SONOMA, CA, JANUARY 29, 2013 - No trip to San Francisco is complete without spending some quality time with wine up in Sonoma County. Napa County often gets all the love and attention, but Sonoma actually produces far more wine, harvesting over 216,000 tons of wine grapes.
Often considered Napa’s little sibling, the quaint and often still family-owned wineries are a must see. The fruits of the Sonoma county vines, are primarily Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, but you will see a little bit of everything here, including Sangiovese, Viognier and a little Pinot Meunier.
Sonoma Valley translates to mean “valley of the moon” or “many moons.” Jack London made it famous in his 1913 novel The Valley of the Moon. (For a break from wine tasting, check out Jack London State Historic Park.)
Sonoma County is about an hour drive north from San Francisco. Sonoma is the largest of the San Francisco Bay Area counties, with nearly 1,800 square miles of land, 13 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) and over 250 wineries. Each region of Sonoma has more than a week’s worth of wineries to tour, so take your time and come back often. This article focuses on Southern Sonoma County wineries in the regions of Carneros, Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Sonoma Valley.
Audelssa Estate Winery, Glen Ellen: tucked away in downtown Glen Ellen you will find Audelssa. It is an urban chic tasting room, without an ounce of snobbiness. Their focus is on producing artisan Bordeaux and Rhone inspired wines. Most of their wine goes to their club members, the rest is sold in the tasting room. So if you find something you like, buy it. Tasting suggestions: Repris Right Bank Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen: Benziger is a bit tricky to get to. Pay attention, so you don’t miss the driveway on the right. Benziger is a biodynamic winery, which means that the entire winery is self-sufficient. Head right to the reserve tasting room, where their finest wines can be tasted. Tasting suggestions: Sauvignon Blanc, plus the reserve tasting, including Tribute Cabernet Sauvignon.
Buena Vista, Sonoma Valley: Buena Vista is the oldest winery in Sonoma. There is a charming courtyard in the back, complete with a fountain and picnic tables where you can sit and sip wine, or eat lunch. Tasting suggestions: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah.
Deerfield Ranch Winery, Kenwood: Deerfield’s genious is it’s winemaker, Robert Rex. The wines are gorgeous and perfectly aged. You can enjoy them in their atmospheric 23,000-square-foot wine-cave tasting room. The Deerfield story is rich in history, love and patience that is reflected in every wine they make and every experience you have with them.
If you are lucky, you might just catch one of the winery events for which Robert handcrafts his chocolate truffles. There is truly nothing better than having a glass of Robert’s Zinfandel, nibbling on a bit of homemade chocolate and hearing stories of the birth and life of Deerfield Ranch. Tasting suggestions: Zinfandel flight, 1999 Meritage, 2000 Meritage and the DRX.
Kunde Family Estate Winery, Kenwood: Kunde is family-owned and operated for five generations. They have a large tasting room, VIP service if you are a wine club member, and also offer cave tours. One of the knowledgeable and highly personable staff leads you on a tour into the Kunde Caves and briefs you on the history of the family and the winery. As you walk into the cold, dark caves, the smell of wine distilling overwhelms you. If you’re fortunate, you’ll be treated to a barrel tasting. Tasting notes: Be sure to taste the Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Kunde Vallee de la Lune, Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel and Drummond Cabernet Sauvignon.
Muscardini Cellars, Kenwood: Muscardini moved into the old Family Wineries tasting room right down the street from their old location they shared with Ty Caton. The energy is usually high at Muscardini and oh my, the wine flows! Tasting suggestions: Zinfandel, and Tesoro.
Paradise Ridge Byck Family Winery, Kenwood: this is an absolutely, wonderful winery. Winemaker Dan Barwick knows his stuff. The tasting room is very cheery and bright, and they are generous with their pours. The Kenwood tasting room is only a mere tease of their drop dead gorgeous winery in Santa Rosa. If you are in the Kenwood tasting room Tuesday-Saturday, ask for Annette. If you have the time, head to Santa Rosa for the main winery. Tasting suggestions: Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Estate Zinfandel, Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon and Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon.
* Sonoma is huge. Get a hotel and stay for a few days, at least overnight. Start in Southern Sonoma and work your way north to Russian River, Healdsburg, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley. (Tip, Russian River is known for its Pinot Noir.)
* Pack a picnic including a variety of cheeses and breads. Some wineries have small markets, but most do not. Most wineries allow you to bring food. Try the Basque Boulangerie Café in downtown Sonoma for their ready to go Vintner’s Box Lunches.
* Hydrate hydrate hydrate. Keep drinking water throughout the day. It may not seem like you’re drinking that much wine since it’s one small tasting at a time, but it adds up quick.
* Do not wear white. You won’t know how it happened, but somehow you will end up with red wine all over your cute outfit. (Carry Wine-Away with you just in case. Many of the wineries sell it in a handy purse size bottle).
* Wineries typically are open from 10am to 4pm. Some open an hour later and stay open until 5pm. But only a rare few are open later. The smallest wineries typically require a reservation. Be sure to investigate beforehand, and check to see if they are by appointment only.
Read more of Sherrie’s work at Wine Country Weekly and Out And About San Francisco in the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook for even more inside scoop. Follow her on Pinterest to follow the visual story.
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