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How to Experience Sonoma County's Wine Scene

How to Experience Sonoma County's Wine Scene

First a little background: Sonoma County is home to more than 300 wineries spread over 13 viticultural regions, each with its unique microclimate and wine characteristics. Chardonnay is the most heavily planted varietal, followed by cabernet sauvignon, which reflects the popularity of these wines nationwide. The area has some of the oldest vines in California, first planted by Russian settlers in 1812 and later by Franciscan padres in 1824 as part of their mission expansion.


Wine and wine-grape growing are ingrained into the culture as well as the history of the area, which makes this destination an integral part of any Bay Area visit. Here are some tips to help make the most of wine tasting in Sonoma County.

Plan Ahead

Since Sonoma County is larger than the state of Rhode Island, it’s impossible to explore the whole county in one trip. It’s good to plan ahead to decide which regions and wineries you’d like to visit. One strategy is to focus on one type of wine. For instance, if you are a fan of pinot noir, you might head to the Carneros, Russian River, or Green Valley areas. If you can’t get enough chardonnay, the Sonoma Valley is a good choice. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot are the specialties of the Alexander Valley, and zinfandel is excellent in the warmer Dry Creek and Rockpile regions.

Consider Your Lifestyle

Another approach is to consider your lifestyle or special interests. For example, there are a large number of dog-friendly wineries such as Mutt Lynch and Forth. If you’re bringing the family dog, you could plan a route that would allow him to go everywhere with you. If you enjoy cycling, there are several scenic bike routes of varying length through winery-thick areas such as River Road and Olivet Lane, taking in wineries like Martinelli and Harvest Moon. Biking Wine Country makes it possible to leave the car behind and safely skip the designated driver. You could also emphasize organic wineries such as Quivira or DeLoach, or destinations known for their architecture or art.


Whichever strategy you choose, Visit Sonoma and Sonoma County Vintners are good resources for maps, suggested routes and detailed information on what each winery has to offer. You can also read our Winery Tasting Room Tips for ways to optimize your Sonoma County wine tasting experience.

Consider the Experience

Different wineries offer different experiences, some more casual, some more elegant. Many offer picnic space, a simple way to enjoy excellent local food and wine in the picturesque outdoors. Some wineries invite guests to take tours of their winemaking process, while others do not. Some wineries offer free wine tastings open to the public. Other wineries, such as Clouds Rest, Jordan, and Montemaggiore welcome visitors by appointment only; however, you may find it relaxing to avoid the weekend lines and crowds at the public tasting rooms.

Food and Wine

If you prefer to sample Sonoma’s distinctive cuisine while sipping your wine, you might choose wineries that emphasize food and wine pairings. Among these are Kendall-Jackson, which offers seated food and wine pairing experiences in addition to traditional wine tastings. Some locations, for example Corks Restaurant at Russian River Vineyards, are vineyards that are also home to a signature restaurant that specializes in pairing menu items with the wine made on site.

Other Popular Wineries to Visit

Just a few of the most popular wineries to visit in Sonoma County are Francis Ford Coppola Winery, a family-friendly destination with pools and board games; Gloria Ferrer, for sparkling wine; Buena Vista, one of the state’s oldest wineries; and Ravenswood, where the motto is “No wimpy wines.”


—By Kelly Crumrin
Kelly Crumrin is a freelance writer based in San Francisco,


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