I posted 13 Must-Visit Wineries in Napa a little while back and so it’s time for Sonoma to get some love! Sonoma County has some of my favorite overall spots in the valley, there is so much to explore, and as people say it’s “less commercialized” than Napa. Sonoma is more expansive, spread out, and laid-back. It’s actually almost double the size of Napa covering Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Sonoma Valley. Sonoma is known for its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, delicious Red Blends, and its Sparkling wines.
Today I’m going to focus on wineries in Sonoma, and recommend a few of my favorite wineries and winery experiences below.
These are in no particular order.
Iron Horse Vineyards was founded in 1976 by the Sterling family. Today, three generations of the family live on their property. They specialize in sparkling wine and Pinot Noir. Fun fact: Iron Horse’s wines have been served at the White House multiple times—even the Queen Elizabeth has sipped Iron Horse! The scene at the vineyards is like a super laid-back party—you just slide up to the outdoor bar, grab a glass, hang out and enjoy the view!
Lioco is a newer producer and they are making some fantastic pinot noirs, as well, I really enjoy their rosé. But the experience visiting Lioco is really like no other. Lioco bravely hosts tastings in the middle of its working winery, surrounded by cellar workers punching down skins, topping off barrels and driving forklifts. It’s a must-do for those that want to throw something different into the mix!
Lynmar Estate is in the Russian River Valley and as expected of that area, known for it’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I highly recommend doing “The Lynmar Experience” there, as they believe the fundamental pull of wine is in its relationship with food. It is a three-course farm to table lunch featuring creations made from estate-grown and locally sourced ingredients thoughtfully paired select Lynmar wines. We went with a group, sat outside overlooking the gorgeous grounds filled with wildflowers, and it was just perfection!
Aahhh, Paul Hobbs… If you are an architecture aficionado, this is a must-stop for you. The winery, called the Katherine Lindsay Estate, is designed by Howard Backen and is just stunning. In addition, Paul Hobbs is produces truly outstanding wines—in fact, he’s called the “Steve Jobs of Wine” for being a quality fanatic. He produces top-notch Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet. Beautiful wines, beautiful winery—all-around perfection.
A leader in eco-friendly wine production and farming, Benziger Family Winery is a must-visit for anyone interested in organic wine and sustainable farming practices. In 2000, the winery became biodynamic, which is the highest level of organic certification. The recommended experience here is to jump on board one of Benziger’s daily tram tours and experience a behind-the-scenes tour of of their estate. On the 45-minute tour, you’ll tour the grounds, including visits to the fermentation facility, crush pad and caves, followed by a tasting. Something different, and very cool indeed.
Gloria Ferrer is known for their Sparkling Wines as well as Pinot Noirs. As the gateway to Sonoma Wine Country located at the southern tip of the county, they are a great first stop. They offer casual tastings and by-the-glass-wines on their patio and in the tasting room. Not much beats a glass of sparkling wine in hand with an incredible view of the vineyards and the mountains. You can add a cheese and charcuterie plate to snack on as an added bonus!
Preston is rustic, different, and a lot of fun. Not only will you taste wines like Grenache Blanc, Cinsault, and Zinfandel, but also estate produced hard cider, their own olive oils, freshly baked bread from their onsite bakery, and pickled veggies! They also have lots of animals—from cats to sheep—which always makes me happy when visiting a winery. They have shaded seating and this is a great place to take a picnic lunch and hang out on the grounds.
Lancaster is Alexander Valley’s Cabernet king. The experience there is very cool—we did a tour, and were taken through a tasting in the middle of the cave at the table you see pictured here, which was a lot of fun! They also offer a full estate tour and a food-wine experience. This is a relatively small estate—at just 50+ acres, they make about 6,000 cases per year—but their wines are top-notch.
Jordan is another showstopper and a visit that I really enjoyed. Their estate was built in the early 1970s to replicate a French château, and the views from the property are amazing. Last time we went we did the winery tour and library tasting which I definitely recommend. They take you through the estate overlooking the winery garden and vineyards, and through the historic oak tank room and other rooms in the estate, before a seated wine and cheese tasting with food pairing in the cellar room. You sample their Cabernet and Chardonnay with small food pairings by their winery chef.
Scribe Winery was one of the first to ride the new wave of wineries in Napa and Sonoma. There’s no fancy tasting room and minimal presentation. Instead, you lounge on Mexican blankets on the grass or sit at picnic tables in front of the winery, sipping wine while enjoying the view and snacking on fruit and nuts grown on the property. You can easily spend an afternoon here—it’s typically filled with Bay Area locals and the best people watching around!
Bella is a relaxing stop with great wines. They specialize in mostly reds, and their unique late harvest zin is a real treat! The views are amazing and the yard area is filled with 150-year-old olive trees that were moved there. They have a small tasting room near the entrance where you can taste and hang out, and it’s a great spot to bring a picnic lunch to eat on the grounds. But the real kicker here is their stunning wine cave! The tour of the wine cave is worth going on — the cave is huge, and there are several stations where you can stop and taste as you go through.
Unti is a lesser-known find that I really enjoyed. They produces Mediterranean varietal wines in small lots—Barbera, Grenache, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, and a dry Rose from Grenache and Mourvedre. The tasting room is free of bells and whistles—it’s all about the wine here. But you can bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the grounds while you sip on their delicious wines and enjoy the view.
MacRostie is just outside of Healdsburg and produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But the architecture here will make you believe you’ve been transported to another country, with a centerpiece patio that provides breathtaking views of the valley. The vibe here is comfortable and the scenery is gorgeous!
Some of my other wine-tasting trip tips:
- Map your routes. Choose to fill your days with locations close to one another. The pace on the roads is slow in Sonoma and it can take a while to get from one place to another. If you aren’t spending a ton of time traveling, you can make it to 4 or even 5 wineries in a day.
- Look into the food and pairing experiences. Sure the standard tastings are nice, but there are some really amazing food pairing experiences that you should try and take advantage of. If available, each winery has this information on their site. You will have to make reservations for all of these types of visits.
- Take a tour. I would recommend doing a full on tour at at least one vineyard, early on in your trip or in your day. They take a while and cost a little more but are really informative in terms of understanding the process of winemaking. You will appreciate what you are drinking so much more after you see what goes into it!
This was a tough list to narrow down to, as there are many more other wonderful places to visit in Sonoma (to name a few, Gary Farrell, Arista, Gunlach Bundschu, Kunde, St. Francis – I could go on and on!). These are just a few I have been to that stood out for me. If you have any recommendations I should try on my next visit, please let me know!
xx — BB