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Jun 10, 2013 12:07 PM

Best Wineries in Sonoma County

My girlfriend and I are going wine tasting in Sonoma County 4th of July weekend. We've read a bunch of threads already, but a lot of them have one restriction or another. What we are looking for is the best wineries with the best wines. We don't care about distance, cost, varietal, ambiance, size, etc. Two of our favorites in Napa are Quintessa and Chappellet, great wines.

Based on other posts and our own research, we have a list that includes the following. I'd appreciate your thoughts, which great wineries we missed and which ones on the list are touristy with marginal quality wines. We just want wineries with the best reputation for any kind of wines. Thanks in advance for your help.

A. Rafanelli Winery
Benziger Family Winery
Chateau St. Jean
Copain Wines
De Loach Vineyards
Dehlinger Winery
Freeman Vineyard & Winery
Hanzell Vineyards
Joseph Swan Vineyards
Kokomo Winery
Lancaster Estate Winery
Lynmar Estate
Medlock Ames Winery
Merry Edwards Wines
Papapietro Perry Winery
Ramey Wine Cellars
Rochioli Vineyards and Winery
Scherrer Winery
Seghesio Family Vineyards
Unti Vineyards
Williams Selyem Winery
Woodenhead Winery

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  1. "Best" is so subjective. What does "best" mean to you?

    Parker ratings?
    Spectator ratings?
    Most traffic?
    Highest price?

    You are going to get a whole slew of different opinions on this board about what is "best" for different reasons.

    Example, there are people who adore Benziger because they tout the biodynamic philosophy and that makes them the best. Personally, I can't stand their wines.

    Rochioli? Sure, the wines are good but the stuff they are known for in wine circles is only acquired after being on their mailing list for several years. What you get to sample and buy in their tasting room is far from their best offerings.

    See? You need to give us YOUR parameters on what you are looking for...

    23 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      Best means to me, higher on the ratings scale. I don't care if there are 50 people tasting or we are the only ones at the winery. I'm open to spending more ($50 to $200 a bottle), but there are $30 bottles I've liked a lot also. I don't care about atmosphere.

      Based on what I've read and what you just mentioned, I don't think we would like Benziger. I think it seems a bit touristy.

      Interesting point on Richioli, we have to be able to taste the good stuff on our visit. So I may downgrade Richioli for that reason.

      let me know if you need more parameters to suggest the best wineries to visit in Sonoma County?

      1. re: albatruffles

        I was about to endorse Carrie's comment and add some other crieria - there must be 500 wineries in Sonoma Co., after all! -- then I saw the reply. Never Mind. But remember that when you rely on particular "ratings," you get particular tastes, and some of them are eccentric. Parker's big, high-alcohol cabernets; Laube and his dogma that all serious red wines are best very young (which is fine if they're made for that; historically, most have not been). The one consistent feature that cuts across all the major "ratings" critics is that wines they praise become more expensive as a result. The wine doesn't change, only the market.

        (That's why some of us advocate, instead, developing your own palate and spotting wines on merit, which the Ratings critics haven't praised, at least not yet. But to each his own.)

        1. re: eatzalot

          I don't mean to be critical, but this is one frustration I have with Chowhound and I noticed it a decent amount when researching Sonoma wineries. People don't answer the question being asked. I don't care about personal taste. Food is based on personal taste and there are probably 10s of thousands of restaurants in California, but if I was asked what are the top 10 restaurants in the state I could clearly give you an opinion. Based on your reply, it appears you know about wine, so what are the best wineries in Sonoma?

          1. re: albatruffles

            Alba, without being critical, you mostly answered your own question the OP. You listed "the best" wineries based on your own criteria.

            Now you want us to narrow it down but based on WHAT? That is the information we need from you...

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              I've never been to Sonoma, I'm clueless when it come to their wines. I put my list together in a matter of a week. I refuse to provide more information on the topic, I need you to answer the question. Let's try the food analogy again. If I saw a list of 20 restaurants and somebody told me these are the best in the state. I would probably reply, take these 5 restaurants off because there are overrated and add X,Y and Z they clearly are in the top echelon of restaurants.

              1. re: albatruffles

                Ridge has it. Your Q&A frustration, albatruffles, is sometimes termed the closed-end-question problem. Someone asks a knowledgeable person "is it A or B?" then is annoyed when the answer, the information they truly need, is "137." The frustration reflects limitations in the question. (See my CH "Profile" for another example.)

                Here, query requested "wineries with the best reputation for any kind of wines." Taking all sources, including peer respect and other expert palates that the general public doesn't know about, that's a lot of wineries. To narrow it to those lauded by heavily marketed critics presupposes accepting THEIR particular personal criteria (consciously or not) -- AND entails the associated poor-value baggage I noted earlier. I've had plenty of experience with that: when Ridge's Montebello Cabernet suddenly caught a pop-culture spotlight in 2006, there was a run on the current pre-release orders. Surprising those of us who'd been buying them for decades on merits known to many wine enthusiasts. That wine was appreciated for nearly 20 years before Robert Parker ever "rated" a wine.

                When someone starts publishing their wine prefernces as a "rating," that doesn't somehow make them objective or abstract.

                To keep saying "I don't care about personal taste" but "I want the best wineries" is to insist on a contradiction in terms.

                1. re: albatruffles

                  I'd love to get a list of the 10 best restaurants in California. Keep in mind that I don't care what kind of food it is, how much it costs etc. We're happy in a fancy restaurant or a hole in the wall. Just want the BEST. I won't tell you what kind of food I like because that is irrelevant, just supply me with the list. And if there are any dishes or sides or beverages that aren't superb we will ask them not to serve them to us.

                  Quickly. Do it. Answer the question.

                  1. re: MRich

                    You're responding to a post from June 2013.

                    I should have posted about Jiger somewhere else.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Yes, I know. Some things never get old.

                      1. re: MRich

                        Perhaps, but if you REALLY want an answer, I'd suggest you start a new thread . . .

              2. re: albatruffles

                "People don't answer the question being asked. I don't care about personal taste."

                but you are asking us to give our opinion on what wineries are good. It's all about personal taste! Wine opinions are all a reflection of personal taste. Am I missing something?

            2. re: albatruffles


              Don’t rely on ratings scales. Everyone has different taste. What tastes amazing to you is something a wine critic might give a lowly 88 to. They are not infallible. If you were to taste a bunch of wines that were rated between 87 and 93 by some wine critic you might like the 88 more than the 91. People rely too much on the magic number of a wine score of 90 when choosing wines. Taste with an open mind.

              1. re: Ridge

                While wine tasting is definitely subjective, i wouldn't say scores are absolute trash. While the difference between an 88.2 and an 88.9 means nothing on say cellartracker. The difference between a winery with plenty of reviews with an average of 92 and a difference between a winery with an average of 86 is actually telling and substantial.

                One has to start somewhere - and scores are as a good a place as any if one doesn't know the varietal and region yet and price is no object.

                1. re: goldangl95

                  I think that's a good way to put it, I'm looking for wineries with great reputations. I want to experience the best Sonoma County has to offer.

                  In my defense, if I can my hand on a local restaurant's wine list, I find that to be reliable as well. But let's be clear, that restaurant has to have a Michelin star.

                  1. re: albatruffles

                    Are you joking? If you really went by that rule, you'd have only three places to eat at in Sonoma County.

                    Michelin's really not that great at identifying the best places to eat around here. It almost entirely ignores non-European cuisines, and there's a certain homogenizing, Frenchifying influence that their ratings have on restaurants trying to get a star or another star.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Surely, Albatruffles is joking given the amount of small, good, local restaurants in Sonoma. Putting such a restriction on what and where to eat, as RL, states would be a shame.

                      Wineries I would suggest, Ridge, Copain, Wind Gap, Quivira, Mauritson, Rochioli makes good wines but they won't be pouring them in their tasting room-from my experience, Merry Edwards, Littorai, and Sbragia Family.

                      1. re: HoosierFoodie

                        I too recommend thesse wineries.. but for instance.. Nalle which I suggested is loved by me and villified by the Critics for the most part.

                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yes, it's sarcasm. But I did look at the Meadowood wine list to see what producers they liked in Sonoma.

                        1. re: albatruffles

                          You will have to report back about your trip. Have fun. Sonoma is very nice. Not as touristy as Napa. But more spread out so it can be more challenging to explore.

                          1. re: albatruffles

                            Several of the best Sonoma County wines I've tasted in recent years were in restaurants and when I went to try to buy some I found that they weren't available to the general public.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Noted, that's something I learned from this post. I'll adjust my expectations accordingly and try something limited at the restaurants.

                    2. re: Ridge

                      I don't go by the Wine Spectator or Wine Advocat most of the time for my tastemaking I do more so with Tanzer and W&S as that is more attuned to my palate, .., but even by their criteria, 88 is a very very good score which most of them say they drink by themselves on a regular basis..

                  2. re: CarrieWas218


                    I'm trying to make a tasting appointment with Lewelling in October. Do you think that what you're saying about Rochioli will apply there? Should I reconsider?

                  3. So I also must agree with CarrieWas.. It really depends on what you like.. I don't like the big prestige wineries. I like small places making wines that are on the more elegant and non ripe or extracte side, So I would reccommend Wind Gap. Harvest Moon, Qivira, Nalle, Copain, Ridge (not a small winery), Littorai, Dutton Goldfield, Hirsch, Natural Process Alliance, Lioco, Arnot Roberts..
                    From your list.. I also think DeLoach makes some interesting stuff. If you are looking for a "Luxury" experience like Napa.. many of the ones you mentioned might fit well. .. There are so many wineries that fit so many tastes and styles.. What I might think of as "great" you will find horrible.. so you really might need to focus down on style..

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: jason carey

                      I'm still young, I don't completely know what I like. That's part of what I want to find out on this trip. Thanks for the recs, I'll look at the ones I haven't seen yet. Natural Process Alliance sounds like an interesting visit.

                      1. re: jason carey

                        Would second Copain, Ridge, Littorai, Dutton Goldfield, Arnot Roberts.

                        Heard good things about Wind Gap.

                        Note - Arnot Roberts didn't have their act together when they got a huge surge of interest a year or two ago. It was hard to get a hold of them and hard to taste. They may have a better system going now.

                          1. re: goldangl95

                            Wind Gap is great and they have a tasting room now.. Also try Harvest Moon.. they make elegant zesty Zins and a sparkling Zin that is fun as well.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Wind Gap has moved to Sebastopol and Ryme has the other space to themselves.

                              1. re: wally

                                Ah,right you are. The web site says still appointment only until the tasting room opens, is that out of date?


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I don't know. I was there for a pickup and they had just moved in. It was tables in large rooms. The people from Ryme were there, too. That makes sense. That was May 11.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Yes.. their room in the Barlow was supposed to be open.. by now.. but I guess they aren't but they still do tastings by appt.

                                    I thought it was open now.

                          2. Also remember that many of the wines you will be tasting will be from 2010-2011 both cool vintages so you might find the wines less rich than from more "normal" vintages like 2012

                            1. My interpretation of the OP request. Highly rated (Parker, Spectator, Tanzer) wineries that consistently get high reviews and where the vistor can taste and buy the highly rated wines.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Scott M

                                I have a vested interest in this thread... I'll be going to Sonoma in late June! I'm interested in what is highly rated on your scale.. What wines do you think are great? And maybe a couple of words about what you like. Of course, my criteria for what wineries I would like to visit is a bit different... I factor in interesting art, a good story, and nice dogs in addition to good wine. But I guess that would be another thread!

                                1. re: firecooked

                                  I would agree that this is a separate thread, I would prefer no replies relate to wineries with good stories or nice dogs. But please let us know what you mean by nice dogs. A big dog, a small dog, one that barks, one that has bitten lots of people, one that is pretty? Or maybe you just mean nice.

                                  1. re: firecooked

                                    Yes. The wineries that cater to the non-wine aspect can be very different from the ones that are all about the wine. Napa is better about this than Sonoma. Would check out Di Rosa (no wine - appt needed) and Artesa.

                                2. The original comment has been removed