This region unlike Napa, its neighbor to the east, does not have an overarching AVA. The landscape and climates are diverse across Sonoma County, allowing for a wide range of different styles and varieties of wine.
There are 18 AVA’s in Sonoma County, ranging from the Alexander Valley where Cab is king to Carneros where the cool climate makes the area perfect for sparkling wines.
While there is no way to cover the entire region in one episode, we will share with you some highlights of places to see, and wines to taste.
Carneros & Gloria Ferrer
As you drive in from San Francisco, into the Sonoma Valley the first region to stop in would be Carneros. This area is known for it’s sparkling wines as well as it’s Chardonnay’s and Pinot Noirs.
You can’t beat, starting the day at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, sipping their sparkling wines, smelling the lavender in bloom and looking out over the vineyards.
Read more on Gloria Ferrer their wines and some of our pairings here.
From here, head to the City of Sonoma. Tasting rooms and restaurants surround Sonoma Plaza. This beautiful 8.5 acres park has benches, picnic tables, a duck pond, a rose garden and sculptures. It was laid out in 1835 by General Mariano Vallejo and it is the largest plaza of its kind in California.
On the South West corner of the Plaza, you will find Corner 103. Founded by Lloyd Davis, this tasting room, while elegant and formal, is here to get rid of the intimidation that often comes with wine.
The tasting here pairs flavors and wine to help you understand how food and wine work together.
We were lucky enough to do a tasting with Lloyd. He invited us to taste the wine and then pair it with a cheese. Then we added another element, perhaps hazelnuts, which would adjust the flavor profile again. This really shows how you can tailor a dish by the herbs, spices, or additional flavors that you add, to create a perfect pairing for your palate.
You can read more about our visit to Corner 103 here:
Healdsburg, the Square and lunch at Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar
Head further north to Healdsburg. This stunning town along the Russian River has small town charm. We got a taste of this first hand when we met our friend Patrick in the park at the city center. The park is lush with redwoods and palm trees surrounding a center fountain. As Patrick walked us around the square, he pointed out the shops, tasting rooms and restaurants, and every 3rd person stopped to say hello to him. The city is warm, lush and generous. We made our way to Willi’s Seafood & Raw bar for a lunch of small plates.
Selby Winery in Sonoma
Just off of the square, you will find the Selby Tasting room. We had an opportunity last year to sit down with Susie Selby and learn about the winery, how it began and where she was taking it. She shared with us the story of how her wines came to be served in the White House over 4 different administrations.
Here are a couple of other articles we have written about Selby Wines.
Geyserville & Locals Tasting Room
Head a bit further North and you come to Geyserville. Located on State Route 128, the town itself seems small with a handful of restaurants, shops, and tasting rooms along less than a block. But this is the Alexander Valley, with 14,500 acres of vineyards, 43 wineries, and plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon.
We spent a good part of our day with Patrick at Locals Tasting Room. This is the way to taste my friends!
Locals is the tasting room for 10 different wineries, including: A. Torano Wines, Denier-Handal Wines, Dot Wine, Drive Wines, Eric Ross Winery, Gore Family Vineyards, Kitfox Vineyards, Munselle Vineyards, Peterson Winery and William Gordon Winery.
Doralice Handal & her father Dick Handal purchased the tasting room in January of 2022 from Carolyn Lewis and Timothy Hylas who had created Locals. Doralice and Dick run Denier-Handal Wines, one of the wineries represented in Locals Tasting Room.
Behind the bar, Patrick or Stig will put together a tasting geared toward what you like and perhaps things you didn’t know you liked.
Our guide for our tasting was Patrick Llerena Cruz, known as “Patrick your Wine Guy”. We had the great fortune to meet Patrick at the Wine Media Conference last year and had looked forward to a time to catch up with him. Catching up over wine is the best way to do this, but I had not anticipated the tasting Patrick had planned for us.
With so many wineries in the the line up at Locals Tasting Room, they can pour side by side tastings that allow you to compare and contrast different varieties and styles.
While there we did a side by side of two Rose of Pinot Noirs, both from the same vineyard, made by different winemakers. It was amazing to see the impact that a winemakers gentle thumbprint can make on a wine.
We also did a side by side of two roses made by the same winemaker. People often think of rose as just one kind of wine, but the grape variety the wine is made from makes a big impact, on the flavors, aromas and textures of the wine.
We tasted Zinfandels from 3 different regions, did a sparkling wine comparison and so much more. There are no fees here, go in and taste, but be aware that you will leave with many bottles that you will find you can’t live without, and perhaps a membership to the wine club!
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria
After your tasting, you will need a bit to eat. Saunter next door to Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria.
The Pizza is spectacular and the menu is eclectic, ranging from tacos to pasta to Pizza and more. This rustic menu changes daily featuring products from local farms, ranches and fisheries.
The atmosphere is warm in this historic building that was built in the early 1900s.
This is just a drop in the bucket to what there is to see, do and taste in Sonoma County. Dip your toe in, explore! Every route is “The Scenic Route” here!
On our next episode we will head next door to Napa to explore the city of Napa, and all the regions along Route 29, the St. Helena Hwy.
As always remember to take “The Scenic Route”
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.