March 26, 2016

Must See Wineries Of Sonoma, PLUS, a Primer on Wine Types By Region

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A few weekends ago we went to Sonoma with 2 of our best couple friends, rented a great house on a winery, and toured Sonoma, winery by winery,until the tasting rooms closed down. We then made our way to eat at some fabulous restaurants in the area. In this 2 part blog series, I share with you our favorite wineries of our tour, and then the restaurants you can’t miss while in the quaint town of Healdsburg, CA (part 2).

We visited Sonoma on the weekend of a “Barrel Tasting”. If you read my last blog post about with my tips on how to elude wine hangovers, I recapped what a barrel tasting is. In short, it is when wineries give a sneak peak into their wines before they are bottled with the chance to buy “futures”- ie, the option to get some really great wine at a discount. And most of this wine sells out before you can ever buy it retail so it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of if you like good wine!

In the cave at #rothvineyard #sonoma #wineroad

A photo posted by GrillGirlRobyn (@grillgirlrobyn) on

Wineroad is an association of collective wineries in Sonoma that host events such as the barrel tasting and other cool events and it a great resource for visiting Sonoma. I recommend when going to Sonoma to hire a driver. There is nothing quite like being chauffeured around wine country with your best buds slightly buzzed and enjoying some laughs! In the course of 3 days, we must have visited over 15 wineries but these are the ones that really stuck out and offered a nice vibe along with great wines. THIS IS BY NO MEANS AN EXHAUSTIVE LIST as there are hundreds of wineries in this area. You could go for the next five years and still have more to see! But of the ones we visited, the ones I’ve listed below are worth a visit (all the ones we mentioned we bought their wine and possibly even joined their clubs!).

Let the #barreltasting begin #sonoma #pinotnoir #wine #drinkballetto

A photo posted by GrillGirlRobyn (@grillgirlrobyn) on

There are so many Vineyards in Sonoma, you need to have a tour strategy! I recommend mapping out the wineries you want to visit first and finding a route that most easily lets you go from one to the other without backtracking. This is how you will be able to visit the most wineries in the shortest amount of time since most tasting rooms close by 5. (Wineroad has a cool interactive map that will let you map out the wineries on their website).

First off, identify what you want to drink. If you have a certain type of wine you love, then I would map out your journey based on your preferences. For example, if you hate Zinfandel, then perhaps you shouldn’t spend a ton of time in Dry Creek and instead focus your time in the Russian River Valley an the Alexander Valley. Some of our friends didn’t like Zin so we spent less time in Dry Creek because of this.

sonomacounty-winecountry-map

WINE TYPES BY REGION**:
~Russian River Valley is know for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
~Dry Creek Valley is known for its Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc
~Alexander Valley is known for its Cabernet and Merlot

**You will see that the wineries have other grapes too but this is a general guideline on predominant grapes in the area

The grounds of Beautiful Chalk Hill.

The grounds of Beautiful Chalk Hill.

 

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
Bellato Vineyards: This winery had a great feel to it- very welcoming. They made some really great Pinot Noirs as well as an unoaked Chardonnay that I really liked. The BCD Pinot Noir was my favorite, according to their website it is already sold out. Any of their Pinots would be an easy sipping wine. Their Cider ridge Pinot is the actual winery our house was on so of course we had to but a bottle! Also enjoye their Rose (of Pinot) and Syrah.

Roth Vineyards: These guys produce Bordeaux style wines (Cabernets and Merlots) in Alexander Valley but they also own some land near coastal Russian River Valley where they produce Chardonnay and Pinot. The winery/tasting room is in the Russian River Valley and they are right across the street from Chalk Hill. They have a really cool “cave” on the grounds that would be a fun place to attend a party or have a picnic. We took home some of their Heritage blend.

Chalk Hill: of all the wineries we visited, I must say the grounds of Chalk Hill are the most beautiful. This is actually where my friends got married- I can only imagine what a wedding that must have been! Chalk Hill is known for it’s. We bought Sauv Blanc and Pinot Noir.

VML: VML stands out as being my favorite of all the wineries we visited. I think the overall experience of their property, their easy drinking wines, and the beautiful artwork on their bottles and in their branding just won me over. Futures Syrah, Sextant Pinot Noir, bought rose of Pinot Noir, and RR Pinot Noir

Joseph Swan: My friends who live in SF say this place is a not to be missed spot because of their wines. It is pretty small and rustic- there didn’t appear to be a tasting room – you just walk into the barn. We came home with- Trenton Estate Pinot Noir and Bestoni Vineyard Petite Syrah

DRY CREEK

Armida: This winery had a really awesome view of the valley and you could stand outside on their hillside deck overlooking the beautiful surroundings. One of the buildings on the grounds looks like a big golf ball and what I like about the marketing behind these wines is that they like to have fun with winemaking. Their “Poizin” is available nationally and you may have seen the bottle. We came home with some Sauvignon Blanc, Stuhl Chardonnay and Maple Zinfandel.

ALEXANDER VALLEY

Soda Rock: Our group had the most memorable experience on our first day at Soda Rock. We stopped by even though they weren’t on our itinerary and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there. After a day full of rain, we came out of the tasting room to a beautiful rainbow overlooking the rolling hills outside. Their tasting room has a fun and relaxed vibe and their wine was incredible. Their building is unique and quaint- it was once the Alexander Valley Post Office and General Store back in the 1800s as well as home to one of the areas first wineries.  We came home with several cases of their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viogner and Entourage (Bordeaux Blend). We also joined their wine club!

HEALDSBURG (the main town in Sonoma)

Hawley: The Hawley tasting room is located in Healdsburg, just down the street from The Shed restaurant (can’t miss!). Their tasting room bar is made from wine barrels. We came home a ton of their wine, bought futures AND joined their wine club so clearly we really liked their wine. We came home with their Reserve old Vine Zin, Reserve Petite Syrah, Sauv Blanc, Viogner, and Rose. Their actual winery is in Dry Creek FYI…

Roadhouse: Roadhouse has a tasting room off a side street in Healdsburg and it is an unassuming little place, but their wine is incredible. I love how they brand with wax seals on the bottle. They have won a ton of awards for their wines. We came home with their Green Label Pinot Noir.

If you have a “Must see” winery in Sonoma, please leave a comment below. This will only help other readers! It was such a great change to be in the rolling hills of Wine country- such a drastic change from my flat, South Florida vibe. I’m already counting the days until my next trip- I’m hoping we make this an annual event!



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Robyn

My focus is on healthy, simple and creative recipes on the grill. I encourage women to learn to grill as it is a great way to create healthy, flavorful dishes without all the fuss and clean up in the kitchen.

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Libba - March 27, 2016 Reply

Thank you, Robyn!! I so enjoyed reading about your wine experience! My husband and I have talked about doing a trip for years and just haven’t done it! I loved how you broke down the different regions, that’s super important to me. I’ve heard great things about Sonoma/Healdsburg as opposed to Napa. I hear the whole attitude is different. Does a barrel tour happen every year? I look forward to reading part 2…

Robyn - March 28, 2016 Reply

Hi Libba,

I am lucky I have a good friend that lives across the street from me who is a wine connosseaur (spelling) and is actually from the Healdsburg area. Sonoma is MUCH more laid back than Napa and the wines there are also less expensive. The bottles in Napa average about $150 whereas the bottles in Sonoma are around $50 (or less). I really like the laid back vibe in Sonoma and all the restaurants are farm to table, sourcing from local Petaluma valley. The barrel tasting happens every year, go to wineroad.com to buy tickets – there are two weekends in March when they do the barrel tasting. I had a wonderful time and am hoping we can go back next year!!!

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