food cart, then fill your basket with your favorite fresh made sandwiches, salads, antipasti, soups, and fruit salads. The patio is a wonderful place to lunch or snack, on the edge of the wetlands where more than 500 species of birds that have been spotted.
More info: Viansa Winery, 25200 Arnold Dr., Sonoma.
With harvest in full swing, it’s a terrific time to learn about the remarkable history of wines, and how they’re made. This legendary winery features in-depth tours of its historic champagne cellars, ending, of course, with a tasting. The 50-minute expedition explores the museum, with artifacts dating back to the winery’s founding in 1882, to its current status as largest volume producer of premium traditional Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine in the United States. There’s also brandy and still wines, and lunch or a snack at the Delicatessen and Market is a must, lounging on the patio and deck amid the redwoods. Gardens originally planted in the 1880s can be viewed year-round, as the landscape shifts with the seasons and the Sonoma County weather, including many antique rose varietals.
More info: Korbel, 13250 River Rd., Guerneville.
The 35-year old gnarled Zinfandel vines outside the tasting room say it all – this is a property steeped in history, and stewardship of the land. The first vines were planted in 1884, and now, the family's Rockpile homestead and ranch is one of the most revered in Sonoma County for its Zinfandels. The winery and tasting room are a bit newer, built in 2004 and geared toward modern amenities; tasting is offered daily while full tours are available by appointment. But first, check into the complimentary self-guided vineyard tours. As part of the Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures program, a walking tour is directed by educational signs explaining everything from the grapes, to the soils, to the winemaking process.
More info: Mauritson Family Winery, 2859 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg.
It’s hard to get closer to the great outdoors than at this secluded estate high in the mountains above the Jenner coast. As part of the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, it’s well, actually the first and only tasting room in this treasured appellation. Start in the spacious tasting room with its comfortable living room furniture, then move out on to the grand deck overlooking sloping hillside gardens. The entire property is set in the forest, and more than few of the area’s famous mushrooms have been foraged by wanderers (of course, do not eat any mushrooms until checking with an expert). In the fall, pack a windbreaker; it’s known to get chilly and misty this high in the sky.
More info: Fort Ross Vineyards, 15725 Meyers Grade Rd., Jenner.