Obviously a big part of our weekend in Sonoma wine country was actually going out to several wineries and trying some wine!
From previous wine tasting experiences, we know 3-4 wineries in one day is our limit. We always share tastings so it ends up being a reasonable amount to taste, but our palates seem to burn out by that point so there is no use tasting more– it’s not enjoyable.
I did some research ahead of our trip to better understand the wineries around Sonoma (there are literally hundreds) and focused on those close to Sonoma proper that specialized in varietals we know we like–in particular Chardonnay and Zinfandel. (I also love Cabs but those aren’t Brian’s favorite).
We ended up exploring four wineries our first day and three wineries our second day, all very different from one another. Here are a few thoughts and pictures from those we visited!
Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery is one of California’s oldest wineries and a historical landmark! Because of that it’s very busy– we parked in the middle of nowhere and walked quite a ways in.
The winery and surrounding area are beautiful and there were lots of people having lunch and enjoying their tastings or just glasses of wine in the outdoor seating areas.
The tasting room is elegant, dramatic and a little intimidating. Downstairs is the main tasting area–upstairs is for wine club members to taste in a more private atmosphere.
It took a little while but we finally squeezed in at the very end of the counter and set about our flight. The wines were good but to be honest we weren’t blown away and didn’t end up purchasing anything. It was difficult to get anyone to wait on us and overall a little stuffy for our tastes.
Bartholomew Park Winery
Situated in a 300-acre park, Bartholomew Park Winery is a historic landmark and home to a museum filled with regional wine-making artifacts. The tasting room was lively but not overly packed, giving us the right balance of attention from the woman helping us with room to move about and explore the tasting room.
The women next to us had a friendly dog that kept Brian distracted most of our visit. After our tasting we headed into the museum and tried to learn a little about the area–it was a smidge difficult to concentrate as a bachelorette party was taking place in one corner and loudly enjoying themselves!
To be honest, the wine did not make a huge impression on me, but the atmosphere was enjoyable, the area is lovely, and a number of people were taking their purchases outside to enjoy on the lawn.
The winery with the best view award goes to Viansa Sonoma, which is perched up on a hill with 270 degree views (according to its website) of the Sonoma Valley and surrounding foothills. The winery has acres of vineyards as well as wetlands and you climb a path through the vines up to the tasting room and incredible outdoor patio.
We grabbed our tasting, which included a small box of chocolates to pair with one of their red wines, and grabbed some seats outside. This was one of the most relaxing wineries we visited–everyone was enjoying their wine, the views and the weather.
Before we left, I did a quick walk through of their shop inside and came across a small freezer with macron ice cream sandwiches! I had to try the salted caramel one and it was TO DIE FOR. I’m not sure why Brian needed to document my enjoyment, but I will say that between the view, the wine, and the macarons, this winery definitely needs to go on your list!
One of our favorite wineries was Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, both because we enjoyed the wine and because we had the most wonderful woman helping us named Linda. She was so patient and kind and approachable–both to us as well as to the two younger girls next to us who’d had one to many tastes and insisted on taking multiple selfies with her.
Before we did our tasting, we walked around the tasting room and out back to the courtyard where other people were enjoying their wine. We were also able to sneak into a couple of the cellar and banquet rooms that were open–I imagine they host lots of events. It’s a really beautiful space.
Jacuzzi is right off one of the main roads from San Francisco to Sonoma and was pretty busy. However, it didn’t feel too busy–it was a great balance of energy and autonomy and had some of our favorite wines of the trip, including the Primitivo. Highly recommend it!
I specifically put Ravenswood on our list because they specialize in Zinfandels, which Brian and I both really like, and because their slogan is ‘no wimpy wines’– embrace the bold, abhor the bland. This is sort of my personal wine credo so I wanted to see if our shared philosophies also manifested as shared wine preferences.
The winery was a little off the beaten path and nestled in a wooded area overlooking some nearby foothills. The tasting room was busy but not overwhelmingly so– a couple in the parking lot commented to us how much nicer the Sonoma wineries were compared to the Napa wineries in terms of the number of people/their popularity. While we’ve only been to each place once, I would say we tend to agree!
We grabbed a spot on the end of the counter and enjoyed the wine–we ended up buying a couple of bottles to take home with us. Their shop was right next to where we were tasting, and I had to text my dad a picture of one of the cards– I knew he would appreciate the wine puns!
At the recommendation of my cousin, Ian, we made our way to the border of Sonoma and Napa to check out Nicholson Ranch, a winery known for its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, which are Brian’s favorites.
It was a bit of a sobering visit in that the winery is trying to recover from the forest fires that burned almost all the way up to the tasting room. I took a few pictures of the scorched hills nearby–while the fires didn’t get to the tasting room, they did impact the vines, the extent of which remains to be seen. The winery didn’t have potable running water while we were there–I felt bad for the guys trying to help us who are trying to rebuild while keeping people coming in.
There weren’t many people seated outside but they have a really lovely outdoor area overlooking the nearby hills and vineyards. It was a little cool out when we were there so we stayed at the indoor tasting counter and learned about how the winery was impacted from the guy helping us. He was really nice and one of the things I really enjoyed about our tasting is that he gave us some back-to-back wines to try (eg two Chardonnays at once with an explanation of how they differed so we could try them against each other). It was really informative and he was extremely helpful. I hope they are able to recover from the damage.
I guess unsurprisingly one of our other favorite wineries was Cline Cellars, which is owned by the same people who own Jacuzzi Vineyards! The two are right across the street from one another but couldn’t have been more different in terms of look and feel.
The main tasting room is a beautiful, big, white farmhouse with picnic tables strewn about the lawn with a pond and woods nearby. The tasting room was busy when we arrived so we headed to a tent out front where it also appeared they were doing tastings. It was a little confusing, but it seemed as though the tents were actually for their members, but one of the staff grabbed us an another couple and said they were happy to sneak us in for a tasting since it was getting late in the day. He led us out back to a big tent and right up to the tasting counter, and we ended up having a VIP tasting that was meant to be for wine club members!
The lady who helped us was very nice and we ended up really enjoying the wine and purchasing several bottles to go–one of my favorites was called the Cashmere Black Magic. I would have loved to have arrived earlier in the day and spent a little more time walking their grounds and checking out the inside of the main tasting room. Next time!
There are hundreds of wineries in Sonoma–it’s nearly impossible to figure out where to begin. Hopefully these notes and pictures give you a sense of a few we visited and help you with your planning efforts! Salud!