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Dec 22, 2008 08:24 AM

Is this a good start for a wine tour in Sonoma?

I'm going to be in the Bay Area over Xmas and NY and am very keen to visit some wineries. I don't know where to start really, but would prefer not to go on a pre-packaged bus tour with lots of tourists looking to get drunk.
I have been recommended the following by a colleague who used to live in the area. I was hoping to get some opinions on this or other recommendations that I must go to.

Gundlach Bundschu -
Ravenswood -
Benziger -

I guess you can't really visit more than 3 or four in a day so I would really like to go to the best!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Well those are all close to each other around the town of Sonoma. And they are all very friendly. If you'd like a fourth nearby, consider the sparkling wines of Gloria Ferrer, or start a bit further north in Kenwood at Kunde, and then work your way south.

    1. >>so I would really like to go to the best!<<

      None of those are the best by any stretch of the imagination. They are fine and commercial and good for "the basics". But in terms of the best wine and best customer service? Try to schedule an appoint ment at Merry Edwards and at Siduri/Novy. Make sure you hit Hartford Family. These are all in the Russian River Valley. Also, if something falls through, Martinelli and Rochioli are in the area. All of these are vastly superior to the wineries you mention.

      3 Replies
        1. re: whiner

          If you're looking to actually taste some of the better wines rather than just visit some of the wineries that make some of the better wines, it should be noted that Martinelli and Rochioli in particular are generally not pouring the wines they are famous for, which are typically available mailing list only.

          Also, for folks doing a first time visit to wine country, scheduling a visit with a place that does not have an open tasting room (true of both Merry Edwards and Siduri/Novy) may be somewhat intimidating. For places that keep regular tasting room hours, I'd also suggest Ridge, Bella and Preston up in Dry Creek / Healdsburg, and Gary Farrell, Porter Creek, and Woodenhead around Westside Rd. / River Rd.

          1. re: Frodnesor

            Ridge, Bella and Preston up in Dry Creek / Healdsburg

            ...wonderful suggestions for this poster...

        2. The small city of Sonoma? Or Sonoma wine country (Sonoma County), which is quite large and which includes Russian River, Healdsburg, Westside Rd., Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley (known for Zins), and so forth?

          1. If you're set on staying close to the town of Sonoma I suppose that's all fine (I'd add Cline to the list as well), but I think the more interesting wines and wineries are found further north in the areas around Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.
            I've always found the website helpful for planning with some good winery maps and tasting room hours, etc.

            1. Based on the reaction of other posters to "I would really like to go to the best" and where those comments have led, let me ask...

              I'm guessing from your other posts on this site that you reside in or near London. So I'm also going to guess you are not familiar with wines from Sonoma County, although Gallo gets exported to the U.K. (and is hardly representative of what you are looking for).

              Visiting wineris in California is a bit different than those you might have visited on the continent. The ones you listed are fine, and make some good wines. And even though you may not arrive in a bus, they will be corwded with outher visitors, particularly Ravensood and Benziger, which aren't quite as remote as Gundlach Bundschu. On the positive side, the tasting rooms are open many hours, and you won't need an appointment.

              There are other, less mainstream wineries that are further north in Sonoma County (the town of Sonoma will be the first part of Sonoma wine country you come to driving north from the Bay Area). They are open to the public as well, and may have fewer crowds

              Then there is another group altogether that are open by appointment only. If you choose to make appointments at those, you will get personalized attention and could likely visit with the person who makes the wine. In this way, a visit to Sonoma may be like a visit to many properties on the European continent. One difference being that appointments aren't always required in Europe to receive personalized attention from the person who makes the wine.

              So it somewhat depends not only on the quality of wine you'd like to sample (and there isn't as wide a disparity there as some might lead you to beleive), but also what kind of experience you'd like to have at the winery. At Siduri/Novy, you can visit with Adam Lee, but I'm not sure Adam sells the wide variety of t-shirts, bumper stickers, an wine glasses you'd find at Ravenswood. At J, you can take part in a wine and food pariing tasting, but expect to pay more for it than you would have to pay to taste wines elsewhere. And so on.

              Just stay away from Ledson. On that, many of us replying to your post can agree.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Brad Ballinger

                Let me just note that I think this post makes Ravenswood sound more crassly commercial than I've ever perceived it on several visits. Yes, they sell t-shirts and knick-knacks (many tasting rooms do), but they are also always pouring several different county-designate zinfandels and usually a couple single-vineyard zins as well. Particularly since zinfandel is something of a uniquely Californian wine (I know that's not completely true, but it's mostly true), I think it makes for a decent opportunity to get to know this particular grape. Even more so if you're using the town of Sonoma as your home base and/or are unable to get up to Ridge.

                1. re: Frodnesor

                  I would agree about Ravenswood had I not in the past year tasted through their complete line and been floored by the drop of quality in the vineyard-designate wines. I had a big "What happened??" huge-question-mark erupt inside my head...

                  Have you tasted through the R. vineyard designates lately, frod?

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Not in a couple years. That's too bad. Was it '06s you were tasting? Josh Raynolds (of IWC), whose tastes I tend to "get" more than many other published reviewers, gave a pretty glowing rundown on the '06 lineup and I had high hopes.

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      I believe they were 05s. Would have to check my notes to be certain...and unfortunately, I can't access them at the moment...

                      Will try to report back on the vintage...cheers...

                  2. re: Frodnesor

                    Agree with your points, but the OP appears to want to avoid crowds. That's my only reason for suggesting other places on this visit.