Wine Country Road Trip: Sonoma
Celebrate California wine month with a spotlight on Sonoma's wine country. Recent fires and Covid may have affected the area, however the vintners work quickly to complete their harvest and the residents are fighting back in rebuilding their community.
Sonoma County is a just under 2 hours drive from the Bay Area. It has earned a stellar reputation for producing elegant Pinot Noir to robust Zinfandel. More than a dozen microclimates and terriors are packed into this county. There are a total of 18 appellations (America Viticultural Areas). From top to bottom and left to right, each appellation is unique and offers different styles from one another.
It was said that the first planting of vines were at Fort Ross along the coast in 1812. Later Padre Jose Altimira planted vines at the Mission San Francisco Solano, which is now known as the city of Sonoma. If you only have a few hours to spare, head to the city of Sonoma where the town square is lined with 30 or more tasting rooms and restaurants. A short drive up from the square, many historical wineries such as Buena Vista, Foppiano, Gundlach Bundschu are within reach. Stop by Basque Boulangerie Cafe to grab lunch and refresh with their strong coffee.
If you have a day or two to spend, set up your home base in the town of Healdsburg. Healdsburg has numerous lodging and dining options around the cute town square. You can grab a quick lunch at SHED (pictured above), an unique eatery and shopping concept. Then head on over to Alexander Valley to taste some full bodied Cabernet Sauvignons and rich Chardonnays. Located at the North Eastern end of Sonoma County Alexander Valley is one of the warmer appellations. It benefits from the fog, however the intense sunlight burns it off much quicker than the western appellations, allowing for riper grapes.
To cleanse your palate after some hearty reds, a stop at J Vineyards. Taste their range of sparkling wines and take a tour to learn about how bubbles are made via secondary fermentation. After your sparkling wine experience, go exploring on West Dry Creek Road and discover Dry Creek Valley's unique appellation with approximately 58 wineries located in this small region and close proximity to Healdsburg, makes this area a great place to visit. One small winery that may not show up on your local map is Unti Vineyards. They are a small, family-owned and operated winery specializing in Zinfandel, Rhone and Italian varietals. Their philosophy is that Dry Creek Valley's climate is suitable for growing Mediterranean red grapes, using old world traditions by their French winemaker Sebastien Pochan.
Continue South West on West Dry Creek Road and experience the westside of Sonoma in the heart of Russian River Valley. There are a labyrinth of wineries here but the highlights are Williams Selyem, Moshin Vineyards, Hop Kiln just to name a few. You will find refined and collectible Pinot Noir and age worthy Chardonnay. The Russian River Valley is fertile with rich soils and irrigated by the river that originates from Mendocino. Further west towards to coast the Sonoma Coast appellation offers lighter styled Pinot Noir with refreshing Chardonnay. The western appellations benefit from fog, cool mornings and evenings. We have a few great examples here from Raeburn, Baker Lane and Enkidu.
If you want to give your palate a small break from all the wine tasting, make a detour at Jack London State Park. Walk the 1 mile discovery trail and visit some winery ruins while learning about the history of Sonoma Valley and Jack London. If you are a fitness buff and have a few hours on your hands, take the 8 mile round trip trail to the top of Sonoma Mountain, the highest elevation in the valley. Views are guaranteed to be breath taking. Even on a warm day, this trail is mostly shaded, but do bring plenty of water.
To really complete your Sonoma trip and experience the ultimate local experience, head to the Sonoma Bike Path and take a nice walk or ride the nice flat trail. Many hotels offer bikes to rent by the hour or ask for a guided map. Walk the back streets of Sonoma and watch the sun slowly creep over the hills from the Mayacama's mountain range. Say hello to a local and ask them where the farmer's market is happening. You might learn something new.
Contributed by Monica Yu, Wine Buyer WSET Diploma Certifed
**Photography by Zimmerman Visual