Touring & Tasting in Sonoma Wine Country

Touring & Tasting in Sonoma Wine Country

California is probably more well-known for its Napa Valley than Sonoma Valley, but Sonoma is a fabulous place to visit. Less touristy, and therefore less traffic; the wineries are further spread apart so you see more vineyards and open land; and the towns are just as charming to visit as those in Napa.

This post will give you some of my favorite wineries to visit, some of them small production and not well known outside the area. I’ve also got some recommendations on restaurants and hotels as well. You’ll notice that I tend to favor the general area around Healdsburg…it’s one of my husband’s and my favorite areas to visit and spend time. Not only are there a great concentration of wineries in the area, but a great concentration of amazing restaurants there, too. And Healdsburg has perhaps the best hotel in Sonoma Valley as well.

Let’s start with the wineries to visit.

  • Twomey – What’s not to like at this place? The pinot is some of the best in the valley, the views are spectacular, the patio is lovely, they welcome dogs, and the winery staff are incredibly welcoming. A must visit.
  • Williams Selyem – Unfortunately, this winery is only open to list members so either sign up or travel with someone who is a member. The winery is modern, beautiful, and surrounded by oak trees. WS is one of the best producers of pinot noir in California.
  • Silver Oak – You’ve probably heard of Silver Oak, famous for it’s big California Cabernet. The wines are stunningly round, rich and tasty. They make only cabernet sauvignon, and only two of those (one from Alexander Valley and one from Napa Valley). Most folks don’t know that they have a tasting outpost in Geyserville. They have a lovely patio and will pour a taste of up to 6 wines (the 2 cabs from 3 different years).
  • Scribe – Great small production winery that is also a beautiful place to visit. They make a variety of wines to sample, all of them delicious.
  • Papapietro Perry – One of our very favorite places to go because the wines are so good. The tasting room is nothing to speak of, but seriously some of the best pinot noirs around, and they make several. Their whites are great as well, and the family ownership shows through in their great hospitality.
  • Woodenhead – They make a large number of wines, with several pinot noirs, syrahs, zinfandels and even a sparkling wine. Definitely worth a visit. Their Troika (a pinot noir blend from 3 different vineyards) won the Pinot Smackdown at the Pigs & Pinot fest the first year we attended.
  • Rochioli – Very small production, delicious wines. Great views from the tasting room as well.
  • Joseph Swan – Very small production winery, and you’ll often find Joseph Swan himself in the tasting room. The wines look light in color but taste incredibly rich, and are done in the old world French Burgundy style.
  • A Rafanelli – Also a small production winery, they make only zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, both absolutely delicious. They’re open daily, but do require an appointment, so be sure to call ahead.
  • B Wise Vineyards – They make only 4 wines, and they are all wonderful. Rich, big, balanced, and delicious. The tasting room is conveniently located right on Sonoma Highway in Kenwood.
  • Kunde Family Estate – Beautiful grounds with lovely outdoor seating and large tasting room, this winery produces a large number of wines to taste. The regular tasting room requires no appointment, but they also have a mountain top tasting room that does. Go for the latter.
  • Paul Hobbs Winery – Fabulous wines – particularly the chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah – gorgeous place, and an option for food pairings as well. They’re open only during the week and do require an appointment, which you can make online from their web site.

But clearly if you’re going to do a bunch of tasting, you’re better off having a great place to stay, too. There are a few awesome places in Healdsburg within walking distances of all the great restaurants I’m about to list below. Our personal faves are:

  • Hotel Healdsburg – Gorgeous hotel with spacious rooms done in modern style, with a lovely swimming pool and spa, and a great restaurant and bar. Expensive, but right on the square. Our preferred place to stay for sure.
  • H2hotel – It’s the second hotel by Hotel Healdsburg, and is slightly less expensive and slightly more eco-centric. Rooms are spacious and nicely furnished in modern decor. There’s a fantastic bar downstairs that makes delicious cocktails and is open to the air. Definitely worth a stop for a drink even if you’re not staying there.
  • Farmhouse Inn – The restaurant here is absolutely amazing as you’ll read below, but they also have very luxurious looking accommodations. To be fair, we haven’t stayed here before, but it gets outstanding reviews and the pics look great, so I wanted to make sure to mention it.

Restaurants:

  • Barndiva – This used to be a favorite watering hole for locals and visitors, back before they brought in a top-notch chef to take over the food program (and hired my cousin to manage the place). The food has been very good the last several years now, and definitely worth eating there. There is a big and beautiful patio in the back that’s nicely lit at night, but the indoor seating is just as great. [NOTE: my cousin is no longer there.]
  • Zin – This place is just off the square and always has a nice meal to serve. The food is fresh, well prepared and presented and the staff friendly. Great wines by the glass, and the specials of the day are almost always worth having.
  • Scopa – If you want some of the best pizza, burrata, or meatballs you’ve ever had, this is the place. But fair warning, it is TINY. They have very few tables, so reservations go early and fast. They do take walk-ins, but not many, so the best trick if you don’t have a reservation is to get there 15 minutes before they open.
  • Madrano Manor -Another Michelin starred restaurant (that is also an Inn, although I haven’t seen the accommodations) worth visiting. Beautiful old building, and the food is simply delicious. Artfully prepared and presented, and service is impeccable.
  • Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar – This place is an absolute must for either lunch or dinner, and make sure to ask for a table on the shaded patio. Great sharable plates with tons of flavor, and plenty of fresh seafood. Don’t miss the ceviche, fried clams and lamb skewers.
  • Farmhouse Inn – Michelin starred and totally deservedly. Tranquil interior that is warm and welcoming, and food that is simply marvelous. Well worth the visit, and definitely plan ahead.
  • Bravas – A member of the same group that owns Willi’s, this is a relatively new tapas place with a huge patio. Great drinks (including their sangria) and tons of sharable small plates with great, Spanish-influenced food.

Those are a few of our favorites in Sonoma County. I hope they inspire you to enjoy the many things the area has to offer. Please feel free to share your favorites too!

Bon appétit!

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3 Comments

  1. dave - September 15, 2014

    Whit – great list of wineries. I’d add one, which is becoming one of my favorites – Benovia in Santa Rosa (close enough). Seriously delicious pinot.
    And yes, Woodenhead Troika that I had with you and E excites my soul.

    As usual, great post.
    -dave

  2. Lizzie Gallagher - July 10, 2015

    Hi Whitney,
    Just read and loved this post! Hope to catch-up with you and Eric next visit. Must add Bistro Ralph’s mountain of shoestring fries washed down by superb martini to this tour! 😉
    best,
    lg

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