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Apr 24, 2012 06:17 PM

Russian River Valley and Sonoma area wineries

My wife and I are headed to SF / Sonoma at the beginning of June, and will have two days in Sonoma County. One day, we wanted to head up to the Russian River Valley / Healdsburg area, and the other we wanted to explore Sonoma town and see some wineries around there. I was hoping for some winery choosing advice.

The things we want in the wineries we see are: good wine (obviously), scenery, a relaxed atmosphere, and a wine offering around or slightly over the $20 / bottle range.

I would really appreciate any suggestions for wineries in both the Healdsburg area and Sonoma area. Thanks!

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  1. There arn't any good wineries in RRV or Sonoma with wine at those prices.. Maybe Hook and Ladder,but you are barking up the wrong tree.. The range for good stuff in the region ranges from 20 to 100 bucks.. however that being said most wineries do have a 20 dollar cheap rose or such.. but only go up from there.. I would revise your travel plans or expectations of what prices are in Sonoma and RRV.

    9 Replies
    1. re: jason carey

      You can get some white wines in the $20 bottle range, but it's hard and reds - you're looking at $35-70. (California's prime wine growing regions (Sonoma County, Napa County, and increasingly Paso Robles and Santa Ynez valley etc. are one of the most expensive wine regions in the world for whatever reason).

      La Crema has some Chardonnays in the $20-30 range
      Rodney Strong is a possibility
      Seghesio is a possibility
      Ridge has some good wines in the $30 + range

      You'll find select wines at select places around these prices. But you are honestly missing out on most of the good wine with your specified price range.

      1. re: goldangl95

        Thanks for the advice; I am primarily a bourbon drinker though I really enjoy a good glass of wine, so its so hard to think of spending the same $ for a one meal bottle rather than a good 15 - 20 pours! I will take a look at those wineries, and also expand our price point up a bit! Nothing's to prevent us from tasting the nicer stuff!

        1. re: dealjt

          Russian River Valley is known for their Pinots (though there is really a bit of everything). Dry Creek is known for their Zinfandels (though again there is really a bit of everything), so some depends on what you like to drink.

          Big, fruit forward reds, here are some of my recs from a different thread:
          Some big, bold red recs off the top of my head:

          Dry Creek:
          Ridge (not a small winery, but very good, bold reds with balance and no "circus" atmosphere)
          Zichichi (small and not very well known, very plum/dark fruit zinfandels)
          Papapietro Perry (smooth cherry, fruit forward, full bodied pinots with balance)
          Sbragia (out of the way near the top of dry creek, but nice smooth bold cabs and some zins, the most scenic winery of these recs)

          Williamson - makes nice bold cabs and cab blends

          Russian River:
          Copain - (picturesque has different wines, some bold some not, but their Rhone varietals have nice smooth dark fruit)
          Dutton Goldfield - rich, smooth fruit forward pinots with balance (just a tasting room though)
          Lynmar - very nice grounds, pinots aren't heavily rich or fruit forward from what I can remember

          Alexander Valley -
          Robert Young - good cabs and whites

          South Alexander Valley/Glen Ellen -
          Deerfield - Bold red cabs and Cab blends(tasting room in caves)
          Audelssa - Bold red cabs with balance (just a tasting room)

          More restrained/old-world style reds (you'll need some help as this is not my favored style):

          Russian River Valley:
          Merry Edwards
          Porter Creek

          1. re: goldangl95

            Thank you, this is really helpful!

          2. re: dealjt

            If you look at it from that perspective, then you will be dissapointed, good wine is much more expensive to produce due to high real estate prices, and the difficulty of growing good grapes. Making spirits is like beer, it comes from a few base grains and is a process that is more controlled.
            If you want good wine for cheaper, you will have to explore other Countries.

            1. re: dealjt

              Ps.. its like saying you can get a good hot dog for 4 bucks so you shouldn't pay for a good steak, they are different things, whisky and wine.

              1. re: jason carey

                I guess I may have been a little vague with my original statement; I completely understand that wine is a different beast than whiskey and beer, I just can't afford to spend much above the $20 range with my income right now, so because of that I tend to go with "hot dogs" rather than "steak" :) Either way, what I've realized is I don't have much of a way to buy and bring home a lot of wine anyways, so I'd rather just taste and experience the best while I'm there!

                1. re: jason carey

                  Plus, it actually seems to be cheaper in stores around here than the published prices on a lot of winery websites; I've been doing a lot of searching and have found a good number of wineries that seem to be held in high regard that I would consider to be in my budget as well.

                  1. re: dealjt

                    Most wineries sell at full suggested retail price, some retailers discount 10-20% or more from that, sometimes substantially more if they're closing something out.

          3. I personally prefer the Dry Creek area over the Russian River, and our favorite wineries with bottles in that price range are Seghesio (lovely zins) and Frick (really interesting varietals), though they're not the most exciting scenery wise. Other solid wineries with bottles around $20-$30 are Pedroncelli, Kokomo and F Teldeschi, but they're also not that pretty. If you're up for going to the $40 range, scenic and tasty winery choices are Bella, Mazzocco, and Michel Schlumberger.

            3 Replies
            1. re: PekoePeony

              Thanks for the advice! We were going RRV because it seemed more "on the way" to Healdsburg from SF (trying to spend the most time enjoying and the least time driving!), but those suggestions look very nice, and not too far up from Healdsburg anyway. How much time would you reserve for each winery?

              1. re: dealjt

                Seghesio is in Healdsburg itself so very convenient for you, and I love their zins (my hubby is a wine club member there). There are lots of wineries in the area so you'll have a great time.

                For tasting only, normally I spend about 30-45 minutes at a winery but I'm a bit of get-moving-along type of person. Also, a bonus for Sonoma (Dry Creek or Russian River) is that many wineries have no or a very low (around $5) tasting fee -- much preferable to Napa where lots of wineries have tasting fees of $15-25+ per person!

                1. re: dealjt

                  Heading up from SF, it doesn't matter too much whether you head to RRV or Healdsburg/Dry Creek. Many of the RRV wineries are farther off the highway, so that tends to cancel out the fact that they are further south. And you are probably only talking about 10 minutes or so anyway.
                  I usually allocate an hour or so per winery and don't try to taste at more than 4 or 5 in a day. You can certainly do more, but I enjoy taking the time to talk with the people pouring the wine, checking out the winery etc.
                  I think that the previous comments are right that you will need to push up your price point. On the other hand, there are lots of good zinfandels and pinot noirs available for $25 to $45, so you don't need to go crazy.
                  For less expensive wineries, you might try Balleto and Martin Ray (which has excellent but pricey cabs and a second label, Angeline that is a good sub $20 value). I also think that Hook and Ladder (mentioned previously) is really quite good and worth a stop.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. I would skip the Russian River and head directly to Healdsburg. From "downtown" Healdsburg you can be in the Dry Creek Valley, which I think is the prettiest wine country valley in Northern California, in no more than 10 minutes.

                  While not trendy, wineries such as Preston, Pedroncelli, Seghesio and Dry Creek Vineyard all produce quality wines in the $15-$25 range.

                  Here is the Dry Creek Winegrowers website:

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: DavidT

                    I wouldn't necessarily call one region over the other "trendy," and the farther out RRV wineries are quite lovely. It depends what wine one likes to drink ....There really are not many tasting rooms with pinot or whites in Dry Creek (besides Papapietro Perry for Pinot, Preston and Ferrari Carrano for whites).

                    1. re: goldangl95

                      Please note I did not call any region trendy. I was referring to some of the wineries in Dry Creek Valley. The DCV wineries I recommended would certainly be considered among the "old guard" among wineries in DCV.

                      1. re: DavidT

                        Thank you for all the suggestions! I guess my question, then, is this: With all of these possibilities north of the city of Sonoma, is it even worth it to spend time in the city of Sonoma to see the town itself/ wineries right around there? I had originally thought one day in healdsburg and one day in Sonoma, but with the options up north I'm wondering if both days near the rrv and dry creek may be good. Thanks!

                        1. re: dealjt

                          There are wineries worth visiting just about anywhere you go in Sonoma & Napa counties.

                          If you have never been to the town of Sonoma, it is certainly worth visiting for a day. The town square is charming and there are a number of very nice restaurants and shops in and around the square.

                          The road heading north from the town of Sonoma (Highway 12), towards Santa Rosa , is another nice drive, with a number of wineries in & around Kenwood.

                          Cafe Citti, on Highway 12 in Kenwood, serves very good Italian food.


                          1. re: dealjt

                            Central Sonoma is very nice. There are some good places to eat, e.g. Artisan Bakery and LaSalette. Sonoma Market has one of the best selections of Sonoma wines in the world.

                    2. There are some excellent Sonoma wines that cost under $20.

                      Unti in Healdsburg, the Natural Process Alliance in Santa Rosa, Wellington in Glen Ellen, and the Family Wineries (including David Noyes) tasting room in Kenwood are my favorites in Sonoma. I also like Paradise Ridge, though more for the view and picnicking on the terrace than for the wines, which are fine but not great values.


                      35 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Thank you for the great suggestions! One more question; what is the pressure like at most wineries in this area... are they ok with just doing the tour or tasting if that's all you decide to come for, or is there generally a lot of pressure to buy? We definitely want to come home with wine, but not like a case from each place and want to be welcome to just enjoy the experience!

                        1. re: dealjt

                          My guess is you will find there is little or no pressure at all.

                          You can access the archive of winery tasting room reviews done for the San Francisco Chronicle here:


                          You can either scroll thru or search the database to see if they have reviewed the tasting rooms at the wineries you are thinking of visiting.

                          1. re: DavidT

                            Unfortunately and as previously stated by me and others, the sfgate reviews are terrible.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. I am curious to know what makes the SF Chronicle winery tasting reviews "terrible." I think the reviews give a decent representation of what a visitor might expect when visiting a given winery in terms of the size, scope and general ambiance.

                              1. re: DavidT


                                Already mentioned in a thread in which you participated:
                                The Chron reviews the scenery/layout and not the wines.
                                Unclear on the concept.

                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                The reviews are written by various people so quality varies, some seem fine, some clueless. They've been accumulating them for ten years so some are out of date.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  The SF Chronicle winery tasting room reviews are not intended to review the wines on offer, but rather to give a sense of what the tasting room is like. The SF Chronicle reviews wines regularly elsewhere in the Wine section of the paper. Perhaps you are the one "unclear on the concept."

                                  1. re: DavidT

                                    I suppose there are people who go to tasting rooms for reasons other than to taste wine, just as, judging from the content of the Chron's reviews, there are people who go to restaurants for reasons other than to eat food.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I would submit to you that for many, in fact the vast majority, the actual wine tasting or eating food is just a portion of the overall experience. If that was not the case, why do so many restaurants spend so much money on their decor and creating a welcoming ambiance?

                                      If you read the opening poster's request, he clearly states that he is interested in "scenery" and "a relaxed atmosphere," as well as good wine. What is wrong with that?

                                      1. re: DavidT

                                        I think you may be missing that the sfgate/San Fran Chronicle reviews praise (highly, in fact) wineries for their grounds and gardens, when those same wineries have terrible wine.

                                        This in direct opposition to the prime directive of Chowhound -- to send folks to places that have good chow (food and wine). The OP does indeed say, first, that he is looking for "good wine."

                                        Jon Bonne is a highly gifted wine reviewer and writer. It would be a simple matter to gather his Sunday wine reviews and add them to the winery review. As it is now, the wine reviews are left out of the winery reviews (this is the unclear on the concept portion) -- meaning the wine is not even a factor in the review, only the "tourist" aspects.

                                        The sfgate reviews have often come under fire for this egregious omission.

                                        The result is the reviews send people to wineries with awful wines, or let's say, wines that are not worthwhile in light of much better wines at all price points elsewhere.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          So could we say.... find wineries that I think will have the best wine I'm looking for, then gaze at the SFGate reviews to get an idea about what the winery experience will be like, so that I have both sides covered?

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            Please note the opening poster did not ask "which wineries in Sonoma produce the best wines?" The OP inquired about good wines in a scenic place with a relaxed atmosphere.

                                            A number of chowhounders, including myself, recommended some suitable wineries. I referenced the reviews as they can provide some sense of what the wine tasting experience might be like at some of these wineries. This was clearly a concern of the OP. I did not claim or imply the reviews were the ultimate authority or resource.

                                2. re: DavidT

                                  Thanks, David! That is a helpful archive about the experience I can expect at all of these great wineries!

                                  1. re: dealjt

                                    You are welcome. The important thing is to enjoy yourself and have fun. Don't worry, there is very little "terrible" wine produced in Sonoma.

                                3. re: dealjt

                                  I don't recall ever having been pressured to buy at any winery in this area.

                                  1. re: dealjt

                                    No pressure at all at non-appointment places. (Unless you want to call the buying activities of the people around you as pressure . . . )

                                    At an appointment, I feel pressure, but it's mostly my own internalized feelings of taking up the winery's time for an hour. If someone took the time to sit with me and discuss the wines, I feel a need to return the favor.

                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                      If I don't like any of the wines, which is the case at most California wineries, I'm not buying any. Even if I like them, I'm not buying anything that's not competitively priced.

                                    2. re: dealjt

                                      One is never obligated to purchase wine. You may not like the wines, or the style of wines, or the wines may not fit your budget. It is quite acceptable to say, "We haven't quite found what we are looking for," or "Oh, the wines are lovely, but a lilttle outside our budget." Perfectly fine.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        Maria, if you were to recommend what you would consider the best wineries in the Healdsburg area, what would you choose? All things being equal, I'd prefer recommendations for more scenic/quaint locations, and smaller, family-run wineries.

                                        1. re: dealjt

                                          I've written so many posts on my favorite wineries and why. Please do a search, all years, with my user name, and winery, wineries, RRV, Russian River, Healdsburg, Sonoma, etc.

                                          1. re: dealjt

                                            My favorites right in the town of Healdsburg.

                                            Skewis for bright focused pinot
                                            Holdredge for a variety of very good pinot
                                            Seghesio for a variety of wines, especially Zinfandel

                                            There are literally dozens of excellent wineries outside of Healdsburg. Here are a couple favorites out on Dry Creek Road area.

                                            Talty only makes Zinfandel and they are excellent.
                                            Rafanelli makes some of the best Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot you will ever taste and their wines are only sold at the winery. They are not in any retail outlet.

                                            1. re: tom246

                                              Thanks, Tom! I'll take a look at those.

                                              1. re: tom246

                                                Rafanelli are hardly in the 20 dollar range.

                                              2. re: dealjt

                                                Sausal is a great family run winery just a few minutes from downtown Healdsburg. They have some of the oldest vines in the area and specialize in Zinfandel. You can also find some of their wines offered in the mid to upper $20 range.

                                                Stonestreet is literally a stones throw from Sausal and a bit pricier of the two, but they do a nice range of whites and reds with some wonderful vertical flights that make for a very nice tasting experience. Their property is situated in an open part of the valley and surrounded by mountains and rolling fields, just beautiful.

                                                Porter Creek is a very small winery with their tasting room in a shed just a short drive from Healdsburg. They specialize in Pinot. Moderately priced for the area.


                                                1. re: imurph22

                                                  These look great! Porter Creek was high on my list, but I hadn't heard of the other two. Thanks!

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Adding a new favorite to my Sonoma list: Wind Gap / Ryme Cellars in Forestville. Grapes sourced from exceptional vineyards, some unusual varieties, all cement / stainless steel / neutral oak, most wines under 13% alcohol and none much over that. Ryme is the label of Wind Gap assistant winemaker Ryan Glaab and his wife Megan.


                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Yes, I've had the Haley Chardonnay produced by Ryme at Passionfish in Pacific Grove.

                                                1. re: pinotho

                                                  Their new tasting room's at 9060 Graton Rd. in Graton. No details on their web site but per Yelp it's open Thurs.-Sun. 10:30-4:30.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Address for tasting room is on homepage, but I suspect its 9060 Graton Rd in beautiful downtown Graton rather than Grator Dr.

                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      Ah, right you are, if you stay on the home page long enough to realize that the image is a slideshow, and look at that long enough, it displays the tasting room info.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Oh that's why you missed it. I have all the scripts turned off so the photos and text are flat and easy to view.

                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                          The main reason I missed it was that they put crucial information only in an image file.

                                                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                        right you are, it is beautiful downtown Graton. Barb (wife of winemaker) does a great, relaxed job in the tasting room. The 2009 TNT Vineyard was my favorite the last time I tasted there.

                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  The just-opened Jigar in Forestville is another worthwhile stop.