Resident Tourist Guide:
Staying at Home to Play in Sonoma, Marin and Napa | 2007 Farmer's Markets | Calistoga, San Anselmo, Petaluma | Wineries in Sonoma and Napa | Beaches in Sonoma and Napa | Day Spas in Sonoma, Marin and Napa
Form and color: With nary a straight line allowed, Quixote Winery--designed by the great Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser--is now open to the public by appointment.
Wine for Beginners
Bacchus & Venus Tasting Room
A trendy place for beginners and tourists. Very beautiful and convenient, with an excellent collection of wines. Also has art and a gorgeous bay view. Great place to learn the basics. 769 Bridgeway, Sausalito. Open daily, 11am-7pm. Tasting fees vary according to flights. 415.331.2001.
Castle Vineyards & Winery
With a tasting room menu that features no fewer than a dozen wines, Sonoma's Castle Vineyards and Winery ensures that one's glass will runneth over (at least in aggregate). Castle's tasting room features outdoor seating on a popular stretch of downtown real estate, which is perfect for mild imbibing and people watching--or, as the case may be, being seen oneself, glass in hand, bellowing haughtily like one of the beautiful people. 122 W. Spain St., Sonoma. Open daily, 10am-5pm daily. Tastings are $5 (fee waived with bottle purchase). 707.996.1966.
Charles Creek Vineyards
Located on the southwest corner of the Sonoma Plaza, the Charles Creek Vineyards Tasting Room and Gallery is the public access point to William Wiman Brinton's burgeoning wine enterprise. The wines dazzle. Chardonnays and Merlot, those old workhorses, shine at Charles Creek. 484 First St. W., Sonoma. Open daily, 11am-6pm. $5 tasting fee waived with purchase. 707.935.3848.
Chateau St. Jean Winery
Take the educational tour and sample both reserve and premier wines. On acres of vineyard with gardens and gourmet food. 8555 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Wine Tour 101 classes occur daily at 11am and 3pm; no reservation needed. $15 for the tour; $5 for regular winetasting. 707.833.4134.
Folie à Deux
If you're new to wine, or just want a good picnic or party wine, the Ménage à Trois wines--white, red and rosé--are tasty blends of three grape varietals (hence the name) that sell for about $12 each. 3070 N. St. Helena Hwy, St. Helena. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Tasting flight, $10. 1.800.473.4454.
The winery motto is "No wimpy wines," and they make strong, much-praised Zinfandels. Knowledgeable tasting staff and newcomer-friendly. Look for their weekend barbecues and live music. A great place to learn that wine is supposed to be fun. 18701 Gehricke Road, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am-5pm. 707.933.2332.
Sonoma Enoteca Both a tasting room and bottle shop on the southeast corner of the historic plaza, Sonoma Enoteca (the latter of which translates literally as "wine library") hawks the wares of 12 different wineries, which makes it a sort of one-stop shop for both tourists and connoisseurs alike. Locals long-inured to delights offered in our area might also find themselves impressed with Enoteca's wide and varied selection. Some 19 wines are usually listed on the tasting sheet, though the tasting room staff liberally shares unlisted wines as well. Sonoma Enoteca, 35 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Open Wednesday-Monday, 10am to 6pm; Tuesday, 10am to 3pm. $5 for six tastes. 707.935.1200.
Over 100 years old, Foppiano produces wines that can be described as simple but delicious. 12707 Old Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-4:30pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.7272.
Unrelated to the cider empire, this winery specializes in A-list wines but is still a funky red-barn establishment at heart. Martinelli Winery, 3360 River Road, Windsor. Open daily, 10am-5pm. No tasting fee. 707.525.0570.
Highly recommended, but by appointment only. With a roaring fireside on a rainy day, Michel-Schlumberger is a cozy winery. The family has been making wine in France for 400 years. Well-known for Chardonnay. 4155 Wine Creek Road, Healdsburg. 707.433.7427.
Seghesio Family Winery
Once banal and overproduced, Seghesio now offers an education in delicious Italian varietals, many of them brought directly from Italy. Much-improved product with excellent Zinfandel and 2002 Cortina. 14730 Grove St., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-5pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.3579.
Some critics claim Trefethen's heyday was in the '60s, but the winery proves them wrong with dependable, delicious wines. Trefethen is one of the oldest wineries in Napa. 1160 Oak Knoll Ave., Napa. Open daily, 11:30am-4:30pm. Estate tasting, $10; reserve, $20. 707.255.7700.
Though crowded and a regular stop on the tourist circuit, V. Sattui remains charming in the Italian style. With no distribution except via the Internet, V. Sattui wines can only be purchased at the winery. 1111 White Lane, St. Helena. Open daily, 9am-6pm. No tasting fee. 707.963.7774.
Windsor Vineyards is the oldest and largest mail-order company for wines. The company specializes in custom labels and corporate and wedding personalization. Founded by local legend, the late Rodney Strong. 72 Main St., Tiburon. Open daily. Sunday-Thursday, 10am-6pm; Friday-Saturday, 10am-7pm. 800.214.9463.
Mom & Pop
Richard Arrowood is a local guy who makes some of the best wines in the Sonoma Valley--pretty much the same thing he's been doing for himself and his neighbors for the last 25 years. Most of Arrowood's wine is done in the Bordeaux style of France. This means that French varietals like Cabernet, Mourvedre, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot are used or blended in a way that is more like wines found in the southern region of France. 14347 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen. Tasting room open daily, 10am-5pm. 707.935.2600.
August Briggs Winery
A pleasantly small winery with award-winning wines. August Briggs' tasting room is a white barn lit by skylights and often staffed by the owner's wife and mother. Once a roving wine consultant, August Briggs has now settled down to turn his considerable skill to his own wines. 333 Silverado Trail, Calistoga. Open Thursday-Sunday, 11:30am-4:30pm. No tasting fee. 707.942.5854.
Like owner Chris Lewand, the wine is just so darned approachable and easy-going. Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are most consistently strong, and a favorite is the '01 Diamo Grazie, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, some Cabernet Franc and Petite Syrah that is thoughtful, deep and just big enough to be seriously reckoned with. 57 Front St., Healdsburg. Tasting room open daily, 11am-6pm. 888.404.9463.
Casa Nuestra Winery
Endearingly offbeat, with a dedicated staff and a collection of goats and dogs roaming freely. Nestled among corporate wineries with only six employees and an annual production of 1,500 cases, Casa Nuestra has charm to spare. 3451 Silverado Trail N., St. Helena. Open daily, 10am-5pm. $5 tasting fee. 707.963.5783.
Gallo Family Vineyards
Before there was the box, there was the jug, and among local producers, Gallo has long been a favorite. One need only utter the words "hearty Burgundy," and one flashes back to the junior college campus and the first citation for "minor in possession of alcohol." Gallo, however, has plugged the jug and ramped up an impressive array of premium wines under their new Gallo Family Vineyards banner. Better yet, all these wines can be had for under $30. Gallo Family Vineyards, 320 Center St., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am to 6pm. The tasting room offers various programs ranging from complimentary to $10. 707.433.2458.
Harvest Moon Winery
The Pitts family sold grapes for decades until their thirty-something son returned to the farm and started vinting. Their modest, comfortable tasting room showcases estate-grown Zinfandel and Gewürztraminer. Harvest Moon Zins do seem to show their distinct charms from year to year. Is it the time-consuming vineyard practices of multiple harvests of each row--what winegrower Randy Pitts calls "shaving" the vineyard--and all the other diligence and love that's put into these small-lot wines? Harvest Moon Estate & Winery, 2192 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily from 10:30am to 5pm. 707.573.8711.
Next to a gas station between Petaluma and Marin County, the little vineyard on a hillock has marked the southernmost evidence of wine country viewable from Highway 101 for a decade. Owner Hoot Smith's Pinot grapes have been vinted to acclaim, usually bought by Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood, and 2004 is Kastania's first self-made vintage. Who knew that here on the border of Marin we'd find one of the most hospitable, no-nonsense family winery experience in the county! Kastania Vineyards, 4415 Kastania Road, Petaluma. 707.763.6348. Tasting by appointment.
The real treat here is a wine so gorgeous it's hard to believe it's that cheap and easy (it's topped with a screw cap). To echo the tasting sheet, the liquid energy of the 2003 "Rack 'n' Roll" Zinfandel ($14) swirls in the glass like revelers in a rock-concert crowd. The point is, untamed by oxyphobic squares, these are the seductive vinous scents that flirt with misadventure while promising paradise, and give you that million-kilowatt smile. You can take that to the bank. Meeker Vineyard, 21035 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. Open 10:30am to 6:00pm, Monday-Saturday; noon to 5pm, Sunday. 707.431.2148.
Expect a heavenly tasting experience at this three-family collective, with friendly, knowledgeable staff and good wine. Value is a premium. Be sure to try the Brenda Block Cabernet and Fume Blanc. 4001 Hwy. 128, Geyserville, Open daily, 10:30am-4pm. Regular tastings are free. 707.431.7644.
Family-run with a roaring fire in the hearth on rainy winter days. Passalacqua boasts good reds and Chardonnay as well as a fun wine-aroma kit to train your senses to identify common wine smells. Large deck, garden and vineyard. 3805 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-5pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.5575.
Simple, rural, without corporate cross-promotions and pretense. Good Zinfandel and nice local cats. 7370 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-4pm. Regular tastings are free. 707.433.5136.
Sbragia Family Vineyards
Winemaker Ed Sbragia's Sbragia Family Vineyard 2004 Cabernet Monte Rosso uncannily recalls raisin bread French toast, patted with powdered sugar and doused in fine maple syrup. Though not a breakfast wine by strictest definition (trust me, there are some), this Cab is a "come over for dinner, stay for breakfast" wine. If appropriately applied, this sexy, ambrosial elixir will raise more than merely eyebrows. Ahem. It will raise awareness of Sbragia's fine family winery. Sbragia Family Vineyards can be tasted at Cellar 360, 308-B Center St., Healdsburg. Open daily from 11am to 6pm. 707.433.2822. www.sbragia.com.
Celebrated and locally owned winery with award-winning wine. Excellent Merlot and that rarest of beasts, Charbono. Small tasting room and friendly staff. 1171 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga. Open daily, 10am-4:30pm. No tasting fee. 707.942.5508.
An amateur winery turned professional, Suncé's wine has won awards in both categories. Informal and family-run, it is rich with rustic charm and owned by a Croatian doctor of psychology. 1839 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 10:30am-5pm. No tasting fee. 707.526.9463.
Lounge on overstuffed furniture in a small tasting room staffed by the owners, Erica and Scott Lindstrom-Dake. The Lindstrom-Dakes started Thumbprint in their garage, and recommend vegetarian food parings with their wine. 36 North St., Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am-6pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.2393.
Very friendly and casual with an emphasis on young Italian-style wines. Yum. 4202 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. By appointment only. No tasting fee. 707.433.5590.
Vincent Arroyo Winery
Small, tasting room is essentially a barn with a table near some barrels, but very friendly, with good wines. 2361 Greenwood Ave., Calistoga. Open daily, 10am-4:30pm. No tasting fee. 707.942.6995.
A nontraditional, organic, biodynamically farmed winery. Don't miss the daily 45-minute tram ride replete with a tour of the vineyard, wildlife sanctuaries and caves. The excellent selection of wines serves as testament to the benefits of the earth-friendly approach to winemaking. 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Tram tours, $10. Biodynamic tasting, $10; regular tasting, $5. 888.490.2739.
Even as a corporate giant, Fetzer retains its conscience about the earth, the grapes, the land and its wine. With some 2,000 acres of grapes, the winery now claims that all of its own grapes are 100 percent certified organic, grown with sustainable practices fostering the well-being of the land. Though the winery also purchases traditionally farmed grapes for some of its wines, all those on its Bonterra label are made exclusively with organic grapes. The winery aims to be organic with all labels and varietals by 2010. Chardonnay is what Fetzer does especially well. Stroll through the organic gardens. 13601 Old River Road, Hopland. Tasting room open daily, 10am-5pm. 800.846.8637.
Field Stone Winery
Popular with hikers and bikers passing through, Field Stone Winery is an idyllic 85-acre ode to nature. It was also one of the first underground wine cellars, carved into the hill in the 1970s. 10075 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-5pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.7266.
It's easy to like Moshin. There's the hummingbird label. The new-in-2005, gravity-flow dream winery built into a hillside lets the wine flow gently from crush pad to the fermenters, with their sweet hydraulic punch-down setup, all the way down to, well, the tasting room. Former math teacher Rick Moshin fell hard for Pinot somewhere along the way, and both permutations on the menu show a marked style. Moshin Vineyards, 10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg, Tasting room open daily, 11am to 4:30pm. 707.433.5499.
Try the Mouvedre and Sangiovese. Limited picnicking facilities, organic vegetables and homemade bread for sale. Plan to arrive on Sundays, when the bread is fresh and the Italian-style jug wine, Guadagni, is flowing. 9282 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am-4:30pm. 707.433.3372.
Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs
The resident winemaker at Ridge Vineyards, Paul Draper, is one of the top five winemakers nationwide. The wines are fabulous and tend to inspire devotion in drinkers. The tasting room is an environmentally conscious structure. 650 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am-4pm. Regular tastings are free; $15 for Monte Bello tastings (so worth it!). 707.433.7721.
Wineries like Quivira are beginning to understand that the mere process of paying attention to the cycles of wind, rain and season, working with vines from bud break to harvest and relying more on nature than pesticides, is more than mere hippie juju. Quivira is aiming high and hopes fans will realize that its wine is more than just a glass of wine; it is a sip of time, place and the very best of intents. 4900 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am to 5pm. Tastings free; picnicking available. 1.800.292.8339.
b>That last crop: The Hop Kiln Winery's architecture reflects its former life toasting hops, back when hops and prunes and apples were Sonoma County's produce, not grapes.
Gloria Ferrer Winery
Part of the international Freixenet wine empire, Gloria Ferrer's owner Jose Ferrer comes from a family that has an extensive history of winemaking; in Spain, his family has been in this business since the 13th century. Explore the Champagne caves on a guided tour. 23555 Carneros Hwy., Sonoma. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Cave tours at noon, 2pm and 4pm. Call ahead. $4-$10 tasting fee. 707.996.7256.
J's become such a local favorite in large part due to the consistently friendly and knowledgeable tasting-room staff who guide sometimes bewildered guests through the process of pairing food and wine. Friday through Sunday, the winery opens its more elegant tasting room, the Bubble Room, to guests. 11447 Old Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am-5pm. Bubble room open Friday-Sunday, 11am-4:30pm. Food and winetasting fee, $10 (buy it!). 707.431.3646.
Korbel Champagne Cellars
Putting out 1.5 million cases a year, Korbel Champagne Cellars is one of the largest wineries in the country. A large, ivy-covered winery with a huge tasting room, fun staff, excellent deli and hourly tours, Korbel is a perfect stop on the way to a Russian River picnic. 13250 River Road, near Rio Nido. Open daily, 10am-5pm daily. No tasting fee. 707.824.7316.
Picnic in Paradise
Clos du Bois
With picnicking area, friendly staff and knickknacks galore, Clos Du Bois is a hidden treasure. Features Jerry Garcia's wine. 19410 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. Open daily, 10am-4:30pm. 800.222.3189.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery
A fun, casual winery with enjoyable wines. Gundlach Bundschu is famous for a publicity stunt in the '80s when owner Jim Bundschu preformed a mock hold-up on a Napa-bound winetasting train filled with journalists, giving them samples of his Sonoma wine. Thus began a Sonoma vs. Napa wine feud. Plays and Mozart performed on the grounds in the summer. 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma. Open daily, 10am-5pm. 707.938.5277.
Hop Kiln Winery
Both pleasant and rural, Hop Kiln has an extremely popular crisp white wine (Thousand Flowers) which sells out every year, as well as a great '02 Zinfandel Primitivo Vineyards. The grounds are gorgeous, with ponds, a garden and animals as well as plenty of food right on the Russian River. 6050 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Regular tastings are free. 707.433.6491.
The winery has stuck close to its roots, relying on many of the traditional wines it has found success with in the past, like the Cherry Block Cabernet Sauvignon and "Eye of the Swan" Pinot Noir Blanc. The winery is charming and warm, with wines that are mostly straightforward, honest affairs without all the hype and hubbub of younger wineries. And with one of the best picnic areas around, the busy Sonoma tasting room is always abuzz with folks eager to taste a little bit of wine country's glorious past. Sebastiani loves your pooch almost as much as you do. Water dishes are located around the property, and the winery has held a canine festival overseen by resident pup, Rubee Sebastiani, the past years. 389 Fourth St. E., Sonoma. Tasting fees range from $8 for three wines, or $18 for the Proprietor's Tasting. Open daily. 707.933.3230.
Buena Vista Carneros
The winery's history is recounted in a wall-sized story board that tells of its founding in 1857 by Count Agoston Haraszthy, a member of the Hungarian Royal Guard, who, among other disparate pursuits, also ran a ferryboat and founded a city in Wisconsin before launching the local wine industry. Despite the rich heritage of Buena Vista's location, the winery sources its grapes down the road a few miles at the lauded Carneros appellation, where it owns a thousand acres of the prime real estate. The 2004 Syrah ($25) is rife with leather and tar, and satisfies an olfactory addiction for the deep, smoky aroma of hot asphalt about to be bulldozed. The 2002 Merlot ($25) is an inky, peppery wine with a alluring dusty quality, not unlike the cozy smell of a recently reignited furnace. Likewise, the 2003 Pinot Noir ($35) has a toffee nose that gives way to cherry and wood notes, which finishes in a flush of Mexican chocolate. In contrast, the 2004 Chardonnay ($22) is like eating a caramel apple from the inside out. It begins with the crisp hues of green apple, but finishes with a broad caramel flavor--a perfect Halloween sipper. Buena Vista Carneros, 18000 Winery Road, Sonoma. Open daily,10am to 4pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.938.1266.
Bartholomew Park Winery
The kid sister of wine juggernaut Gundlach Bundschu, stately Bartholomew Park Winery is nestled in the Sonoma hills on the site of a former women's prison--an odd but scenic locale for something that sounds like it belongs in a Henry James novel. Sauvignon Blanc and Cab are kings here. 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma. Open daily, 11am to 4:30pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.935.9511.
The winery triumphed at the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" tasting where French judges, quelle horreur, found that they had awarded top honors to a California contender, 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. The generous pours are worth the $15 fee, which was waived anyway after we purchased Montelena's unusual first offering, the 2005 Potter Valley Riesling ($20). Labeled off-dry, only sweet enough to bring its delicate pear flavor into focus, it's a minerally, well-structured German-style Riesling. The 2003 Montelena Estate Zinfandel ($28) isn't much of a Zinfandel, but you could wow someone in a brown-bag tasting with the finest Merlot he'd ever sipped. Soft, rich and plummy, this is an ultimate cheese-plate wine. The current Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon release has been in the making since 2000, and rewards the patient tongue with softened tannins, yet prickles the pocketbook ($105). Breaking the rules, our tasting host led us back to the flagship 2001 Napa Valley Chardonnay, which indeed held its apple flavor and pie-crust aroma after the reds. It's only available in a pricey $93 magnum, but it's not bad for kids from the sticks. Chateau Montelena Winery, 1429 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga. Tasting room open daily, 9:30am to 4pm. 707.942.5105.
Francis Ford Coppola Presents Rosso & Bianco Winery
In a fairy-tale setting complete with a castle and friendly, attentive staff, Francis Ford Coppola's Rosso & Bianco Winery has excellent white wines and an in-house restaurant. 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville. Tasting room open daily at 11am; cafe open for lunch, 11:30am-5pm. 707.857.1400.
Sure it's got some arty associations--Keats, Chopin, a couple of the Brontës--but rest assured, tuberculosis is a drag. It's also one of the reasons entrepreneur Josephine Tychson moved her ailing husband to the dry climes of Napa Valley in 1881, though not the only reason. The consumption-injunction was curtain dressing for Tychson's enological ambitions, which, after a purchase of a 147-acre parcel of land, began to take shape, making her the first woman to own and operate a winery in the valley.
A century and a quarter later, her name has all but been scrubbed from the venture, the current name of which is a mash-up of Freeman, Marquand and a dude named Albert who apparently went by "Abbey." The big gun at Freemark Abbey is the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon-Bosche ($65)--pure kapow! in a bottle. Sourced from the fabled Bosche Vineyard seated on the Rutherford Bench, this wine has powerful dark berry notes and the dusty loam taste for which this region is known. It will make you want to be buried in a vineyard. Freemark Abbey, 3022 St. Helena Hwy. N. (Highway 29 at Lodi Lane), St. Helena. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. $5 tasting fee includes logo glass. 800.963.9698.
Iron Horse Vineyards
Despite the rustic tasting room, Iron Horse produces sparkling wine and Pinots for the elite. In fact, Ronald Reagan commissioned wine from Iron Horse for the historic summit meetings with Gorbachev that ended the Cold War. Near a farm with fresh, local preserves. 209786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol. Open daily, 10am-3:30pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.887.1507.
Russian Hill Winery
Russian Hill Vineyards is set in a Georgian manor resembling Tara from Gone with the Wind and offers a fantastic view. Simple tasting room, strong Pinots and Syrah. 4525 Slusser Road, Windsor. Open Thursday-Monday, 10am-5pm. No tasting fee. 707.575.9428.
St. Francis Winery
Simple but cozy, St. Francis Winery was inspired by the monk St. Francis and styled as a California mission, complete with a bell tower. Beautiful views from the tasting room. 100 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 10am-5pm. $5 tasting fee; $10 reserve tasting; $20 reserve tasting with food pairing. 800.543.7713.
Pioneered female winemaking by hiring the first female winemaker in the industry. A very popular winery, and therefore crowded. The tasting-room experience is mediocre, but the wine is fantastic and worth the wait. Excellent Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. 16275 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-5pm. $5 tasting fee. 707.473.3213.
Check out filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic memorabilia, his Zoetrope zine and Sofia, the Blanc de Blanc in a can made for his daughter during her coming of age. Despite the celebrity hype, the wine is award-winning. 1991 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford. Open daily, 10am-5pm. 800.782.4226.
PlumpJack is named for Jack Falstaff, the jocular, debauched foil who cameos in a handful of Shakespeare's plays. The tasting room, by contrast, is a spare and hip affair replete with a flatscreen TV that plays an endless clip reel of owner and SF Mayor Gavin Newson chumming it up with various network personalities, its sound overrun by an ersatz soundtrack that spans Modest Mouse and Sinatra. The 2004 PlumpJack Syrah ($38) is a comparatively beefy number, roiling with plum and black cherry notes in an exuberantly hot admixture that is 15.4 percent alcohol--perfect for cheap dates. The 2004 PlumpJack Merlot ($50) is a no-nonsense easy drinker in shades of pale raisin with a toasty finish that feels like someone just cinched the last strap of some shameful apparatus, leaving only enough breath to wheeze, "Kill me, Marion, just kill me." PlumpJack Winery, 620 Oakville Crossroad, Oakville. Open daily from 10am to 4pm. Tastings are $5. 707.945.1220.
A humorous, frog-themed tasting room owned by Robin Williams' brother Todd Williams and the late Rodney Strong. Refreshing and fun. Try the Eye of the Toad Dry Pinot Noir Rosé. 409-A Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10:30am to 5:30(ish)pm. 707.431.8667
Valley of the Moon Winery
This winery was once owned by Sen. George Hearst, the man who sired newspaper magnate and Citizen Kane inspiration William Randolph Hearst. Perhaps instead of the epochal utterance "Rosebud" Welles belches in the beginning of Kane, we could dub in "Rosé" and have the man pitching for Valley of the Moon Winery's 2005 Rosato di Sangiovese (a fancy way of saying "rosé made from a popular Italian varietal"). The wine is rife with pleasant dark berry notes, which instantly brought back rosy memories of berry-flavored Hi-C. The Rosato is a well-packaged gem of a refresher, and a fine way to bring down the mercury during these midsummer valley scorchers. Ditto the 2005 Pinot Blanc, a pithy mélange of coconut, mango and tropical citrus that's a nice alternative to the Chards and Sauvignon Blancs splashing into summer's glasses. Valley of the Moon Winery, 777 Madrone Road, Glen Ellen. Open daily, 10am to 4:30pm. Four complimentary tastes are provided; $2 reserve tastes. 707.996.6941.
A tranquil winery far afield with excellent white wines, a huge garden and a small cellar tasting room. The Fumé Blanc sets the bar on this varietal. 8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Tasting room open 10am-5pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.6700.
Kendall-Jackson features amazing gardens and produces the popular wines gracing most American tables. Garden features include heirloom tomatoes (look for the annual festival in August) and a sensory patch that helps visitors learn the scent-notes of wine. 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Tasting fees, $2-$10. 707.571.8100.
Matanzas Creek Winery
Matanzas Creek Winery features a peaceful tasting room overlooking its famed acres of lavender. In addition to rave-review wines, Matanzas naturally specializes in lavender products of all kinds. 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 10am-4:30pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.528.6464.
Paradise Ridge Winery
Paradise Ridge is a hot spot for weddings because it has a gorgeous, provocative sculpture garden with annually changing exhibits set amid a pygmy forest. Once a utopian commune at the turn of the last century, Paradise Ridge was founded by a Japanese immigrant of the Samurai class, one of the first eight people to smuggle himself out of Japan. Stay for sunset Wednesday evenings April through October. 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 11am-5:30pm. No tasting fee. 707.528.9463.
Grapes & Gourmet
(Also see J Vineyards & Winery, above)
Mayo Family Winery
Excellent place to pair food with wine, as tastings are matched with specific food items. Seven tiny courses and excellent wine for $20. 9200 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. 707.833.5504.
Large and filled with cross-promotional products, a deli and a pseudo-Italian marketplace. Viansa can feel overwhelming with not enough emphasis on winetasting, but there's plenty of food. Has patio, wetlands preservation area and olive tree grove. 25200 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am-5pm. 707.935.4700
Art & Vine
Clos Pegase Winery
Practically an art museum, Clos Pegase showcases plenty of sculpture, painting and architecture. Impressive premises, good red wines and near a petrified forest. Sadly, tasters are limited to tasting either white or red, so choose well. 1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga. Open daily, 10:30am-5pm. Tastings, $5-$25. 1.800.366.8583.
Owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall, who specialize in aggressively "beefy" wines of the type favored by Robert Parker. The reds are extremely popular and the tasting room features several pieces from the Hall's generous private collection of intensely modern art and all things Austrian. 401 St. Helena Hwy. S., St. Helena. Open daily, 10am-5:30pm. $10 tasting fee. 866.667.HALL.
Hess Collection Winery
High above the fracas of the Napa Valley, the Hess Collection is an intellectual outpost of art and wine housed in the century-old Christian Brother's winery. After making his fortune bottling Swiss mineral water, Donald Hess turned his attention to bottling something altogether different: wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is the Hess Collection's signature varietal. Don't miss the world-class collection of 20th-century art, including work by Francis Bacon, Frank Stella, Magdalena Abramowitz, a new acquisition of work by Anselm Keifer and many others. 4411 Redwood Road, Napa. Open daily, 10am-4pm. $10 tasting fee. 707.255.1144.
Imagery Estate Winery
Located on the site of the short-lived Sonoma Mountain Brewery, Imagery Estate results from a 20-year collaboration between winemaker Joe Benziger and artist Bob Nugent, who created the first label and curates the series. The concept: Commission unique artwork from contemporary artists for each release of often uncommon varietal wines. The wine gets drunk. The art goes on the gallery wall. Not so complicated. Count on the reds, particularly the strawberry jam-scented 2006 Pinot Meunier ($22) made an enticing rosé; I'd cellar it for, oh, about 20 minutes in the freezer before popping it on a warm evening. Pop quiz: What's a Lagrein? Take a stroll down the informative "varietal walk" on the grounds to find out. Imagery Estate Winery, 14335 Hwy. 12, Glen Ellen. Tasting room open daily 10am to 4:30pm; after Memorial Day, until 5:30pm. 707.935.4515.
Mumm Cuvée Napa
Pretty with an interesting, albeit somewhat difficult-to-find collection of photography that changes exhibition regularly. Outdoor seating overlooking the vineyards. Features Champagne and wine with a good Blanc de Noir. Their Champagne on reserve is inspiring. Also near high-end Oakville Grocery with good cheese. 8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford. Open daily, 10am-5pm. $5-$12 tasting fee. 707.967.7700.
Funky and offbeat with Native American art, rave-review Zinfandels and friendly, low-key staff. Founder Kent Rosenblum is a veterinarian who still works with animals, despite his winery's success. 250 Center St., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-5pm daily. No tasting fee. 707.431.1169.
Expect to find the tasting room extremely crowded with an often-harrassed staff, but St. Supéry features an interesting art gallery with changing exhibitions. The famed Dean & DeLuca high-end grocery store, stocked with excellent everything, is nearby. See the art, grab a bottle and go. 8440 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford. Open 10am-5pm. $10 tasting fee. 800.942.0809.
Stryker Sonoma Vineyards
An architectural award-winner, this off-the-beaten-path winery features beautiful views and spectacular wine, the best of which are the reds. A gem! 5110 Hwy. 128, Geyserville. Open 10:30am-5pm, Thursday-Sunday, or by appointment. No tasting fee. 707.433.1944.
To the manner born: Napa's Darioush emulates a Persian temple.
Greeting visitors at Cline Cellars' tasting-room door is a realistic, life-sized rubber butler, molded from latex and dressed in a tuxedo.Perhaps the rubber butler proves the adage that good help is hard to find. Good wines, however, are not hard to find at Cline, whose tasting-room menu currently boasts, among dozens of other selections, a raft of single-vineyard designate Zinfandels--gorgeous fruit bombs, each distinct from the other and each with its own super-powerful suggestion of simile. The price for all these bottles hovers between $25 and $28 (tastes are only a buck). However, elements of each can be found in a single bottle of the 2004 California Zinfandel, which is a tasty bargain at $11. Cline Cellars, 24737 Hwy. 121, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am-6pm. 707.940.4000.
Winemaker Cathy Corison proudly describes herself as a "Cabernet chauvinist." It's refreshing to hear a woman stand by her Cab, but even more so to drink it. Corison Winery, 987 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena. Tasting by appointment for a $10 fee, which is credited toward purchases. Personalized tour with food and wine pairing, Fridays at 10am by appointment. 707.963.0826.
David Coffaro Vineyards
Coffaro specializes in unique red blends and Zinfandels. A longtime Dry Creek Valley resident, he's known as something of a character, keeping an online diary of his daily winemaking activities. You can read it at www.coffaro.com/diary.html. 7485 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville. Vineyard tours Friday at 11am and 1pm by appointment. Open daily from 10am to 5pm. Call 707.433.9715.
Their little urban tasting room is right off Santa Rosa's downtown freeway exit. View of a parking lot. No bucolic preciousness here. Backstory: Kokomo means "here." Where? Kokomo, Ind. Why? This guy Erik Miller lands in Dry Creek Valley, finds his calling, etcetera, names winery after his home town. And? Opens the tasting room in the one city that thinks it's in the Midwest instead of the capital of wine country. That's the best part.
Other than the sweet and crisp 2005 Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc ($16), it's about the reds. The 2005 Perotti Zinfandel ($22) nearly jumps up out of the glass to give a raspberry-flavored smooch on the nose. The 2005 Timber Crest Zinfandel ($26) took me on a pleasant ramble through a country junkyard, brambleberry vines spilling over rusted cars, a nostalgic whiff of oil. Yes, the 2005 Petite Sirah ($22) is tannic, don't panic. Steak, blackberries and cigar--it's an entrée, a dessert and a vice. The 2005 Pinot Noir ($45) hints subtly of smoked Tofurky and spice, while the 2005 Dry Creek Valley Syrah ($22) comes on like a forest fire, all pine cones and smoke. Kokomo Winery Tasting Room, 305 Davis St., Santa Rosa. Open daily, noon to 7pm. 707.542.6580.
Ledson has delicious Merlot and resides in a starter castle. Originally designed as a family home, Ledson was converted into a winery after good grapes grew in the front yard. 7335 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. Open daily, 10am-5pm. $5 tasting fee. 707.537.3810.
At Loxton Cellars in Glen Ellen, the shingle of Aussie Chris Loxton, who forewent a career in physics to save space-time in a bottle, Syrah and Shiraz are king. Loxton's early quantum quest may account for why his list boasts a 2002 Hillside Syrah next to a 2003 Shiraz. Quoi? In physics, light can be perceived as either a particle or a wave--either way, it's light. Syrah, Shiraz--to Loxton, it's wine. And fine wine at that. The Shiraz was a strapping young lad with a dominant plum note flanked by hints of clove and pepper with a broad jammy finish. "Easily the best Shiraz I've made," Loxton says in his tasting notes. 11466 Dunbar Road, Glen Ellen. Open by appointment 11am-5pm, daily. 707.935.7221.
Mauritson Family Winery
Zinfandels are the hallmark of this fledgling winery. Reserve vintages routinely sell out, including the much sought-after Rockpile Zinfandel. There's a lot of buzz about wines from the Rockpile Appellation. All vineyards in the appellation must be higher than 800 feet above sea level, making it a drier, rockier outcrop with intensely-flavored fruit. 2859 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Tasting room open daily, 10am to 5pm. 707.431.0804.
The winery is only open for tasting by appointment, but that shouldn't be as intimidating as it sounds. During a Winter Wineland event, classic rock played in the background, and a large temporary staff of down-to-earth friends and vineyard owners was assembled to pour a Pinot-heavy slate. After a 20-wine tour of two states (California and Oregon grapes are featured) and even more regions, we emerged giddy and blinking in the sun--and still in Santa Rosa! Such a savings in gas. Siduri Winery, 980 Airway Court, Ste. C, Santa Rosa. Tasting by appointment, Monday-Saturday, 10am to 3pm. 707.578.3882.
No matter how attentive you are to the directions, no matter how much you study the quaint, hand-drawn map found online, no matter how vigilantly you watch the street addresses numerically climb along Old Sonoma Road, you will inevitably miss Truchard Vineyards. What follows is a three-point turn on a blind, two-lane road, with a single thought in your head: "This wine had better be worth the insurance deductible." Such stunt-driving is a rite of passage, however, that tests not only one's skills as a motorist but the length to which you will go for fine wine. You see, grasshopper, Truchard Vineyards is only visible to those who are ready to see it. And after a few death-defying drive-bys and an ill-advised turn or two across the double-yellow line, I not only saw Truchard Vineyards, I tasted it. And, yes, with Cabernet this good, it's worth the deductible. 3234 Old Sonoma Road, Napa. Open by appointment only. 707.253.7153.
Friends should never let friends drink shitty wine. Upon tasting the 2001 Sydney's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($28), the snake-oil pitch for which could be "an elixir that buttresses the soul, raises the spirit and gives you moxie," I believed every sip. Its earthy aroma recalled the rich scent of baker's chocolate. Remember when you were a kid and discovered this lost treasure in the pantry only to bite into a brick of bitter? This wine completely makes up for it--put some in your inner child's ba-ba. If paired with a grapefruit, the 2004 Blushing Flamingo Merlot rosť ($16) would make the perfect Breakfast of Champions lite. A fine rosé with exotic guava and melon notes to spare, it's a fine way to start the day, particularly when friends don't let friends dry out. This bird is merely a curtain opener, however, for the 2004 Tori's Vineyard Zinfandel ($26), which makes such an honest stab at divinity that the blood of Christ looks like Kool-Aid in comparison. This deep, creamy flush of blackberries, freshly roasted coffee and pepper is a French kiss direct from God. Only 336 cases were produced--shall we go in on some together? And, do you have a truck? After all, friends don't let friends drink alone. Wilson Winery, 1960 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am to 5pm. Tastings are $5; $10 for reserves. 707.433.4355.
Blondes Have More Fun
Oh, glory to the 2004 Overlook Chardonnay, which has hues of nectarine and a bracing minerality that recalls the pleasant aroma of a used paperback--probably something by Hesse. Sourced from over 22 individual vineyards spanning Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties, this Chard sounds like a multiple personality disorder in a bottle, but is rather a grape-grown gestalt of California fruit at its finest. A sibling Chardonnay, the 2004 Damaris Reserve ($36) is like a wedge of sour green apple dipped in honey, upon which a rose petal has fallen--and you eat it anyway. A bit precious, but why not? Landmark Vineyards, 101 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood. Open daily, 10am to 4:30pm. $5 tasting fee, waived with purchase. 707.833.0053.
During a 2006 visit, we tried a 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95), which is, in a word, Bubblicious. The fruity wine, done up in hues of summer pear, has a distinctly Bazooka Joe note that recalls one's first junior high kiss and awakens the palate as wonderful late-summer refreshment. Another favorite is the award-winning 2003 estate Chardonnay ($24.95)--the San Francisco Chronicle gave it the gold--a lean, crisp wine that swaggers from yellow apple to a creamy finish, with vanilla patting its ass the whole way.
The 2003 Carneros Pinot Noir ($25.95) is an earthy mouthful of prime Sonoma real estate topped with a sinewy smokiness courtesy of brettanomyces, a residual yeast better known as "brett," as in The Sun Also Rises. Brett is either a blessing or bane to winemakers, but here it adds a welcomed layer of complexity and a pinch of cinnamon. Roche Carneros Estate Winery, 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. Tastings are free. 707.935.7115.
Ain't it grand that, even during the reign of a president who stays the course of sobriety, our fine local wines continue to be served at White House state dinners? The nonpartisan chief sommelier has been partial to Selby Chardonnay through several administrations, as attested to in official menus posted on the wall of that winery's tasting room. Tony Blair enjoyed it with sliced duck breast. Bill Clinton had something similar. Sweet tooths might best appreciate the grassy, lemony 2005 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($13). A waft of the 2005 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($28) brings back olfactory memories of sunny days gone by (was it that coconut sunscreen that the girls put on?) with a distinct flavor of lime. The late-harvest 2000 Sweet Cindy ($12), a tragically sweet potion that is all apricot and Cognac ringed with white raisins dancing around in a delirium. Selby Winery, 215 Center St., Healdsburg. Tasting Room open daily 11am to 5:30pm. Tastings are free. 707.431.1288.
Taft Street Winery
Taft Street Winery, in the rural industrial outskirts of Sebastopol, left over from the Gravenstein's glory days, fits the bill. Don't look for it on that town's Taft Street--the winery's founding garagistes carried the name north from Oakland, when they opened a winery proper in 1982. The 2005 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($18) entrances with a faint whiff of burnt oak, like lazy smoke drifting from way down the road on a winter evening. My tasting cohort professes the leaner 2005 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($13) to be superior. Taft Street's award-winning Sauvignon Blancs are a great deal. Taft Street Winery, 2030 Barlow Lane, Sebastopol. Tasting daily; Monday-Friday, 11am to 4pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11am to 4:30pm. 707.823.2049.
Like Nothing Else
Set atop a hill with a spectacular outdoor deck, Armida features an inventive winetasting theme featuring Heaven and Hell on select weekends. The wines are original and there are three mysterious geodesic domes on the property. Plus: bocce! 2201 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am-4pm. Regular tasting list is free; $2 for additional reserve tastings. 707.433.2222.
The wineries of Mt. Veeder (there are more than a dozen, though only a handful are open to the public) are remote outposts high up in the hills, some 2,500 feet above sea level, and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Napa Valley below. Using grapes from as far away as Paso Robles, winemaker Marketta makes a strong Syrah and an interesting meritage of Syrah, Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot that's definitely worth a try. What you're here for, however, are the VGS ("very good shit") wines. 3875 Mt. Veeder Road, Napa. Tasting room open daily, 11am-5pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.255.9440.
Exotic locale, with giant columns and a Persian theme, Darioush features fantastic wine and is justly famous for its Bordeaux. Owned by a traditional Iranian family and personalized with interesting details, such as an amphitheater. 4240 Silverado Trail, Napa. Open daily, 10:30am-5pm. Tasting fees, $5-$10. 707.257.2345.
Vineyards & Winery
Best known for its Chardonnays, Nicholson features a winery tour from the depths of the caves to the height of the property's grandmother oak ($40 Wine Club members; $50 public; $25 kids). Nicholson 4200 Napa Road, Sonoma. Tasting room open daily, 11am-6pm; cave tours by appointment. Tasting fee is $5 for three wines. 707.938.8822.
Peju Province Vineyards
Oddly talented staff (tasting-room attendant Alan Arnople, or the "Yodelmeister," specializes in rapping and yodeling) and fantastic Cabernet. 8466 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford. Open daily, 10am-6pm. $5 tasting fee. 707.963.3600.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
St. Francis Winery and Vineyards' wine also won't put a hole in your pocketbook. Several moderately priced and immensely quaffable wines are available including the 2004 Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel ($22), which brims with blueberry matched with the vaguely acrid notes of fine espresso. Also, try the 2004 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($13)--it's like a shard of peanut brittle in a glass. A wonderfully sumptuous wine, it has a notably lush mouth-feel that makes it a joy to sip as much for the taste as the feeling. St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, 100 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. Tastings are $10, half of which is waived upon purchase; food and wine pairings are $20. 800.543.7713, ext. 242.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.