Sonoma County's sprawling landscape can seem like it goes on forever. At three times the size of Napa County, the town you choose to stay in can have a huge impact on your wine itinerary—check into a Downtown Sonoma hotel, for example, and you might miss out on Healdsburg wineries. Fortunately, there are fantastic vineyards in every corner of the county (and they're often less touristy than Napa's wineries). We did some sipping—in between bites at some of Sonoma's best restaurants—and narrowed down our favorite wineries in the region.
Visit these Sonoma wineries
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
Everything about this family-owned, modern winery is luxurious. The picturesque driveway gives ample views of a stunning, Gould Evans-designed tasting room, patio and event space—though the real view is from said patio, wine glass in hand, overlooking the vineyard, then the rolling hills and watercolor mountains beyond. An attentive and knowledgeable staff member (perhaps one of the Hamel brothers themselves) offers pours during a walk through the main building, then back into the spotless wine cave. There's also a small garden producing a bit of what will end up on your tasting plate. The wines here are primarily from Bordeaux varieties, though perhaps the most surprisingly tasty bottle is Hamel's estate sauvignon blanc, labeled with the Hamel family's personal mascot, a badger, borrowed from the University of Wisconsin, the alma mater of three generations of the Hamel family.
How to visit: Two tour options are available Thursday through Monday at 10am, 1pm and 3pm. The four-wine flight Estate Experience includes a tour of the estate house, winery, caves and vineyard, lasts 1.5 hours and costs $60 per person. The Reserve Experience includes everything in the Estate Experience, plus a combination of reserve wines, barrel samples and library vintages, as well as a selection of small bites, cheeses and charcuterie. The Reserve Experience is 3 hours and costs $100 per person.
In short: Renowned architecture; stunning views; family (and Badger) pride
Part tasting room, part restaurant, Russian River Vineyards is the type of place you could come for lunch and a glass of wine, then suddenly find yourself looking up from your table hours later—and a couple bottles in, of course. The grounds have a tendency of putting visitors under a spell, from the fairy tale-like farmhouse built in the 1890s to the live music performed every weekend. Known for their small production merlot and pinot noir, the winery boasts a beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards, where you might see Riley the farm dog roaming around for some gratuitous petting. Stick around for a meal at Russian River Vineyards' restaurant, where ingredients from farmer Kayta Brady's backyard garden are transformed into chai-spiced beets, cream of mushroom soup or the namesake Kayta's Hand Salad, all of which pair perfectly with winemaker Giovanni Balistreri's unique varietals.
How to visit: Russian River Vineyards is open every day except Wednesday from noon to 8pm. A five-wine tasting flight costs $15 (waved with any bottle purchase); food can be purchased at the restaurant. No appointment necessary.
In short: Rustic; family-friendly; great for lunch and dinner
Nestled in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, Jordan Winery is comprised of 1,200 acres dedicated to making world-class cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Visitors might first be struck by the elegant, ivy-covered chateau that overlooks the property, housing a kitchen, dining room, library, wine cellars, offices and guest suites. A walking tour and library tasting is ideal for wine drinkers who want to learn more about the history of the chateau—and, of course, who want to spend an afternoon sampling the vineyard's fantastic varietals and olive oil while nibbling on hors d'oeuvres.
How to visit: Jordan Vineyard & Winery is open for tastings seven days a week (closed on Sundays from December to March) from 10am to 2pm. A three-wine flight tasting with hors d'ouevres, olive oil and cheeses costs $30; a winery tour and library tasting costs $40; and an estate tour and tasting costs $120. Tastings are by appointment only.
In short: Beautiful grounds; great for history buffs; olive oil tastings
This quaint, rustic winery is tucked away in the bucolic hills of Healdsburg. It's a relaxed and welcoming vibe here, with lots of spots to lounge and picnic (you can bring your own food to pair with their wines), including large adirondak chairs strewn throughout the property, and communcal picnic tables stacked with games. Pours of note here are usually syrahs and zinfandels—the late-harvest zin is particularly impressive, and is paired with a dark chocolate sea salt peanut butter cup. You may arrive to live music playing (think mandolins, banjos, folk tunes), and there will almost definitely be dogs and children lounging in the grass.
How to visit: The Bella tasting room is open 11am to 4:30pm daily. Tastings are $10 per person, and groups larger than 8 are not accepted.
In short: Casual and welcoming; dessert-friendly zins; family (and pet) friendly
Iron Horse is a beautiful, if slightly more commercial property. There's a lot on offer here, from pricey pours of bubbly, chardonnay and pinot noir to the oyster bar next to the tasting room. (And "room" is a relative term here—the tastings occur outside, which makes for a lovely setting with sweeping views, though it can get a bit cold.) If oysters aren't your thing, there's also bread and cheese, vinegars and olive oils for sale along with bottles. And if you go for a bottle or two, check out the limited edition, sparkling Ocean Reserve—Iron Horse has partnered with National Geographic, and $4 from each bottle goes toward Marine Protected Areas around the world.
How to visit: The tasting room is open seven days a week from 10am to 4:30pm, and no reservations are required. Five-wine flight tastings are are $20 per person, refunded with bottle purchase. Winery tours are by appointment only Monday through Friday at 10am, and cost $30 per person (including tasting).
In short: Big and beautiful; large crowds; tasty bubbles
Staying near Sonoma's historic square? Start your wine country exploration at Buena Vista Winery, a quirky winery with some serious Old World charm. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista has been dubbed a California Historic Landmark, serving not only as a winery that offers a range of varietals but also as a cultural must-see. That's not to say Buena Vista is stuffy—visitors can take advantage of its eccentric side, like a guided light show and tasting led by the "Count of Buena Vista," or a Winemaker for a Day class where you get to dress up like a Count or Countess. A barrel tour and tasting guides guests through the winery's beautiful grounds and Champagne cellar before ending with samples drawn directly from a barrel.
How to visit: Buena Vista Winery is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm. Wine tastings in the Press House Tasting Room cost $20. No reservations required.
In short: Historic; quirky; centrally located
J Vineyards, you had us at bubble room. The beautiful Russian River Valley winery is a bastion for bubbly, specializing in sparkling wines along with pinot noir and chardonnay. Opened in 1986, the sustainable winery offers a variety of tasting experiences, from a signature tasting to a behind the scenes tour of the vineyard. Oh, and that bubble room? That's where guests can enjoy a five-course meal paired with J's small production wines, nibbling on executive chef Carl Shelton's fantastic local fare while indulging in some of the best wine in Sonoma County.
How to visit: J Vineyards & Winery is open seven days a week from 11am to 5pm. A five-wine flight tasting costs $20; food is served during select tastings. Reservations are not required, but are encouraged.
In short: Great bubbly; modern architecture; excellent food pairings
Ram's Gate is a sophisticated winery serving chardonnays, pinot noirs and a splash of sauvingnon blanc overlooking sweeping inveyard vistas. It's a quiet spot (no pets, no visitors under 21) that focuses on a well-executed tasting experience, whether in the tasting room—a modern interpretation of the weathered farmsteads of Carneros—or the beautiful, spotless barrel halls. If you're looking for something a bit more involved than a simple tour or tasting, Ram's Gate offers a pond-side, catered picnic for two (with personal valet, but of course), as well as multiple culinary pairing tastings. Or, join a group tasting and then roam the grounds on your own—be sure to stop in the garden, or, if it's a bit chilly, enjoy some pinot by the fireplace.
How to visit: Tours can be scheduled Thursday through Monday from 10am to 6pm. A four-wine flight tasting is seated, takes about 45 minutes and costs $40 per guest; other options include wine and food pairings, group tastings, picnics and more. Reservations required.
In short: Picturesque setting; lux prices; adults only
It's easy to fall in love with Dutcher Crossing Winery. The sweeping views of the Dry Creek Valley, exceptional zinfandel made from their Maple Vineyard and even the affable winery dog, Dutchess, create an atmosphere that's hard to leave. Walk in on any day of the week and you'll be greeted by friendly staff, all keen on leading visitors through a tasting of the winery's zins, cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays. Once you've chosen a favorite (or two), buy a bottle and take it out to Dutcher's picnic grounds, where you can spend the afternoon sipping on the terrace.
How to visit: Dutcher Crossing is open daily from 11am to 5pm. On Monday through Thursday, a four-flight wine tasting costs $10. On Friday through Sunday, a five-to-six-flight wine tasting costs $15; food can be brought in. No reservations required.
In short: Friendly; beautiful views; communal picnic area