Even if you’re new to the world of wine, you’re no doubt familiar with Napa Valley in California, probably the most famous wine-producing region in the U.S. But many people miss out on neighboring Sonoma County, which sits directly west of Napa and also boasts a long history of producing excellent wines. In addition, Sonoma has the added benefit of generally being less expensive than Napa in terms of lodging costs, and to some extent less crowded. Check out the following 13 vineyards and wineries in this beautiful Northern California winemaking region.
Owned by winemaker Phil Staehle, Enkidu Wines derives its name from a character in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The vineyard features a variety of wines, from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Syrah and Barbera. However, it’s the Enkidu Zinfandel, one of Sonoma Valley’s strong points, that stands out among this winery’s selection of full-bodied wines.
Lancaster Estate Winery
Lancaster Estate Winery has earned a reputation as a leading Cabernet producer in Alexander Valley, located just north of the town of Healdsburg. Although the estate is small at just 53 acres, it offers visitors the opportunity to tour its caves and vineyards, in addition to tasting wine accompanied by artisan cheeses.
A family-owned winery, WALT Wines is operated by vintner Kathryn Hall, who learned about winegrowing from her parents, Bob and Dolores Walt. Visitors can taste the winery’s exceptional Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a beautiful home converted into a tasting room just north of Sonoma Plaza.
Offering a true vineyard experience, Bella takes visitors on a 90-minute ride through the Lily Hill Zinfandel vineyard on a six-wheel Pinzgauer. By signing up for the “Ultimate Tour,” guests can try barrel samples from this vineyard’s cellar.
Three Sticks Wines
Featuring an old home known as The Adobe, Three Sticks Wines is a great place to try some of Sonoma County’s best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in a beautifully picturesque setting.
Known for its Vaso di Marina, Portalupi sells its famous table wine in glass milk jar jugs. This family-owned winery with a boutique tasting room in Healdsburg also has an excellent Barbera, an Italian red.
Located in Healdsburg, Lambert Bridge offers Cabernets, Chardonnays, and Merlots at its dog-friendly vineyard in Healdsburg. Guests can stop by the VIP barrel room and take home some of the vineyard’s exclusive wines, which are rare to find on restaurants’ wine lists.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
Located in Kenwood near the Mayacamas Mountains, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards offers a diverse list of wines to suit a variety of taste profiles, from Sauvignon Blancs and Merlots to Syrahs and Zinfandels. St. Francis is also a must-visit for food lovers, as it offers a five-course food-wine pairing.
One of the most well-known producers of Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley, Arista Winery also makes Zinfandels and Chardonnays. In addition to enjoying Arista’s wines in a relaxing outdoor space, guests can take a stroll throughout the estate, which features a Japanese water garden.
A family-owned winery, HANNA Winery is ideal for those looking for a secluded vineyard experience. The owners focus on wine history and education and enjoy teaching visitors about the varieties of red and white wines produced by this winery off the beaten path. HANNA also welcomes guests to its Russian River Valley tasting room just five minutes from Santa Rosa.
Dating back to 1953, Hanzell Vineyards has been making Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for more than six decades—its Pinot Noir vines are some of the oldest on in North America. In addition to allowing guests to enjoy a seated tasting of its wines, Hanzell offers heritage viticulture tours and private tours of the estate’s vineyards.
An Alexander Valley winery, Jordan Winery produces Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Guests can stop by Jordan for tastings and an estate tour, in addition to trying the olive oil pressed from the olives grown right on the property. Jordan also pairs its wines with homegrown produce and other food prepared by its in-house chef.
Founded by Joe Rochioli Sr., who immigrated from Italy in 1911, Rochioli first produced Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Rochioli’s son, Joe Jr., later added Pinot Noir to the estate, which began a rich tradition of Pinot Noir production in the Russian River Valley.
The above list should serve as just a starting point from which to explore Sonoma County’s beautiful vineyards and wineries. Before visiting any of these establishments, be sure to find out whether you need to make reservations for a tasting or tour, as some wineries and vineyards have become so popular that they are booked in advance. In addition, you might find smaller estates as you drive through the Sonoma hills and explore further afield in this historic wine-producing region.