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Old World Wine in Sonoma

I'll be in Sonoma in a few weeks for some wine tasting. Can anyone please recommend any old-world style wine producers in the area? We're staying in Santa Rosa and plan on visiting Healdsburg and the Russian River Valley.

I love floral and spicy pinots, leathery syrahs, and fresh/grassy or citrus/honey mineral whites of any stripe. I'm particularly interested in hearing about wineries that are small production and don't typically export to NY and those experimenting with atypical (for California) varietals.

Please no cherry-cola Cabs, fruit-bomb Zinfandel or oaky-buttery Chardonnay.

Thank you!

ETA: I've visited Napa before, but have never been to Sonoma. We plan on staying on the Sonoma side for this trip.

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  1. Pinot: Freeman and August West (both made by Ed Kurtzman and located on the same property); Dehlinger are the ones that immidiately come to mind. Merry Edwards, Rivers-Marie, and Peay are all also great and have a bit of an old-world sensibility to them, but are all deffinitely new world style fruit.

    Zin: Rafanelli

    You might also like Landmark's wines.

    1 Reply
    1. re: whiner

      Thank you! I'll get in touch with these and see if they offer tastings. I've never had any of them, so I'm looking forward to giving them a try.

    2. For zinfandel, try Pedroncelli, Foppiano, Preston & Dry Creek. The first two have been in business for 40-50 years and the later two have been in business for at least 20 years. Foppiano is well know for its petite sirah. Noveau wineries they ain't!

      These wineries (except Foppiano) are all out along Dry Creek Road, a beautiful wine valley west of Healdsburg

      8 Replies
      1. re: DavidT

        I don't think any of those zins are Old World in style. Relatively restrained by contemporary California standards.

        The only zinfandel I can recall that has something of an Old World style is Galleron's, but he's in Rutherford.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Since zinfandel does not, for all practical purposes, exist in the old-world, I am not sure what an "old-world style" zinfandel would taste like. I was simply recommending several of the more established and more traditional Sonoma wineries. Perhaps I should have referred to them as '"old-school" rather than inferred they were "old-world."

          1. re: DavidT

            Primitivo is the same grape as zinfandel, Italian-style, so I guess that's old-world zin :)

            Thanks for the recs -- I'll check them out!

            1. re: oolah

              Primitivo is a close relative of zinfandel, but it's grown in such a hot flat region that the wines are usually high-alcohol and flabby, not what people typically have in mind when they say "Old World."

              Plavac mali, a Croatian cousin, is what I imagine an OW zinfandel would taste like. There's also some South African zinfandel that's made in a very OW style.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Interesting. I'd always heard they were identical, not just related. I imagine that explains some of the extreme flavor differences. I've had a few decent primitivos (mostly while in Italy), but yeah, I agree that most are cheap and flabby.

                Never had the Croatian version -- will definitely look out for that. Thanks also for the Schug rec. I do like the Carneros Pinots.

                1. re: oolah

                  Latest I've read is that zinfandel, primitivo, and crljenak are genetically identical, but Z and P don't taste the same. Who knows what C tastes like, nobody's made wine from it in many years, it was almost extinct when they found it.


                  Plavac mali is a cross between crljenak and dobričić. Blue Danube imports several.


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    It tastes similar to a dry Zinfandel, but I think that Zin is better. It all depends on who is doing the growing as to how it tastes.
                    There are a number of vines that are starting to yield in Croatia. Due to renewed interest in Crljenak, it's actually being replanted and harvesting. There will indeed be a Croatian "Zinfandel" soon thanks to the fact that modern is allowing the root stocks to take better now. And yes, Zinfandel, Primitivo, and Crljenak are all genetically identical while Plavac Mali is a a child of Crljenak. My wife and I had a long conversation with one of the Croats who did the originally research while we were working on a book about the wines of Dalmatia.

            2. re: DavidT

              Those are definitely some old-school wineries.

              Here's a topic on what "Old World" and "New World" mean to some of us:


        2. Schug, particularly the pinots.

          Schug Carneros Estate Winery
          602 Bonneau Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476

          2 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Schug's Pinot is particularly OW-style, almost like a Burgundy with its minerality plus fruit. Tasted it three weeks ago and was delightfully surprised.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Walter Schug learned his trade in the Rheingau and studied viticulture and enology at Geisenheim.


          2. Big second on A. Rafanelli for zins -- but call ahead for an appointment: 707.433.1385.

            While Ridge might not necessarily be "old world," you're bound to find something you love; plus they beat the French, again!


            1 Reply
            1. re: asc339

              If you don't like New World-styled wines, Ridge probably won't be to your taste. Definitely not to mine.

            2. Go to Porter Creek in the heart of the RRV on Westside road. Inside a tiny, shanty looking shack i.e. tasting room you'll find superb wines crafted in the style you're looking for...

              1 Reply
              1. re: vinosnob


                Porter Creek Vineyards
                8735 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

              2. Seghesio Family zins. This is a small family-run winery. Grandpa was from the old world. You cannot go wrong here.

                3 Replies
                1. re: groover8

                  I just returned from a vacation in Sonoma, and agree that Seghesio makes wonderful wine. Foppiano had a great deal on a lovely, simple sangiovese that we very, very much enjoyed. Mazzocco, down the block from Ridge, also had terrific Zin, not too jammy, and a very nice selection of other varietals.

                  Along the Russian River, Hop Kiln, Davis-Bynum, and Moshin were favorites. I don't think I had a single tasting of the forty-three on this last trip that was more consistent than Moshin. Not over the top, no fruit bombs, not too woody. Great winemaker!

                  1. re: rruben1

                    I would definately takes recs from whiner as was clued into some very nice wines during my trip in May. I have to second the Freeman rec -- probably the best Pinots I had out in Sonoma. Definately need to call ahead as they aren't technically open to the public. Siduri makes more of a full-bodied style Pinot -- most of which I didn't really care for but had a couple that I liked. Wasn't all that thrilled with Merry Edwards for the price but they were very nice and accommodating. Did enjoy her less highly marketed Sav Blanc.

                    In terms of Syrah, would check out Peay (also make excellent Pinot). Fort Ross makes a very respectable Pinotage -- a SA varietal not seen often in the US. Both Rivers-Marie and Kosta Browne are excellent but are not taking visitors currently. Would try and check out Walter Hansel -- though I didn't get a chance when I was out there. Another winery further North in the heart of Dry Creek that I was impressed with was Papapietro-Perry. Excellent pinots and I actually liked their Zins as well (though I am not a huge fan of zins usually).

                    On a bit of a side note, I would highly, highly recommend dinner at Cyrus. Outstanding in every aspect -- drinks, wine, service and most importantly food.

                    1. re: Bhutani

                      FYI, neither Peay nor Fort Ross are open to the public. Fort Ross is not open at all, and at Peay you MUST call ahead. Also, be advised that Peay is a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Dry Creek Road, so it may be outside your driving range for th is trip.

                2. So I took all these wonderful recommendations (and a few restaurant recommendations also culled from these boards) and I created a google map of the Sonoma Area with place markers. Hope some others find this helpful :)

                  Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I'll be sure to report back in September.


                  1. I would suggest - Seghesio and Pezzi King for well rounded Zin producers

                    1. Vision Cellars Pinot Noir. They live in Windsor. Contact them through www.visioncellars.com

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Andy Peay (Peay vineyards), is one of the nicest guys we met, with the best wine that we tried. He will do a private tasting for you if he can, well worth the drive, and not that far from Healdsburg. Really pretty drive too.

                        For me (uneducated wino) the difference b/w old world and new world really seems to be subtlety. The Old world just seem more complex more subtle in style, more delicate. Peay fits this to a T in Sonoma.

                        We also thoroughly enjoyed Hartford (bought 4 bottles/open tasting room in RRV - one of the most beautiful drives/locations) & Holdredge (right in Healdsburg/John will do everything he can to get you in for a tasting....be aware when we went he did not have spit buckets, plan it at the end of your day b4 you go for dinner).

                        I second the Cyrus reco, it is the best meal I have had so far in my life!

                        I would also invite you to think about staying in Healdsburg. It is not far from Santa Rosa, but right in the middle of the RRV & DCRV. Quaint little town with a central towne square surrounded by wineries & small local restaurants. We stayed at a great Inn right on the square called the Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza (nice big rooms & delicious breakfast).

                        Enjoy your trip, It was phenomenal for us!

                        Here is the link for the original research I did

                        I also checked out the wine website winodepot.com

                        1. re: cleopatra999

                          Oops, just realized this thread was from July....a little late on the info!

                          1. re: cleopatra999

                            It's never too late for a good head's up!

                      2. just got back from a weeks vacation and we stayed in windsor. we enjoyed a bottle of peay pinot with our dinner at cyrus. more "old style" than some and not a fruit bomb with some soil undertones. very nice. i would recommend a visit to martinelli in the russian river. excellent wines, PN and zins. there is also a small winery in SR called benovia. i really enjoyed their wines and their prices are a bit lower. they have 2 PN from different vineyards and 1 tastes like a Calif PN and the other could be taken for french. very different. call for an appt.

                        1. Gundlach-Bundschu, Cline in Sonoma Valley all make excellent old world style wines.

                          I'd suggest Sunce as well because of the variety and interesting things they do - you can get a big jammy zin, but you can also get a subtle, violet laced Pinot Noir and some excellent obscure Croatian influenced varietals

                          Let me know when you're in town ;-) Maybe I'll come taste too!.