Wine-Tasting Myth Busting: Wine-Tasting is Fancy & Formal
One of the most persistent myths about wine-tasting is that it's always a fancy, formal experience that requires you to get dressed up, sit up straight, and know your vintages. Here in Sonoma County, though, there's a diverse range of options for enjoying wine.
Sure, you can indulge in chef-prepared food pairings on fine china or book an in-depth educational tasting. However, you can also keep your Sonoma County wine-tastings casual and laid-back, with picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, indoor and outdoor games, live music, pet-friendly spaces, and even some tasty snacks.
Casual Wine-Tasting Options in Sonoma County
Five miles north of downtown Healdsburg, Timber Crest Farms (4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg) is a collective of casual wineries surrounded by vineyards and centered on an ample parking lot. The second Saturday of every month (June through early October) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the wineries here host a "Second Saturdays Sip & Eat" food truck experience.
Amphora makes 20 different amphora-fermented wines (largely Italian varietals), while Papapietro Perry specializes in Pinot noir. Peterson's wide array of can't-miss wines includes Zinfandel, Merlot, and red blends. Kokomo (named for its winemaker's Indiana birthplace) is known for crisp Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandels, and music-and-wine-themed stickers.
Tucked beside the Russian River near downtown Healdsburg, this family-owned winery features a sprawling culinary and pollinator garden. Perch on the covered patio/lounge or at tree-shaded picnic tables, play a little bocce, and enjoy Davis' white Cuvee Luke blend, Pinot noirs, and estate olive oil.
Specializing in premium Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, this second-generation family-owned business has one tasting room in downtown Sonoma, and this one on Highway 128 in Healdsburg. Order some cheese, charcuterie and crackers, settle in on the flower-fringed front porch with vineyard views, or belly up to some friendly service at the indoor tasting bar.
Central Santa Rosa
It doesn't get more laid-back than this no-frills yet adorable tasting room, set in an industrial park in midtown Santa Rosa. The walls here are covered with colorful murals, ribbons for Shelton's award-winning Zinfandels, Coquille Blanc white blend, and Wild Thing-label wines, and her barrel room is just steps away.
Set beside sister restaurant Cibo Rustico Pizzeria and the Fogbelt Brewing Company in midtown Santa Rosa, this winery is just one street off the 101 freeway, but has a quiet, shaded patio that can make you feel a world away. Order some pizza, taste through their Italian varietals, and ask to try wines named for Quiet Riot guitarist/co-founder Randy Rhoads.
Not only do wine and bubbly tastings here range from free to $15, but Korbel also has its own onsite deli and market. Food offerings range from $12 to $25, and include sandwiches, salads, and a cheese-and-charcuterie board.
Luke Bass grew up on his parents' biodynamic vineyard, and now he makes Pinot noir, Chardonnay and other lauded wines from it. His mom, Sue, often leads tastings (by appointment only) at the family's laid-back farm property, which often happen on benches and in folding chairs around a makeshift wine-barrel bar.
A sixth-generation Sonoma County farming family, the Duttons continue to run a family business centered on their 20-acre vineyard and Spanish-style house/tasting room on Highway 116. Settle onto a couch inside, at a patio table on the front lawn, or at a pergola-shaded picnic table out back, and enjoy a game of cornhole as you sip Pinot noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, and if you choose, a cheese plate, chocolate, or hard cider.
A stone's throw from Dutton Estate, this Pinot noir and Chardonnay winery (which also has a downtown Healdsburg tasting room) has a real countryside/farm vibe. A rustic wood fence separates the vineyard from the lawn, which is dotted with shaded picnic tables, a bocce court, and Adirondack chairs set beside wine-barrel tables. On most Sundays, you'll find a live band picking and strumming on the wisteria-rimmed patio.
Sonoma Valley area
From the road, this Glen Ellen tasting room looks like a 19th-century general store, with its barn-red paint, long porch, and white rocking chairs. Planters of old-growth grapevines hem in the front patio (set beside the parking lot), and inside the living-room-cozy space, you'll find a bar made of wine barrels and washed concrete, rooster-themed decor, and often, owner/winemaker Eric Luss pouring his Cabernet Sauvignon, Albarino, red and white blends, and more.
This super-casual Kenwood spot feels more like a neighborhood bar than a winery tasting room, with wood-slat bar stools, board games, and often, live music. This family-owned, small-lot producer's wines include Cabernet Sauvignon from the vineyard across the street, as well as Pinot Gris, Pinot noir, and Chardonnay.
Winemaker Cecilia Enriquez lives here on her family's Eastside Road property, which includes an 8.5-acre vineyard, a big red barn, and a gravel-strewn back patio that hosts informal brunches throughout the year. Book a tasting or an ATV ride through the vines (with a picnic lunch), and sip Pinot noirs, Tempranillo, Muscat and more.
Owner/winemaker Adrian Manspeaker specializes in Pinot noir (plus a few whites and rose) from some of the best sites in Northern California, but is unassuming and down-to-Earth — just like his stylishly casual tasting room in downtown Forestville. Paintings here are all by local artists, walk-ins are welcome (though reservations are suggested), and unlike most area wineries, they're open until 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Long run by legendary vintner Joseph Swan's son-in-law and daughter, Rod and Lynn Berglund, this no-frills winery makes some of Sonoma County's best Pinot noirs. Tasting in their animal- and people-friendly cellar, you'll be surrounded by wine barrels, enjoying year-round cool temps — which is especially welcome in summer.
Sonoma County Tasting Pass
While you're planning your laid-back wine-tastings in Sonoma County, remember that the Sonoma County Tasting Pass can help you maximize the value of your adventures.
This mobile passport comes in 1-, 3- or 90-day passes, and participating wineries include some mentioned above as well as others, like Russian River Vineyards, Alexander Valley Vineyards, and Mutt Lynch Winery. Order and download a 1-Day Pass ($39), for instance, and you'll score free tasting flights at all three of the above wineries (plus one more), for a savings of more than $35.
Cheers to your non-fancy/non-formal wine-tasting plans in Sonoma County!
Written by Melanie Wynne