Sign pointing to Sonoma wineries.

Sonoma County

by Eve Andersson

Home : California Wine Regions : One Article
Early morning fog cools much of Sonoma County. This fog and the ocean breeze moderate the climate, contributing to the making of some of the best Pinot Noirs in the world, nearly Burgundian in style. However, Sonoma County is large, with numerous microclimates; thus quite a few varietals and styles can be found. Perhaps the most well-known of Sonoma County's 13 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) is Russian River, which is particularly foggy and known for its Pinots.

Best of Sonoma

  • Benzinger Winery's tractor-tram tour of its biodynamic vineyards
  • A self-guided stroll through the vines of Foppiano
  • The wine-and-food pairing at Kendall-Jackson Wine Center
  • Walking around the historic town of Sonoma

Sonoma Wineries

Benziger Winery
Sonoma Mountain AVA. With all of my talk of fog and Pinots in the preamble above, Benziger actually lies north of where the Sonoma County fog usually reaches, and they produce Bordeaux varietals rather than Pinots. Their winery, on hilly slopes, is divided into 29 growing regions called "wine blocks," which are suitable for different grape varietals. Benziger practices biodynamic farming, which is a major undertaking. In addition to growing everything organically, they grow plants that encourage the right kinds of insects to populate their vineyard. This series of plants is referred to as the "bug highway." At this winery, I observed black-colored bees for the first time. I am confident they were bees, not flies; they buzz, have stingers, and collect pollen. Benziger's wines are good, especially Oonapais, a biodynamic Bordeaux blend.
Nymph.  Bruno's Nymph Garden.  Benziger Family Winery. Black bee.  Benziger Family Winery. Barrels in a cave.  Benziger Family Winery. Equipment.  Benziger Family Winery. Grapes.  Benziger Family Winery. Insectary.  Benziger Family Winery. Tanks.  Benziger Family Winery. Tractor.  Benziger Family Winery. Vineyard.  Benziger Family Winery. Rows of vines.  Benziger Family Winery.
DeLoach Vineyards
Russian River AVA. DeLoach does not grow their own grapes. If you look at their vineyards, you will see the vines are too young to produce grapes. But DeLoach has style. With the grapes they source from other vineyards, they create excellent wines. Their Forgotten Vines Zinfandel is truly sui generis. I am eager for a few years to pass so we can experience a DeLoach estate wine.
Baby Pinot noir vines.  DeLoach Vineyards. Artichoke Plant.  DeLoach Vineyards. Young vines.  DeLoach Vineyards. Honey-producing bees.  DeLoach Vineyards. Tasting room.  DeLoach Vineyards. Flowerpot art.  DeLoach Vineyards.
Foppiano Vineyards
Russian River AVA. Foppiano is an old vineyard. Founded in 1896, they are one of the few pre-Prohibition vineyards which have survived to this day. Foppiano has a spectacular self-guided walking tour through its vineyard. Other wineries have self-guided tours, but they show barrels and crushers, not vines. Have you wondered about the characteristics of mature versus young vines? Do you know how frost is controlled through heaters spread throughout the vineyard? Have you seen and tasted how Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, and Chardonnay grapes on the vine differ? OK, I'm not sure if we're actually supposed to taste the grapes; I don't even know if Foppiano uses pesticides. But I can tell you that Cabernet Savignon grapes taste remarkable, even before they're fully ripe.
Heater and wind generator to regulate grape vine temperature.  Foppiano Vineyards. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  Foppiano Vineyards. Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  Foppiano Vineyards. Petit Sirah grapes.  Foppiano Vineyards. Petit Sirah vines.  Foppiano Vineyards. Train car.  Foppiano Vineyards.

Hop Kiln Winery
Hop Kiln is a boutique winery, producing 10,000 cases of wine/year. The structure that houses the winery was originally a hop-drying barn, built in 1905. Hop Kiln is known for some of its red blends, such as Big Red.
Tasting room. Hop Kiln Winery. Hop Kiln Winery. Tasting room.  Hop Kiln Winery. Wall of awards.  Hop Kiln Winery. Pond with picnic tables.  Hop Kiln Winery.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center
Kendall-Jackson is a major wine producer with international distribution channels. They have vineyards in multiple California regions, including Knight's Valley (Sonoma), Arroyo Seco (Monterey), and Santa Maria Bench (Santa Barbara), from which they produce very good single-vineyard estate wines. At their wine center, you can enjoy an excellent wine and food pairing that uses vegetables and herbs from their on-site garden. A member of their culinary team, such as the entertaining and knowledgeable Chef Matthew Lowe, will come to your table to discuss the pairings.
Chef Matt.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Flower garden.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Wine and food pairing.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Grapes.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Grapes.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Vegetable garden.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. Vines.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Center.

Arista Winery
Russian River AVA. This small, family-run operation was founded in 2002. Their vines are too young to bear fruit, so they source grapes from other Russian River Valley vineyards and produce single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and well as blends from multiple Pinot crops. Arista's wines showcase the variety of flavors that can result from a single varietal in a single region.
Garden.  Arista Winery. Arista Winery. Arista Winery. Vineyard.  Arista Winery.
Ledson Winery & Vineyards
Sonoma Valley AVA. Ledson's winery is, for obvious reasons if you look at the photos, known as "the castle." It is opulent, inside and out. Ledson does not distribute their wines to any stores or restaurants; all purchases must be made directly with the winery. Despite the slight Disneyesque character of the winery, they are actually serious about producing excellent wines, especially reds.
Castle interior.  Ledson Winery and Vineyards. The castle.  Ledson Winery and Vineyards. Fountain and vineyard.  Ledson Winery and Vineyards. Fountain and vineyard.  Ledson Winery and Vineyards. Tasting room.  Ledson Winery and Vineyards. Vineyard in front of castle.  Ledson Winery and Vineyards.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
Sonoma Valley AVA. St. Francis produces fuller-bodied reds than many other Sonoma wineries — Zinfandels (some of the best I've had), Syrahs, and Bordeaux varietals, but no Pinots (which can be a relief after the emphasis so many other Sonoma wineries put on Pinots). Although not all of their wines come from their own estate — they produce Syrah on their estate, which is often blended into the wines they produce — they do source all of their grapes from Sonoma.
Garden scuplture.  St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. Lavender plants.  St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. Tasting room.  St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. Vineyard and mountains.  St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. Garden and mountains.  St. Francis Winery and Vineyards.
Limerick Lane
Russian River AVA. All of Limerick Lane's wines are grown and bottled on its estate vineyard, Collins' Vineyard, in the Russian River Valley. This winery is 100 years old, and the old vine zinfandel is fantastic.
Tasting room, looking out onto the vineyard, Limerick Lane Cellars. Vineyard, Limerick Lane Cellars. Ripe grapes, Limerick Lane Cellars. Bottles of 1023 wine, Limerick Lane Cellars.
Dry Creek AVA. I've enjoyed every one of Michel-Schlumberger's wines that I've tried, particularly their reserve wines (Deux Terres Cabernet Sauvignon & Coteaux Sauvages) which were not merely delicious but also interesting. All of their wines are estate grown and organically farmed, and the tasting room is in a pretty, Spanish Mission-style building.
Wine glass and flowers, Michel-Schlumberger. Ripe grapes, Michel-Schlumberger. Courtyard, Michel-Schlumberger. Tasting room, Michel-Schlumberger. Michel-Schlumberger.
Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves
Dry Creek AVA. Bella is a very pleasant winery to visit, with a beautiful, hilly setting and tastings that take place in the wine caves. Bella makes single-vineyard red wines from its Dry Creek and Alexander Valley vineyards.
Sign at entrance, Bella Vineyards. Ripe grapes with red leaves, Bella Vineyards. Cave, looking out.  Bella Vineyards. Bella Vineyards. Female bust overlooking a vineyard, Bella Vineyards. Garden, Bella Vineyards.

Sonoma County Towns

Sonoma is a lovely town, with a large, grassy plaza in the center and Spanish-style buildings on all four sides, including some historical gems such as the mission founded by a Spanish priest in 1823. It was here in Sonoma that the Bear Flag revolt ended Mexican rule of California in 1846. Sonoma was, in fact, the capital of the California Republic until California became a part of the United States (this didn't last long, however, as independence from Mexico was won in June and California joined the United States in July). The town is small — only about 10,000 residents — but probably because of the wine and tourism industries, it has wonderful restaurants.
Business signs in downtown Sonoma: Chocolate Tasting, Crystals, and Himalayan products. Bear Flag monument commemorating California's freedom from from Mexican rule on July 9, 1846.  Sonoma Plaza. The Plaza Bistro, across the street from Sonoma Plaza. Blue Wing Inn. Sonoma Plaza. The Girl and the Fig restaurant.
Bell.  Sonoma mission. Light fixture.  Sonoma mission. Sonoma mission. Chapel.  Sonoma mission. Dining room.  Sonoma mission.
Healdsburg, located further north than the town of Sonoma, is similar in size to Sonoma. Healdsburg also has good restaurants, a central plaza, and tons of charm. However, it lacks the Spanish influence that, in my opinion, makes Sonoma so interesting.
Welcome to Healdsburg sign. Divine Affair.  Downtown Healdsburg. Cena Luna restaurant. La Crema Tasting Room.  Downtown Healdsburg. Shop signs.  Downtown Healdsburg. Downtown Healdsburg. Grape-derived beauty supplies in shop window.  Downtown Healdsburg. Plaza Park.  Downtown Healdsburg. Pig sculpture in window of Restaurant Charcuterie.  Downtown Healdsburg.

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