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Nov 23, 2008 09:15 PM

Visiting Sonoma: Need Recs. On Wineries

My wife and I are visiting Sonoma with some other couples over the New Year's holiday. We're staying a couple of nights in Sonoma at the Marriot Lodge and then head up about 35 miles to a Healdsburg B&B for two more. We're setting aside a 1/2 day on New Year's Eve to visit wineries, and then another 1/2 day on January 2 in Healdsburg. I've been appointed winery researcher for the group, so please drop me some recommendations! In terms of what we're looking for, I'm trying to cull together some accessible wineries which have nice tours, fun tasting rooms and are well respected. Thanks for your help.

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  1. Since you'll be right there... If you have the interest and don't mind dropping some serious cash on fine dining, consider Cyrus in Healdsburg... the finest restaurant in the region and one of the best in the country. The web site will give you a good overall impression...

    2 Replies
    1. re: WineAG

      Heck yeah! I already made the reservation. Serious cash, yes. But not heart-stoppingly, stroke-inducingly serious as French Laundry. I'll no doubt post a review.

      1. re: OCKevin

        Well, we were just there last week, and if you go with the caviar service, the tasting menus and a few bottles of wine / wine parings- you are definitely approaching the four figure mark after tax and tip...

        Good experience though... totally worth it? I guess it depends on your point of view. Service definitely was not as refined or spot on like TFL, but had a friendlier vibe. Food was very good to excellent. But for 3X more than Redd, which I thought was great and an incredible value for what we got? Or Terra, which is still great after all these years? I did like it better than Manresa, though we were so tired and they plied us with so many amuses that I think by the end I was just going through the motions.

        Overall, it was kind of weird- at dinner we ate (and drank) so heavily that during the day, we were actually pretty unmotivated to go wine tasting. Went more for the scenery, so we ended up at more touristy places like FC and Jordan. The Dry Creek Valley is a nice place to just drive around. However we did like Ridge (lytton springs) and had a nice visit at Peay (call ahead).

    2. Here are some suggestions:

      1) The website for the SF Chronicle has a good database for winery info. Here is a link.

      2) Dry Creek Valley (west of Healdsburg) is a beautiful spot with a number of smaller wineries. Here is a link to info.

      3) As you might imagine, your question gets asked frequently on the board. Be sure to do a "Search this board: search for "Sonoma wineries." You should be able to access a number of helpful prior posts.

      4) A number of wineries do have tasting rooms in the town of Healdsburg.

      1 Reply
      1. re: DavidT

        The Chronicle is ok, but some of the info is outdated so don't rely on info that the tasting might be free or tour hours. Also,a few of those wineries have closed and some of the newer ones are not yet noted.

        I found this out putting together a google map of Sonoma County wineries.

        As David mentioned, search the board as there are quite a few posts on the topic.

        The only caveat I have is that some wineries are closed on New Years Eve and day. Others close early. If you search the board, IIRC, someone asked last year what was open on New Years.

      2. What everyone else said. Also, if you expect to do a tour and tasting, that will significantly cut down on the number of places you'll be able to visit (i can really only think of rodney strong that has a tour in RRV or dry creek). basically, if you only have a half day, dry creek would probably be your best bet, since the wineries there tend to be closer together. i like ridge, quivira and preston.

        for you second half day, just stay in healdsburg square. . .you can hit sunce, thumbprint and chateau felice, to name 3. longboard and davis family are just off the square and j is a short car ride away.

        there are some good maps at

        8 Replies
        1. re: VenerableBede

          These sonoma wineries are flagged as having tours

          Seriously you don't want Viansa unless you want the scorn of your group. It is ok, but, IMO, built for tour busses. Not that you won't get a decent tour, but it is just so ... touristy

          It has been YEARS since I've been, but I always had a soft spot for Sebastiani. It is small enough and in the past they didn a nice tour.

          Always wanted to try Gloria Ferrer. Champagne, uh, sparkling wine tours are always nice because the process is different.

          Don't know the holiday schedules.

          1. re: rworange

            Fantastic. Thank you for your input! How about Siduri - or is it even a "vineyard," per se?

            1. re: OCKevin

              Siduri, the last time I went was in a warehouse in an industrial park.

              1. re: wally

                Don't let that fool you. Adam sources wine grapes from vineyards all over.

                His grapes aren't ESTATE grapes but his wines are fine, and Siduri/Novy is well worth a visit, Kevin.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I was responding to the "tour" aspect, not the wines.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    ML, have always respected your opinions of the wines of the area (and restaurants as well), but would like a little more of your take on Siduri. Over the past 3-4 years every once and a while I'd find one of their Pinots that I thought was quite decent, only to try another and be totally put off. Any advice as to vineyards and vintages? TIA



                    1. re: PolarBear

                      I don't consider Adam and Dianne to be absolute masters of Pinot Noir. They make a few good ones, and I've also noticed a few that I thought were off because they contained an unacceptable level of barnyard-y Brett. I'm actually of the mind that Brett should never be in Pinot -- it interferes with the grape and is never contributory, like it can be with Rhone wines or with Cabernet. So I agree with you, PB, that not every Siduri/Novy PN is great.

                      That being said, I admire Adam enormously for his energy, his enterprising nature -- he is a youthful force -- and for the wines that I do find pleasing. Sorry I cannot provide more specifics -- I'd have to dig out tasting notes, and I am in the midst of preparing a feast.

                      In all honesty, I'm probably a bigger fan of other PInot Noirs from the area -- I'm in love with Dutton-Goldfield's many incarnations. I love Merry Edwards, Kosta-Browne, August West/Freeman, etc. I'm not so fond of Pinot Noir as Syrah. A true PN is becoming more and more difficult to find.

                      As far as Pinot Noir from the United States, I'm probably fondest of the Reserve Pinot Noirs coming out of Oregon these days. Huge difference between the regular releases and the reserves. The Oregon Reserve PNs are the best by far I've had in this country.

                      Best of all, of course, is the real thing -- Burgundy, which, alas, I cannot afford as much as I like to drink it. Nothing beats the depth, elegance, suppleness, fruit, and utter drinkability of a beautiful French Burgundy. What some RRV PNs and Pinots-as-Syrahs lack is that suppleness and elegance.

                      More than you asked...sorry.

              2. re: rworange

                rworange, have to agree about the sentimentality toward Sebastiani! Gloria Ferrer is one of my favorites. What an incredible view from the winery! Don't know about tours, but we continue to buy their bruts.

            2. hook and ladder , harvest moon, Quivira, Sunce, Ridge,

              4 Replies
              1. re: jason carey

                Jason, thanks for the reply and the (appreciated) specific winery suggestions. These are closer to Healdsburg -- and Ridge is definitely going to be a priority to see.

                1. re: OCKevin

                  Ridge is a good choice, but don't miss Ferrari-Carano and their gardens and lovely winery. Excellent wines as well. For a more intimate winery, call A. Raffelli and arrange a visit. Superb zins and cab.

                  1. re: Bruce in SLO

                    It's A. Rafanelli. Tough to get a good tasting nowadays there, IMO. Read other posts on this winery. I like Preston in that neck of the woods a good deal -- they specialize in Rhone varietals. Not a fan of Ferrari-Carano; their wines are overly manipulated for my tastes.

                    OCKevin, since I've read your posts on the Wine Board, I know you're probably familiar with the recs there of wonderful Sonoma and Dry Creek Zins and Russian River Pinots. I'd use those recs as the basis for your tours.


                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      I agree with maria on ferrari-carano. . .i also think it's way too touristy, at least for my liking. nevermind that we were routinely ignored by the staff, except for one pourer who made an effort to talk to us- the rest of the staff spent their time conversing with people who were more well dressed than us.

                      i agree with quivira, ridge and sunce. . .i'm less sold on hook and ladder (tillerman, however, is a great deal) and harvest moon. my concern is that that's alot of driving for one day. . .better to stay in either russian river or dry creek, in my opinion.

              2. Around Sonoma itself the Kunde tour is supposed to be good. BEnziger is nice tour and good info on biodynamic winemaking but always crowded
                Wellington Loxton are good small wineries
                Hanzell is great but very pricey and I believe only by apt
                Valley of the Moon will do tours for small groups so you get a chance to ask more personalized Qs. moon Mountain is also fun and wines are decent

                1 Reply
                1. re: sonomajom

                  Hanzell is great. Benziger's wines are hugely disappointing -- you'd think their biodynamic practices would produce better wine. Have tasted through the entire regular and reserve lines.

                  Be sure to call to see if the wineries will be open New Year's Day and to make a reservation -- you'll get a better tasting that way. Here are some of my favorites: Dehlinger, Dutton Goldfield, Freeman/August West, Hartford, Hanzell, Lynmar, Martinelli, Merry Edwards, Peay, Preston, Radio-Coteau, Ridge, Seghesio. Cross-reference these with Wine Board recs.