While not the first wineries founded in the state, two of the oldest ones still in existence are both in Sonoma Valley – Buena Vista (dating from 1857) and the still family run Gundlach Bundschu which was founded in 1858 (both wineries are a short drive from each other).
And the first grapes planted by westerners in Northern California were at Fort Ross by Russian immigrants in 1817 after settling this remote and rugged part of the Sonoma coastline 5 years earlier. The varietal first planted here was Palomino, a white varietal originally from Spain, growing in Peru which was carried up the coastline of South and North America by ship.
Currently there are some 18 (as of our most recent update) sub appellations within Sonoma County (AVA’s) – regions that are geographically distncitve from one another. These regions are:
Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros – Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross – Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain, Northern Sonoma, Petaluma Gap, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain and Sonoma Valley.Santa Rosa is surrounded by vineyards and a number of these regions are within a very short drive of downtown, including Bennett Valley, Fountaingrove District, parts of the Russian River and Sonoma Valley.
Two of the most visited wine regions in Sonoma County are The “Valley of the Moon” east of Santa Rosa along the Highway 12 corridor and the Russian River Wine region.
Wine tasting differs a little in Sonoma Valley as compared to Napa Valley. Tasting is more intimate – wineries tend to be smaller and there are generally less crowds. In addition, whereas the Napa Valley is very Bordeaux and Burgundian centric in the varietals planted, Sonoma County is much more diverse (with a number of more obscure varietals). The Dry Creek Valley is Dave’s personal pick for small crowds and intimate wineries tucked away among the vineyards. The wineries here are less “commercialized” than some of the larger wineries you find in Napa Valley or the Valley of the Moon.
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Also view our article: “Finding the Flavors, Spring in Sonoma County”
Remarkably downtown Santa Rosa has not been inundated with wine tasting rooms like many other towns in both Sonoma and Napa County (rather the tasting rooms in Santa Rosa are focused on beer). With that said, there are numerous wineries located within the city limits – many in industrial and business park type locations. One wine tasting destination within the city of Santa Rosa worth checking out is Vintner’s Square located at 1301 Cleveland Ave (parallel to the 101 freeway, exit College Avenue). This is about a 15 minute walk from the nearest SMART Rail Stop at the corner of Dutton and Guerneville Road.
Several wineries are located here including D’Argenzio Winery who earns bonus points because they also maintain a tasting room in Burbank (Los Angeles). During harvest sometimes you can watch grapes being processed in the winery on site. Not only can you wine taste in Vintner’s Square but you can also stop by Squire Cigars for a smoke, stop by a local juicery or and or a local brewery.
Note about Wine Tasting Options: they are typically one of the following: A. free (unlikely at walk-in wineries), B. you pay and if you purchase wines your wine tasting fee is refunded or C. you pay for wine tasting and there is no refund if you purchase wines. Tasting fees typically run from $15 to $50 and usually includes 4 to 5 tastings per winery. All of the wineries listed below are located in Sonoma County.
Some of the smaller wineries offer free tasting (although rarer and rarer these days) – some wineries will have a reserve room tasting fee should you choose to sample these wines. Reserve room wines tend to be a bit higher priced than the regular wines and typically quantities are less. If a winery does charge for tasting, they will usually apply the cost of the tasting towards any purchase you make at their winery.
Many wineries offer tours by appointment only. Others such as a the larger wineries will give hourly or daily tours.
The Harvest Fair held in early October each year at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds is an excellent opportunity to sample award winning wines and then purchase bottles or even cases! A shipping company is always situated near the main pavilion where the wines are sold. Sometimes small wineries will win a gold or best of show in their ‘class’ and then voila, all of the sudden that particular wine will sell out. Many of the top winners come from small vintages so the Harvest Fair is basically the best time to purchase the medal winners.
From personal experience many of these medal winning wines sell out within a month or less after the Harvest Fair. This event is held each year at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is hosted by the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers, and proceeds directly benefit local charities for students, children, farm workers and people in need. The biggest wine and food event in Sonoma County, Wine Country Weekend is a combination of the previous year’s separate events- The Sonoma County Showcase of Wine & Food and the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction (a fundraiser for Redwood Empire Food Bank and the Santa Rosa Junior College’s food and wine educational programs).
All Phone Numbers listed below are in the (707) area code unless otherwise specified.
Dave has personally visited, tasted the wines and written about well over 950 Napa Valley Wineries! Visit The Napa Wine Project