While arguably less famous than its neighbor to the east, Napa Valley, you’d be hard-pressed to find a wine region in California that offers more of the good life than Sonoma County. It’s a place that’s hard to beat when looking for a relaxed approach to eating and drinking.
Wine and Food Pairing Experiences
Sonoma County is as much about food as it is wine. These wineries offer a chance to enjoy unique pairings in beautiful, relaxed settings.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
The legendary director of films such as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now set up shop in Alexander Valley at the former site of Chateau Souverain, and is the only winery within the region to have an in-house restaurant. The eatery, Rustic, draws on many of Coppola’s favorite recipes and foods, which include Neopolitan-style pizzas and Argentine-inspired meats. In addition to the dining room, Rustic also offers patrons the option to dine on their outdoor patio or poolside. Open daily; francisfordcoppolawinery.com.
The sparkling wine producer boasts a beautiful outdoor patio that overlooks its vineyards in Carneros, along with the bay beyond. It’s the perfect perch to enjoy A Taste of Spain, the winery’s look at the Ferrer family history, paired with a seated Spanish tapas-style food and wine experience. Alternatively, book Gloria’s Wine Country Picnic to enjoy pairings on a secluded hilltop setting, or Bubbles and Bites, which offers three sparkling wines along with one still, matched with seasonal bites. Open daily, with some tastings by appointment only; gloriaferrer.com.
J Vineyard and Winery
This winery location outside of Healdsburg is known for its sparkling wines, but also makes a range of estate-grown still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, in addition to their popular Pinot Gris. But the draw for visitors is its refashioned J Bubble Room, where a five-course, food-and-wine experience is offered Thursday through Sunday (reservations required). Smaller cheese and charcuterie tastings are available as well. Open daily; jwine.com.
Patz & Hall
Specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Patz & Hall pairs their wines to locally-sourced food at their Sonoma House, located just outside of the town of Sonoma. Their featured tasting is the seated Salon Experience, which last about an hour, and includes six single-vineyard-designate wines to go with bites to eat. Other personalized tastings are available daily, all within view of the winery’s estate vineyards in Carneros. By appointment only; patzhall.com.
Rodney Strong Wine Estates
On weekends, enjoy the winery’s Food & Wine Pairing Experience, relaunching June 23rd with new chef Alex Garcia. This cozy gathering, available by reservation for up to eight guests, marries five wines with five bites. You can also enjoy locally made cheeses and meats for pairings on the Terrace, another prime location within the estate for food and wine fun. Open daily; rodneystrong.com.
Farm to Glass
Sonoma County is largely about farms, gardens and the great outdoors, leading some wineries to incorporate more than just grapes into their estates. Here’s where you can take in Sonoma’s farm-to-table scene while still having a glass in-hand.
Benziger Family Winery
A biodynamic vineyard property in Glen Ellen, Benziger offers a popular tour of its ranch that gives visitors views of Scottish Highlander cows, sheep and buzzing insects at work on the property. Aside of the grapes, a selection of other fruit and vegetables are also grown here, most of which are featured on the menu of nearby Glen Ellen Star restaurant. It’s best to book the tram tours ahead, which leave every half hour between 11 am and 3:30 pm, weather permitting. Open daily; benziger.com.
Front Porch Farm
A diverse 40-acre farm outside of Healdsburg, Front Porch grows flowers, grains, olives, tomatoes, corn, wheat and blackberries, among other delights. It also cultivates popular Rhône varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Viognier. These organically grown grapes are made into estate wines, classified within the Russian River Valley appellation. Visitors are encouraged to tour the farm in addition to tasting Front Porch’s wines. By appointment only; fpfarm.com.
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens
Centered in Santa Rosa, K-J farms a “sensory garden” that is over three acres, featuring a large variety of flora and fauna. It grows vegetables, fruit and herbs for the culinary team’s food and wine pairings, and also tends to chickens, hops and beehives, among other things. Tucker Taylor, the farm’s culinary gardener, has become a bit of a sensation on Instagram, where he offers followers ongoing glimpses into what’s happening around the farm (@farmert).
At the tasting room selections include a five-course wine and food pairing, a dessert wine and chocolate option, and a wine and cheese tasting experience. A monthly open-air, farm-to-table dinner series was launched in May. Open daily, reservations recommended; kj.com.
An estate-driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer based in the heart of the Russian River Valley, Lynmar has a menu of culinary provisions prepared on-site to accompany its wine tastings. It also offers the Lynmar Lunch, a three-course meal with wine, in which a large portion of the ingredients come from Lynmar’s own gardens. In summer, come for the Pinot & Pizza afternoons, held on select Sundays. Reserve ahead; lynmarestate.com.
Preston Farm and Winery
Hidden at the end of a road in the Dry Creek Valley, the Preston family has farmed here for more than four decades. They grow vegetables, heirloom apples, walnuts, olives (for oil) and grapes, alongside pastured livestock. Preston also has 13 grape varieties planted on their estate, including the site’s original 100-year old Zinfandel and Carignane vines, as well as more recent plantings of Rhône and Piedmont varieties. Much of the culinary bounty is for sale in the farm store, as is brick-fired sourdough bread. Open daily; prestonfarmandwinery.com.
Check out Part One of Our Sonoma Guide
Breaking Out the Good/Rare Stuff
While many area tasting rooms and wineries have special offerings tucked behind their counters, some spots specialize in more unique experiences. It’s a chance to delve deeper into what they make, whether via library vintages or special, small-lot productions.
Chateau St. Jean
The Sonoma Valley producer of Cinq Cépages, one of Sonoma County’s seminal Bordeaux blends first made in 1990, boasts a sprawling property ideal for a picnic or for having a glass of wine while playing a game of bocce. It also offers a seated Cinq Rêves Library Tasting, a chance to partake in a vertical of Cinq Cépages and other reserve wines. Offered twice daily Friday through Monday, it’s best to call ahead. chateaustjean.com.
Hartford Family Winery
Tucked quietly within the folds of the Russian River Valley in Forestville, Hartford has made superb Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and old-vine Zinfandel (along with smaller batches of Syrah) since 1994. Reserve ahead for a library wine tasting of some of Hartford’s most sought, highly allocated wines. Open daily; hartfordwines.com.
Long known for ageworthy Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Mountain, Laurel Glen maintains a cozy tasting space in Glen Ellen, where visitors can sample current releases.. There’s also a Library and Chocolate Tasting, which offers a chance to sample several of the estate’s older vintages. Among the newer offerings are the winery’s Lot Series that begins with a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, intended for cellaring. By appointment only; laurelglen.com.
Ramey Wine Cellars
In downtown Healdsburg, renowned winemaker David Ramey runs this production facility that offers a seated wine tasting With a career that spans Bordeaux and the Napa Valley, Ramey makes a lineup of memorable Cabernet Sauvignons, an old-school Claret, along with Chardonnay and Syrah of equal renown. Recently, he’s added Pinot Noir to his repertoire, and has started a sister label called Sidebar, which specializes in youthful, approachable wines like rosé, Sauvignon Blanc and red blends. By appointment only; rameywine.com.
Ridge Lytton Springs
The famous Santa Cruz Mountains producer’s sister winery in Dry Creek Valley is a good place to explore multiple estates. It offers daily tastings of estate single-vineyard wines, including its flagship Monte Bello bottling. Book ahead for their Century Tour and Library Tasting, offered twice daily, and venture into back vintages alongside current releases. The tour offers a fascinating way to ponder ageability in wine. Open daily; ridgewine.com/visit/lytton-springs.