While Napa Valley is heralded for its cabernets and chardonnays, big-money vitners and elaborate chateaus and caves, on the western side of the Mayacamas mountains Sonoma County’s cooler coastal climate creates velvety pinots and oozes with rustic, cozy elegance. To further escape the crowds, head north along the 101’s “wine road.” Northern Sonoma county is home to a variety of wineries, from popular shelf names like Kendall-Jackson and Korbel to intimate off-the-beaten-path tasting treasures such as Tara Bella and Williamson Wines.
On your way north, stop in downtown Sonoma for brunch at Sunflower Caffé followed by a stroll around the square, where you’ll find Mission San Francisco Solano and an abundance of charming shops.
The New England-style farmhouse that overlooks Arrowood’s vineyards provides the perfect setting for an afternoon of porch side relaxation as you enjoy a glass of wine. Don’t be surprised to find a barn cat lazily curled around your ankles on a warm day. Arrowood is known for Cabernet Sauvignons, but I can never leave without a bottle of their 2012 smoky, full-bodied Saralee Syrah.
Signature Tasting: $15 / Premium Cabernet Tasting: $25
2. Kunde Family Winery
At Kunde Estate, visitors can experience more than just the tasting room on the beautiful estate grounds. The winery offers their signature mountain top tastings several times a day 1,400 feet above the estate. The experience also includes a guided tour of the estate’s caves and historical vineyards.
Main Tasting Room: $15 / Mountain Top Tasting: $50
This place is all about the gardens. Though Kendall-Jackson is a label we’ve commonly found on supermarket shelves, the estate makes drinking these varietals an entirely new experience. Whether you sip your tasting lounging in the gardens, take the garden tasting tour or opt for a wine and cheese pairing, you’ll appreciate the stately elegance that Kendall-Jackson offers. Don’t forget to bring their 2-for-1 tasting coupon!
Reserve Tasting: $10 / Estate Tasting:$20 / Garden Tour and Tasting: $25
2. Tara Bella
If you didn’t know about this charm, you wouldn’t know. Tara Bella is a tiny, rustic little gem that instantly won me over. The little dirt road entrance leads guests to a small building that looks as though it belongs in the Italian countryside. Across the way, two basset hounds eagerly welcome attention. Above the barn-converted tasting room where the wine barrels are also housed, wine club members can enjoy a quaint studio overlooking the vineyards for overnight stays.
Tasting Fee: $10
HKG Wines is set right on the river and the tasting room, housed in the historic hop kiln, has big, expansive windows that provide a spectacular view. The Russian River Valley sparkling pinot noir rosé is an instant favorite, though the winery’s other pinots are also quite remarkable.
Tasting Fee: $7 for 7 wines
My personal favorite. This is an idyllic place to while away an afternoon. The woodsy, rustic atmosphere is welcoming and on weekends you’ll usually find a singer or two crooning on the deck. You’ll want to snack on the Nightengale Bread Service or a starter of House-Made Burrata while sampling Russian River’s award-winning single-vineyard Pinot Noir. Or, stroll the grounds and admire the farm, play corn hole and relax under a vineyard Oak tree.
Tasting Fee: $10
Tasting and Tour Complimentary.
The town of Healdsburg is an adorable, walkable place with tasting rooms lining every block. Thumbprint, named for the owner’s signature mark, is a boutique winery memorable for its welcoming vibes, cheeky blends (four play, anyone?) and delightful Cabs.
Three wines: $5 / Six wines: $10
Modern, hip and relaxed, Portalupi’s tasting room is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a glass of one of their Italian varietals with friends. The spicy, fruity 2014 Shake Ridge Barbera is great, but I love their creative, everyday-drinking Vaso di Marina in their signature milk jug.
Tasting Fee: $10
Williamson’s warm, welcoming tasting room pairs perfectly with its “Fridge Foods and Fine Wines” experience. Most commonly you’ll find Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône varietals.
Tastings and Pairings Complimentary / Elevate for $10
Much like Kendall-Jackson, visiting the Coppola winery is more about the grounds themselves than the actual wine, which is easily found in stores (except for Coppola’s Reserve wines). The lavish winery is home to a small gallery and collection of the Coppola’s influence in film, along with a restaurant, vineyard-side verbena dining and swimming in one of two estate pools in the warmer months.
Tasting Fee: $25
-The Wandering Alligator