Some liken Sonoma to Napa’s mellow, less snooty cousin. You’ll find the same lush, rolling landscape, but blessedly fewer wine buses and bachelorette parties. (The tasting fees tend to skew more affordable, as well.) But that’s not to say Sonoma has any less pedigree. Here, historic landmark wineries abut buzzy newcomers. Whether you’re looking for a low-key picnic spot, a hiking trail forgiving of a pinot buzz, or an Instagram-worthy wine cave, you’ll find it in Sonoma.
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Scribe Winery, perched atop a rolling knoll just off the road connecting Napa and Sonoma, produces vibrant, terroir-driven wines. The property is managed by fourth-generation wine-maker and farmer brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani, and is known for its cool, laid-back vibes and young, hip crowd. There is no fancy tasting room here; when you arrive, you'll be given a Mexican blanket and encouraged to find a spot for yourself in the shade of a tree or at a nearby picnic table. Couples and families picnic in the grass, and the vibe is convivial and casual. While snacking on fruit and nuts grown on the property (maybe even an egg from Scribe's hens), a young, good-looking wine enthusiast will periodically refresh your glass with another taste, telling the story behind each pour; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and, perhaps the most unique—and delicious—of the bunch, Sylvaner. How to visit: Tastings by appointment only. In short: Light and refreshing pours; rustic, laid-back vibe; younger crowd
Just down the road from the haute hipsters of Scribe lies Gundlach Bundschu, California’s oldest family-owned winery. But despite its century-old pedigree, Gun Bun, is no less lively. Rhinefarm, the 320-acre property, is idyllic, shaded by towering olive trees and bordered by a scenic pond. Still, if you snag a patio seat in the summer, you’re likely to hear a DJ spinning in the distance. Helmed by sixth-generation vintner Jeff Bundschu, Gun Bun is known for music, from its annual Huichica fest, featuring indie and surf rock bands, to a packed calendar of weekend concerts. Tastings are conducted at the long bar in the inviting tasting room or in the grand underground wine cave. Don’t miss the pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, as well as a refreshing Gewürztraminer.
Located not far from Sonoma Plaza, Bart Park is a laid-back, dog-friendly tasting experience in a pristine setting. The hilly 300-acre property is crisscrossed with hiking trails weaving among oak groves and wildflower-flooded fields. (Check out the replica of Agoston Haraszthy’s 1861 Palladian Villa.) Visitors can buy a bottle and unfurl a picnic blanket or opt for a more structured tasting at one of the outdoor tables with views of Mt. Tam. Bart Park produces sustainable and organically-farmed wines; it’s particularly known for its sauvignon blanc and ruby-hued rosé.
This winery was founded in 2014 by a family of University of Wisconsin alums—thus, the jaunty badger gracing all the labels. (Fun fact: Badgers are, in fact, native to Sonoma County.) Beyond the taxidermy badger that greets you, the property’s real gem is the sleek, modern tasting room, designed by Gould Evans architecture. The 5,700-square-foot space features 18-foot windows with views of Sonoma Mountain and an outdoor deck overlooking 100-year-old olive trees and an infinity pool. Nearby, the 12,000-square-foot wine cave includes yet another tasting area and dining room. Estate tastings include cheese and charcuterie pairings, while the Reserve experience rolls out a full four-course meal alongside pours of sauvignon blanc, rose, zinfandel, and Isthmus, a cabernet sauvignon blend. The vineyard employs organic and biodynamic methods, producing wine in limited quantities.
This scenic, historic winery is known for standout pinot noir and chardonnay. It was originally founded in 1953 by ambassador James D. Zellerbach, who returned to the US inspired after a sojourn in Burgundy; since 1975, the winery has been owned by the de Brye family. Perched at the southern tip of the Mayacamas range, the vineyard offers bird’s-eye views of Sonoma Valley and the San Pablo Bay. Though the facilities date back to 1956—which you can scope out on the tour—the small-batch wines are produced using state-of-the-art technology. For an extra $20, they’ll take you on a worthwhile detour into the barrel-aging cave, as well.
Donum Estate is all about two things: aged pinot and contemporary art. These wine tastings are thoughtful, private affairs—make sure you call ahead to book in advance. The experience includes samples of pinot noir and chardonnay during a stroll around the 200-acre estate. The dichotomy between the natural surroundings—150 year old olive trees, vineyards, and an organic farm—and museum-worthy sculptures is stunning. Curated by Danish businessman Allan Warburg, the winery’s majority owner, the collection features 30 largescale works by well-known artists from around the world including Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois, Keith Haring, and Tracey Emin. The outdoor gallery continues to grow, alongside the vines.
Situated in the historic Vallejo-Castanada adobe, this downtown Sonoma winery is a haven for design lovers. The building, which dates back to the 1800s, is one of the few structures remaining from California’s Mexican Period. More recently, it received a grand facelift by San Francisco interior design legend Ken Fulk. Three Sticks’ wine is produced from various local vineyards, including the 610-acre Durell estate along the Sonoma coast. The conditions are particularly amenable to chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon, which you can taste from the adobe’s cozy-chic confines. Sip it while you can—Three Sticks only produces 4,000 cases a year, and much of it sells out before leaving Sonoma Square.
This vibe at this winery can be deduced by its credo: No wimpy wines. You’ll find no stuffy pourers or pretentious swirlers here. Instead, this no-reservations-required tasting room is bright, welcoming, and service-oriented. The winery was founded in 1976 by Joel Peterson, a scientist and microbiologist with a side gig as a wine consultant. (He was able to scrape together a little extra money on the side during med school with his wine business.) Peterson bought a vineyard, started producing his own wine, and made his name with zinfandel; he’s now known as the “godfather of zin.” Ravenswood’s fruity, full-bodied wines—which also include chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon—are produced from grapes throughout wine country, from Dry Creek to Carneros Valley. You can sample flights from an adirondack chair on the terrace, tour the barrel room, or taste rare bottles in the library cellar.
It’s worth springing for one of Viansa’s private outlooks, which range from intimate nooks to pillow-decked open-air cabanas. From the front terrace, you can gaze out over the estate vineyards, newly replanted in 2015 with 10 acres of pinot noir and 15 acres of chardonnay. (Tasting flights include pours of both, as well as a bold sangiovese.) The hilltop property includes 33 acres of vineyards in all, plus nearly 100 acres of picturesque wetlands. The property also includes a gourmet market and a wood-fired pizza oven for all manner of food pairings.
From the soaring wood beams overhead to the glittering chandelier, this tasting room evokes elegance. The setting is fitting, considering this is the oldest commercial winery in California. The landmark property was renovated in 2012, but the historic charm remains—as do the original Champagne Cellars, now used as wine production facilities. The Carneros grounds feature a museum of 19th-century wine tools (more interesting than it sounds), a stylish lounge devoted to French bubbly, and tranquil picnic grounds. The winery’s location at the top of the San Pablo Bay means a diverse variety of microclimates, ideal for varietals ranging from merlot and syrah to chardonnay and pinot. Request a cave tasting, which concludes with samples drawn straight from the barrel.