Sonoma Valley started California’s renowned wine industry back in the day. Today, the area has more than 40 wineries, all just a short distance apart in a pretty scenic area of about 17 miles. But surprisingly, there’s also a great microbrewery scene that my boyfriend helped me uncover on our recent visit. Don’t neglect the amazing microbreweries while you’re here. That should mean a lot coming from a wine lover; I honestly loved the breweries too!
Here’s what to drink in Sonoma (not forgetting the wines):
Wineries & vineyards
1. Jordan Vineyard & Winery (1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448; 707-431-5250)
Upon entering Jordan, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of the French countryside. Guests will love the gorgeous French chateau, and beautiful vines and gardens to gaze at while sipping wine. They produce two wines in the hot Alexander Valley region, a cabernet sauvignon and a chardonnay.I should give a disclaimer as I write this: I’m sipping on a Jordan 2012 Chardonnay. So you can probably already guess my opinion. Even though I’m more of a red wine-lover, I’ll drink this Chardonnay again and again.Jordan’s Lisa poured the 2013 Chardonnay, which was paired with coffee-roasted beets and heirloom carrots (my favorite wine and pairing). Next, we tried my boyfriend’s favorite, the 2006 Cabernet, with a cheese pairing and then sampled the 2008 and 2011 Cabs as Lisa compared the different growing years.This place is a real gem and the staff makes the experience extra special. The winemaker has been with Jordan for 40 years and he checks on the vines as he rides his bike to work in the morning. That’s passion right there!As we were walking around the grounds we were able to look up to the top of the mountain to what looked like a glass-enclosed house. I can only imagine the view from up there. The glass-enclosed structure is actually used for exclusive dinner parties, which I wish I could come back for. Check out the upcoming dinner series “Sunset Supper at Vista Point” on July 18 and August 1.
2. DaVero Farms & Winery (766 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-8000)
We loved the Healdsburg area with its intimate, niche wineries chalked full of personality. DaVero is the perfect example of that. This farm and winery uses biodynamic farming—the highest level of organic farming—that supports the growth of olive trees, the vineyard, fruit trees, citrus, lavender, produce, chickens, pigs, and sheep. The result is land that’s rich and vibrant—and quite frankly it shows in their product through their focus on Italian varietals and olive oil.The DaVera biodynamic farm tour and seated tasting is one of the most original, seated wine-tasting tours. Talk about rustic elegance; it’s a tour of the grounds with stops in little nooks along the way with unique vantage points to sip wine. You then realize you’re drinking wine made from the grapes on the vines in front of you, all while overlooking picturesque Sonoma. It was an incredible experience.
We enjoyed meeting Andrew, who was informative and most importantly passionate about DaVero, biodynamic farming and the wines. Not only will you sample current releases on the two-hour tour and tasting but also library wines and even some unreleased wines. We don’t really go for rosé, but I absolutely loved the Sangiovese Rosato. It’s like a red wine that’s pink. To make it, the winery picks just one ton of fruit several weeks earlier than it does for the rest of the Sangiovese. The natural yeasts produce the subtle yet deep, layered nose and flavors you get in a red. It’s best with rich foods. I think it’s fair to say the rostato (or rosé) changed both of our opinions about rosé for the better.
One more thing that changed our life here was the olive oil. We used used little cups to sip the olive oil in our tasting instead of bread to dip olive oil. That’s the way it should be. All of the olive oils were fabulous but absolutely do not miss their meyer lemon olive oil (which by the way you can only purchase if you’re in their membership club). I just wanted to keep taking shots of the meyer lemon olive oil and Andrew poured me extra little cups of it (yeah, you probably have the right mental picture of me just sipping olive oil—it was THAT good).
3.Kenwood Winery (9592 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA 95452; 707-282-4228)
Nestled in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, the Kenwood Winery was established in 1970. However, the winery can trace its roots back to 1906 when another historic cellar was located on the property. The winery occupies a 23-acre vineyard, and it sources grapes from vineyards around the region. Kenwood also has exclusive access to the vineyards on the Jack London Ranch on the western slope of the valley. These wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfindel and Syrah, are labeled with the wolf head logo that was Jack London’s book head—and they’re all award winners.The Kenwood tasting room is housed in one of the original buildings built in 1906, and while not necessarily as scenic as some tasting rooms in Sonoma, it has the charm you’d expect out of a historical vineyard. Our wine “guide” for the day was Hutch, who introduced us to their range of Jack London Series wines and took us through their line of Artist Series wines. It was tough to choose, but the latter were my favorites. Each of these bottles of Cabernet display a notable work of art on the label, and the works are often commissioned by the vineyard itself. Hutch was kind enough to take us into the fermentation tanks where we could sample wine that hadn’t yet been blended into some of their signature offerings.The expertise of Hutch and the vast array of wines to taste made this a truly memorable experience.
4. Sheldon Wines (1301 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95401; 707-865-6755)
At the urging of our wonderful Farmhouse Restaurant server Michael, on our last day in Sonoma County we awoke and made our way to the Sheldon Winery. Pulling into the parking lot, we were in for quite a surprise, and a treat! The Sheldon Winery is part of a growing trend of micro-wineries in the region. These wineries set themselves apart by not having vineyards of their own. Instead, they source grapes from local vineyards. Think of them as the microbreweries of wine. While mega-wineries are producing hundreds of barrels of a varietal, a micro-winery may put out five (as is the case with Sheldon’s Pinot!). This allows them to produce a wider variety of wine in a smaller space and also allows the vintner to be more creative with his offerings, as we were lucky to experience.The winery itself was simply an industrial park space divided in two. On one side was the winery with its towering stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels. On the other was Sheldon’s Sippy Lounge, a simple space containing a bar for tastings, lounge chairs and couches with board games. The wine was spectacular. I particularly enjoyed their Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and something called the Graciano (or Superfreak, as it was explained to us). The Superfreak seemed to have a flavor that changed dramatically from minute to minute! The wines were terrific and the hospitality, impeccable. We were impressed enough to come home with three bottles!
5. St. Francis Winery (100 Pythian Road at Hwy. 12, Santa Rosa, CA; 707-538-9463)
St. Francis is a certified sustainable, family-owned winery. The winery was built in 1999 and includes a 457-kilowatt solar energy system. St. Francis works with the community helping to conserve nearby creeks and waterways.We enjoyed this lazy afternoon relaxing on the patio overlooking the vineyards. We sampled a flight of limited-production wines, paired with local cheeses, artisan charcuterie and seasonal accompaniments. We enjoyed the Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.
1. St. Florian’s Brewery (7704A Bell Road, Windsor, CA; 707-838-BREW)
In an unassuming industrial park off the 101 in Windsor, you’ll find St. Florian’s Brewery and Tap Station. Opened in the spring of 2013, St. Florian’s Brewery was the brainchild of Amy (a former Silicon Valley sales manager) and Aron (a local Windsor fire captain). Together, this husband-and-wife team set out to take Aron’s masterful homebrews and produce them for the masses. Over two years later, their operation is rapidly growing with no end in sight. Oh, and the beer is pretty darn good too.
My favorite was the Brown Ale aged in red wine barrels, and my boyfriend’s favorite was the Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels. Both beers are based off the brewery’s awesome Brown Ale. The wine-aged variety has a flavor similar to those ever-trendy sour beers, while its whiskey-barrel-aged cousin has fantastic caramel notes and a really nice full flavor.
St. Florian’s also distinguishes itself with its philanthropy. The brewery donates a minimum of 5% of its profits to fire-related and other community-based organizations.
2. Russian River Brewing Company (725 4th Street, Santa Rosa, CA; 707-545-BEER)
If you’re any kind of beer enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of Pliny the Elder. At least this is all that my boyfriend has talked about because I’m not the beer enthusiast! This beer is probably one of the more famous products to come out of Russian River Brewing Company—and the area in general. However, it’s just one of several specialties this brewery has been churning out since Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife Natalie took the helm in 2003.
The brewery was originally founded by Korbel Champagne Cellars on their property in Guernville, CA. However, when the famed champagne-producer wanted to get out of the beer business, the brand was offered to its brewmaster Vinnie. In 2004, the husband-and-wife pair relocated the brewery to downtown Santa Rosa and opened as a brewpub serving bar fare and their tasty brews. Soon after, a production brewery was opened and the brewery was able to broaden their distribution.
While predictably Pliny the Elder was my boyfriend’s favorite, their award-winning Russian River Porter was a flavor experience in its own right. In case you can’t decide which one of their beers to try, go for their beer flight. But make sure someone else is driving, as their flight contains 20 (yes, 20) of their best brews!
3. Woodfour Brewing Company (6780 Depot St, Sebastopol, CA 95472; 707.823.3144)
Woodfour Brewery is a unique food, beverage, art campus, and marketplace in Sebastopol. The complex brings together food producers, wine-makers, brewers, distillers, and artists to offer a direct connection between consumers and the makers of local products.Woodfour is known for its selection of fantastic, handcrafted beer and locally sourced dishes prepared by its executive chef. The pairing of top-notch beer and tasty eats make this joint a step above a typical brewpub. Stop by for their Sour Farmhouse Ale, which is brewed on-site and then fermented in wine barrels sourced from wineries from around Sonoma County.
Photos courtesy of Caitlin Martin/Spencer Marker.