SONOMA, November 9, 2013 – Delicious wines, remarkable views and once in a lifetime wine experiences are plentiful in the heart of Northern California wine country. Visitors to Sonoma County may choose to stay in the quaint town, but what they often overlook are the fabulous wineries in the town itself. Boutique wineries surround the historic plaza and stretch into the surrounding mountains. This is your guide to the top five wineries around town to include on your next visit to Sonoma.
Sojourn Cellars has a cozy tasting room barely a half block from the downtown square. This quaint, cottage-style home-turned-tasting room is the perfect setting for their seated, comparative wine tastings. Instead of butting elbows and fighting for space at a loud tasting bar in one of the larger wineries, Sojourn offers a refined, hour-long experience where you taste wine at a very leisurely pace.
Sojourn is known primarily for their handcrafted Pinot Noir, but they also produce Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. A typical tasting starts guests off with one of their creamy and bright Sonoma Coast Chardonnays. It may be followed up by a side-by-side flight of three distinct and different Sonoma Coast and/or Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs. A nice cap might be a sample of their deep and rich Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sojourn sells nearly 100% of their wines via their Tasting Salon or by joining their mailing list to receive an allocation of their wine.
Wine tasting details: Most tastings are conducted by Sojourn’s knowledgeable tasting room manager, Emily. Tastings are by appointment only, and can be booked daily between 10am – 5pm. The cost is $25 per person for wine only tasting. $35 will get you a very unique chocolate and wine pairing experience.
Tasting suggestions: Depending on the time of year, you will experience different wines in the tasting salon. Personal favorites include: Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Wohler Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Silver Eagle Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
NOTE: Sojourn recommends decanting all their wines for at least an hour before serving.
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Walt is another quaint and charming tasting room tucked away just off the historic town square. Walt Wines is owned by Vintners Kathryn Walt Hall and Craig Hall of Hall Wines in Napa Valley. Walt is dedicated to the production of premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Pacific Coast’s most distinctive vineyard sites, spanning nearly 1,000 miles and including Santa Rita Hills, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, and the Willamette Valley. Zeke, one of the wine educators, talks about all the Walt Wines, and offers detailed knowledge about Pinot Noir. There is a feeling of ease and comfort at this tasting venue. Don’t be surprised to spend two hours there, and then walk out with a case of wine and a new wine club membership. They also offer a few picnic tables in the backyard. Walt produces about 5,000 cases annually, and was founded in 2009.
Wine tasting details: Open daily from 11 am – 6 pm, no appointment or reservation is needed for groups of up to five.
Tasting suggestions: Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Blue Jay Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Griffin’s Lair Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Clos Pepe Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, Dutton Ranch Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
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Repris is a new comer to the scene. The first vines were planted here back in the 1800s, but Repris as a winery was established in 2010. There is a long, rich history to take in on the tour of this breath-taking Moon Mountain winery, from pre-prohibition vine plantings to hippie communes in the ‘60s and ‘70s, to what is there today. Some 300 acres in total (65 planted with vines) make up this picturesque vineyard. Repris is located atop Moon Mountain, which recently achieved its own American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation. Visitors are surrounded by rolling hills, mountainous terrain, and on clear days, views of the San Francisco Bay. Repris produces 6,000 cases annually.
Tour details: Tours and tastings are by appointment only. The hour-long tours move via four-wheel drive buggy through the rugged slopes around the vineyards. Guides head to the top and around the property and stop for photo opps along the way. The tour then stops at the wine caves for guests to sample soon-to-be-bottled wine right from the barrel. It finishes with a seated tasting outside on the patio. When booking a reservation, ask for Ryan to handle the guided tour.
Tasting suggestions: Start things off with a sample of their crisp and refreshing sparkling wine. Don’t leave without picking up a few bottles of their Cabernet Sauvignon or Left Bank red blend.
Hanzell is tucked away in the hills just north of the town of Sonoma — literally a hidden gem in this town. They have been producing wine since 1957 and are greatly respected by the industry, although hardly known to the average wine consumer. Visiting Hanzell is like visiting family. It is an intimate setting that is warm and inviting. With the Sonoma Valley below, the Hanzell Estate comprises 200 acres, 12 of which are planted with Pinot Noir and 32 with Chardonnay. Hanzell is at the end of a long, single lane, narrow road. Take time getting up there. Allow an extra 10-15 minutes from what the GPS tells you.
Tour details: The tasting experience here is accompanied by a tour of the Estate and is hosted by one of Hanzell’s Estate Educators. Visitors are lead through the original historic vineyards where they learn about the vineyard’s farming practices and how the location and soil contribute to the wines. Then visitors see the Heritage Winery Building and the barrel-aging caves. The tour concludes with a seated tasting of Hanzell’s current releases. It costs $45 per person, and can accommodate groups of up to 12 people. Allow 90 minutes for the tour and tasting. Hanzell also offers a Library tasting where participants taste a total of four wines: the current release, plus two older vintages. Allow 2.5 hours for the library tasting, which is $150 per person with a $600 minimum.
Tasting suggestions: Hanzell focuses on Burgundian-style wines, specifically Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They have three wines in their current release that you will taste. Your tasting will consist of two estate Chardonnays and one estate Pinot Noir. Taste them all and buy what you fall in love with, which may very well be everything.
Petroni is another hidden gem that sits atop a mountain with amazing, far-reaching views of Sonoma Valley. Petroni was born from San Francisco restauranteur Lorenzo Petroni’s love for wine. Lorenzo’s dream was to be the first California vintner to grow the prized Sangiovese Grosso clone from his native Tuscany on Sonoma soil. Lorenzo scoured the Northern California countryside, looking for the perfect spot to make his dreams come true. Finally, one fine day in the Spring of 1992, on a one-lane, winding road on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas Range, he happened on a 37-acre estate. The terrain looked perfect for developing multiple plots within the estate. Lorenzo and his wife Maria Elena purchased the parcel the very next day.
One might think that an Italian-owned vineyard making primarily Italian varietal wines wouldn’t be the right home for a young and up and coming New Zealand born, raised and experienced winemaker, but that would be wrong. Enter Martin MacKenzie, Petroni’s winemaker since 2009. Having now completed four vintages at Petroni Vineyards, his passion and commitment to quality are ideally suited to the continued production and improvement of the outstanding red wines of Petroni Vineyards.
Tour details: Petroni recently opened a downtown Sonoma tasting room right on the historic square. They are open noon to 6:00pm, everyday except Wednesdays; no appointment needed. Call to inquire about a tasting and tour up at the estate.
Tasting suggestions: Brunello di Sonoma, Rosso di Sonoma, Syrah and Chardonnay.
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