Sonoma seems to have this alluring tug that always beckons me back. With 19 AVAs, the region is abundant with wineries that showcase the diverse terroir that this glorious part of the world has to offer. And, it is home to several quintessential downtown areas that have this way of making you forget about the worries of the world, if even just for a day.
Whether you make your home base in the downtown Sonoma Plaza on the more southern part of the region, or Healdsburg further north, you can’t go wrong. Both towns are walkable, offer great restaurants and lodging, and are just a stone’s throw from some of the best wineries in the world.
Here are a few wineries, going from north to south, that each offer a unique experience.
Alexander Valley Vineyards
Alexander Valley Vineyards has consistently produced the best value-priced Cabernet in its class for years. We have been buying it, and visiting the winery, for at least 15 years. The winery’s impressive and approachable portfolio also includes its more limited production Alexander School Reserve line and Cyrus, its flagship blend made with the best that the vintage has to offer. A current favorite is the Petite Sirah, which is the perfect companion to a juicy, grilled ribeye. The winery has retained an intimate, cozy feel to it that, coupled with its quiet location, makes it easy to feel like you’ve stepped back into a time when Sonoma was a young and emerging wine region.
On weekends, Truett-Hurst typically has live music, but the highlight of the winery — aside from the wine — are the amazing grounds and farm animals! You could literally spend the whole day here. The friendly staff are happy to let you take your glass or a bottle out with you to walk through the vegetable gardens, greet the animals, and stroll down to the Russian River, where you can grab a bright red Adirondack chair and chill. And, before you head outside, make sure to ask for a round of Cowgirl Creamery Mount Tam cheese. It’s decadent. As far as wines are concerned, I love the winery’s portfolio of Dry Creek Zinfandels and the Burning Man Petite Sirah.
Wellington was always my go-to for old vine Zinfandel. The winery has vines dating back to 1882. My recollection of visits to Wellington included its tiny, quaint tasting room that opened up to a small patio overlooking twisted, gnarly vines. However, now under new ownership, the winery has rebranded and is doing a full renovation of the tasting room (at the time of writing this it was not yet complete). At first I was a bit skeptical and wary of the change. But the new owners have done the old Wellington proud, and are producing a beautiful limited production portfolio, to include the Estate Zinfandel. But the surprise of the visit was an outstanding Grenache.
Small, boutique wineries are always a great addition to a wine tasting itinerary. In fact, we always leave room in our schedule to stumble across a winery that is mostly known by locals only. In this case, we have a friend who’s been in the Sonoma wine industry for decades so a call to him landed us at En Garde. The owner/winemaker of the winery grew up in Hungary, on his family’s vineyards, and makes wines with an elegant European touch. The portfolio is an interesting combination that mostly focuses on Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, though we had the opportunity to also taste its limited production Chardonnay. The tasting room, or should I say tasting living room, in downtown Kenwood completed a beautiful experience.
Zina Lounge at the Ledson Hotel
After strolling through the wonderful downtown Sonoma Plaza and enjoying a little shopping, the Ledson Hotel offers a refreshing break with its Zina Lounge that offers the Zina Hyde Cunningham collection of wines. During nice weather, the outdoor patio offers a great view of the Plaza and an opportunity to do a flight, glass or bottle. Otherwise, the elegant indoor bar or the seating by the fireplace (if you can snag it) offers a relaxing and comfortable vibe. The Carignane and Petit Sirah were on our list of faves.
Mapping the Journey
Below provides an overview of the overall route. We actually broke this up over two days and visited Truett-Hurst and Alexander Valley Vineyards one day, and the others on a separate day.