Sonoma is one of Northern California’s prettiest wine country destinations. With ancient redwood forests, miles of coastline, mountain trails, and quaint towns surrounded by vineyards, it’s no wonder Sonoma was rated a top USA wine region by Wine Enthusiast in 2019.
Sonoma County is vast, covering approximately 1500 square miles. Not to mention there are over 400 tasting rooms. If you’re planning a wine tasting trip to Sonoma, it is important to formulate a plan, or you could easily spend all your time driving, as I did.
To help you avoid my mistake, I’ve organized some tips for planning a stress-free and fun wine tasting experience!
Top Tips For A Great Sonoma Wine Tasting Experience
Best Cities In Sonoma For Wine Tasting
Choose an area to locate yourself that has a lot of wineries you want to visit within ten miles of each other. As I mentioned before, Sonoma County is vast so things are spread out. But if you focus on one of the larger cities, like Sonoma, Santa Rosa, or Healdsburg, you’ll find plenty of wineries within a short distance of each other.
In Northern Sonoma County, Healdsburg, Windsor, and Geyserville offer many tasting options and they are located close enough to each other that you could visit wineries and tasting rooms in each location, all within one day.
This brings me to another top tip, avoid visiting more than two or three tasting rooms in one day. You won’t be able to truly enjoy each experience as you’ll be rushing from place to place. If you drink too much wine, well, let’s not talk about what those repercussions might entail.
Healdsburg and Geyserville are surrounded by the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek AVAs, known for powerful Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Windsor, a stone’s throw from Healdsburg, is adjacent to the Chalk Hill AVA.
There are many places you can enjoy wine tasting in Sonoma County, with over 20 tasting rooms in Healdsburg alone, plus a few in Geyserville, which is just a few miles north. Geyserville is surrounded by the Alexander Valley. You’ll find big name producers like Coppola and Pedroncelli and smaller producers such as Ramazzotti.
Located in the Sonoma Valley AVA is the town of Sonoma, the site of the final mission built by the Spanish in California. Walt Wines has a lovely tasting room in downtown Sonoma. Chapellett Growers Collection features limited availability, cool climate Sonoma County wines. Finally, a visit to Sonoma should include Buena Vista Winery. It is the oldest operating commercial winery in California. The history, ambiance, and wine combine to create an unforgettable experience.
Try A Wine And Food Pairing Experience
Sonoma County is one of the best places in Northern California to experience wine and food pairings. In fact, before Sonoma was known as a wine region it was all about agriculture, especially dairy. You’ll find much more than wine and cheese though. There are many excellent places to experience the first-class food and wine of Sonoma County.
A couple of good ones around Healdsburg include Portalupi, serving wine made with Italian varietals and charcuterie. Williamson Wines offers several different tasting options that include food. The wines are French-influenced but reflect the sensibility of the area.
I also recommend a food tour with Savor Healdsburg. While not strictly about wine, you will likely experience some wine pairings at each place on the itinerary. Tammy, the owner, has a lot of great tips, too. And you’ll walk the downtown area which is a good way to get your bearings and scout out places you want to explore.
In historic downtown Sonoma, Corner 103 is a place to learn about pairing food and wine. Corner 103 offers a sparkling wine made in the classic champagne style; an Albarino, a Spanish grape varietal that is lively and aromatic, as well as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Pinot Noir. And those are just the current releases.
Do not miss Three Sticks At The Adobe, a tasting room housed in a restored adobe built in 1842. There are several tasting options including vegan and gluten-free tastings.
While not technically a tasting room, there’s no better place to try Portuguese wine than Tasca Tasca just off the Plaza in Sonoma. When I lived in the area I went as often as possible. The atmosphere is very European, the portions are tapas-style, and they have a good selection of Portuguese wines by the glass.
Insider tip: this is also a good place to try a real port wine from Porto, not one of the local port-style wines.
Santa Rosa is the county seat of Sonoma County and the most populous city. While it may seem like an unlikely place for exceptional tasting rooms, don’t miss a chance to taste with some of the top producers in Sonoma Valley.
St. Francis Winery is not in the city but is close enough and offers so many good tasting options I had to mention it. This is a beautiful winery destination set in the vineyards. In town, be sure to check out Vintner’s Square, a co-op of wineries, breweries, pizzerias, and juice bars anchored by the flagship winery D’ Argenzio. Located near a historic railroad square in downtown Santa Rosa, this is a good place to discover more about the county’s capital city.
Sleep In The Vineyards
What could be more romantic than waking up to vineyard views? Bonus points if there’s a restaurant on site. There are a number of places in Sonoma County that offer winery accommodations along with wine and food pairing. One of my favorites is Jordan, in Alexander Valley. Jordan specializes in French-inspired Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The aesthetic is French chateau, and very elegant.
For a completely different vibe visit Furthermore and stay at the farmhouse in the Russian River Valley. Furthermore produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards all along the California coast. West Sonoma County has a more bohemian vibe than Northern Sonoma county. You’ll also be closer to the coast, so you might get lucky and wake up in the fog.
Travel Safe – Hire A Tour Guide Or A Driver
The easiest way to explore a wine region is to simply hire a good local tour guide. Give them an outline of what you would like to see and do, and together you can work out an itinerary. Guides should have local knowledge of the history, sights, and best spots for sunset photos over the vineyards.
Let’s face it, wine tasting and driving don’t go together so I’m not recommending that. In fact, I’ve just read an interesting article about driving under the influence in Sonoma County. It states that the most likely places to be stopped are the very places you’ll most likely visit.
If for some reason you don’t want to hire a guide, I recommend you designate a driver each day. You can take turns, or designate a morning driver and an afternoon driver. You could switch drivers after lunch, for example. However, this plan would hinge on whoever is driving after lunch to abstain.
Using a tour guide or a designated driver to chauffeur you around may seem elaborate, but aside from making sense, it will allow you to enjoy the whole experience, see more of the beautiful Sonoma countryside.