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Jul 6, 2010 02:53 PM

Sonoma wine tasting recommendations (NOT Russian River Valley or Healdsburg)

Hi all,

I'll be visiting Sonoma in August for a couple of days and will be staying in the city of Sonoma. I'm hoping to find some good winery suggestions near Sonoma, i.e., the Sonoma Valley AVA, Los Carneros AVA, Sonoma Mountain AVA, Bennett Valley AVA, and perhaps some places in southern Napa Valley. Even though I hear great things about RRV, Healdsburg, and Dry Creek wineries, places past Santa Rosa are just too far away.

I'm looking particularly for off-the-beaten path wineries that aren't the huge tourist traps or that aren't the high-volume makers that I can buy off the shelf here in DC. A good example is a winery I love, Robert Biale Vineyards in Napa. Excellent wine, nice winery, good people, family owned, small batches, and not sold at retail.

That said, if there's a really spectacular winery that's just too interesting or beautiful to pass up, that would also be great.

Lastly, I like big Zins, dry Reislings, buttery Chards, and Syrah. My girlfriend likes more southern Rhone-esque reds, acidic whites, and Pinots. That pretty much covers everything, I'm guessing, so we're not looking for a single type of varietal.

Right now, Matanzas Creek and Gundlach Bundschu seem like good choices. Wondering if anyone has any thoughts on Loxton or Wellington. Arrowood seems good, but I wonder if the wines are worth the price? Ditto Muscardini. Scribe, Audelssa, and Tin Barn are some smaller spots that get good reviews on Yelp, but I can't find any other reviews or comments about them in other places.

I've gone through a bunch of other posts on the board, but they seem to focus mostly on wineries in RRV, Dry Creek, or Healdsburg. Thanks in advance for any help.


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  1. The SO and I are members of Deerfield because we really enjoy the wines, the wine cave setting, and the staff. We've also had great experiences with both the wine and staff at Imagery and Audelssa, though be forewarned that Audelssa sells its wines young so anything you purchase will need to be put down for a few years. Still, there are several bottles of Audelssa in my wine fridge for the future.

    We had a great time at Gunbund when we went, and picked up two bottles of Gewurztraminer (gorgeous, gorgeous nose, and not nearly as sweet as is usual), and strongly considered also buying their artist label wine, the varietal escaping me at the moment. We were especially impressed with their customer service after it turned out that the first bottle of Gewurztraminer we purchased was corked, which happens sometimes to the best of wineries. We emailed them to let them know, they were extremely apologetic, and let us get a new bottle and exchange the second several months later. Gunbund was definitely more crowded than Deerfield, Imagery, and Audelssa though.

    2 Replies
    1. re: artemis

      I was just about to ask about Deerfield too. Found some really interesting write ups about them.

      Thanks for the notes about Audelssa, Imagery, and Gunbund.

      1. re: artemis

        Second on everything artemis said about GunBund. It's lovely.

        It's very true what maria lorraine is saying about the wines you like not usually being from the area you're visiting. That's not to say you won't find things you like, but listen to her. She is very familiar with the area and is seldom wrong.

      2. A Zin fan might want to make the (not so far) trek to the Zin Mecca aka Dry Creek Valley:

        My personal favorite: A. Rafanelli.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

          Dry Creek is a great area for tasting Zin. A closer great Zin producer is Ravenswood, on the outskirts of the city of Sonoma.

          Actually, there are no more "off the beaten path" great wineries. All that's left are some small wineries that are not generally open to the public and have limited tastings by appointment only. Storybook Mountain Vineyards NW of Calistoga on Hwy 128 comes to mind and they make incredibly big, wonderful Zins.

          1. re: dlglidden

            There are some very good wineries I'd consider off the beaten path in Dry Creek; Frick and Coffaro come to mind.

            1. re: Pius Avocado III

              I don't consider ANY dry creek winery off the beaten path. The Dry Creek area (and its paths) has, rightfully, been beaten to death.

              Actually, come to think of it, one excellent source of Sonoma Zinfandel is Rosenblum Cellars in the city of Alameda. By not even being in Sonoma, it should qualify as being off the beaten path.

              Rosenblum Cellars
              2900 Main St # 1100, Alameda, CA

              1. re: dlglidden

                Diageo said it was closing Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda a few months ago, transferring operations to Beaulieu in Napa Valley.

                1. re: dlglidden

                  Of course it's all relative but each time I've gone to Frick and Coffaro we've been the only party tasting and both are a far cry from the Disneyland atmosphere that generally prevails these days.

                  As for Rosenblum, it was all downhill after the sale. I highly recommend Rock Wall, run by Kent Rosenblum's charming daughter Shauna- not as Zinfandel-focused but the approach to winemaking and quality of the wines are very close to the Rosenblum of old.

                  Rock Wall Wines
                  2301 Monarch St, Alameda, CA 94501

                  1. re: Pius Avocado III

                    I really, really like Frick. Love his Rhone varietals. But the winery is way, way out of the OP's desired area.

          2. This is a tough request. I can tell you have specific types of wines that appeal to you and your girlfriend, and I want you to have a wonderful visit here and not be disappointed. Please be advised that the areas you've chosen (AVAs) don't -- for the most part -- excel in the wines you like.

            I'd have many recs for you in other AVAs, but for the Sonoma AVAs you list, only these:

            Laurel Glen (Sonoma Mountain) is rather good. Wonderful proprietor, history, charming.
            Arrowood -- a variety of whites and reds. Arrowood's prices are average, BTW.
            Imagery -- some Rhones, a white Burgundy-style wine, others. Check the webiste.

            Hyde De Villaine may well be your cup of tea:

            None of the wineries you mention are in the same league as the wineries just above. I checked the Cellar Tracker reviews for all the wines by Audelssa (the best of the lot), but Muscardini, Tin Barn, Scribe, Loxton and Wellington don't seem to warrant a visit in light of much better options.

            The Sonoma AVAs are rather varietal-specific.As already mentioned, the best Zins are definitely Dry Creek Valley. That's really the area to visit, and you won't find many good ones south of there, even Ravenswood's.Their vineyard-designate Zinfandels have dropped markedly in quality the past five years.

            The best pinots in Sonoma County are from the Russian River Valley; the ones in the Carneros are mostly thin and disappointing in comparison. I just checked the Sonoma Carneros map and didn't find a single winery that fit your criteria. The Napa side of Carneros offers more possibilities. Truchard, wonderful for both Chard and Pinot. They also make a decent Syrah. Saintsbury, good for both whites and Pinots (esp. the Reserves). Adastra, wonderful Pinot. Acacia a bit off its game lately. Bouchaine climbing out a long sleep. Artesa, OK. Domaine Carneros good for the reserve bubbly, La Reve; the rest is a pass compared to what else is available.

            I can't think of a single excellent Syrah from the Sonoma AVAs you list worth seeking out (and I just confirmed this by going to Cellar Tracker and searching). I also typed in each of the best known Rhone varietals and came up with almost nothing in the AVAs you mention. Cline makes some Rhone wines, but they are greatly disappointing to me (a Rhone wine lover). Imagery may be your best bet.

            Riesling is not at all common in Northern California wine country, and though you can find them here and there, they are nothing like German or Alsatian Riesling. Acidic whites, as you know, are stylistically almost the opposite of buttery chards, and usually a winery makes one style or the other. Matanzas Creek makes a nice ML Chard, but this is the Santa Rosa area, so a bit north of where you want to be. You may enjoy the MacCrostie Chardonnay (kind of a butterball) if you'd like to stop by the tasting room in Sonoma.

            If you were willing to venture farther north where the wines are more to your liking, then that opens up more possibilities.

            3 Replies
            1. re: maria lorraine

              I like Muscardini reds a lot (I usually only drink reds), and ditto next door to them at Enkidu. I personally don't like Imagery wines at all (same for their source, Benziger). My own taster doesn't agree with Cellar Tracker about those wines.

              Muscardini Cellars & Ty Caton Vineyards Tasting Room
              8910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA

              Enkidu Wines
              8910 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

              1. re: Mick Ruthven

                Thanks. I wish I liked Enkidu wines. Way overripe for me. I don't care for Benziger's wines either.

                Was just reading about Landmark's Rhone wines, a new direction for them:

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I remember the time I was driving on Hwy 12 and saw the Imagery sign and decided to stop since I had never been there. As I tasted their pretty-expensive wines (reds) I just wasn't liking them at all and then I discovered they were the high-end wines of Benziger. Some things don't change for me.

                  I'm sure Enkidu wines seem overripe to some people. I have to admit to liking that type more than some people do. Hey, who need subtle when you have have blockbuster. I'll definitely be at their open house on the weekend of July 17-18.

            2. Here are some suggestions for off-the-beaten path winereis, some close and some just a bit further but seemingly within your guidelines:
              1. Roessler Cellars, right in the town of Sonoma, just off one-half block off Sonoma Plaza. Tasting room only. Very good pinots. No appointment needed.
              2. Hendry Winery, 3104 Redwood Road, Napa. Great wines, including wonderful zins. Meet the owner/wineaker, George Hendry, who is wonderful. Need appointment.
              3. Walter Hansel Winery, south of the city of Santa Rosa but technically, I believe, in Santa Rosa. Meet the owner/winemaker Stephen Hansel. Need appointment.

              Sonoma Plaza
              475 1st St W, Sonoma, CA

              1. Make an appointment at Stony Creek for a good Reisling - also Pey Marin, though good luck with that appointment. A very good small Zin winery is Limerick Lane. If you are willing to make appointments there are scores of places worth visiting. Just remembered... add Lynmar to the list - no appointment needed there.

                Limerick Lane
                1023 Limerick Lane, Healdsburg, CA