Hi, going to Sonoma on Friday to visit a friend. I would like to buy another friend in SoCal some wine from Sonoma. She likes all kinds of wines, she really does. I'd like to get her a few different wines that she can't get in LA. I'd like to spend $300. I don't know anything about wines, so any recommendations would be great. I'd like to get one good port for myself. Please advise. Can you make me a list of What you'd get and from where.
Renée, the short answer is almost anything you can get in Sonoma can be had in Los Angeles, UNLESS the winery sells exclusively direct to consumers via their highly allocated mailing list that has a waiting list to get onto the mailing list . . . (honest!).
That said, *some* wineries DO sell older vintages or small-lot bottlings only at the winery. But Sonoma County is rather large, and to visit those wineries would entail driving all over the place -- think Northridge to Signal Hill to Silverlake but a much prettier drive.
If you will be in Santa Rosa, I suggest you stop by Bottle Barn (http://www.bottlebarn.com), 3331-A Industrial Dr. They have a great selection of local (and non-local) wines -- probably the best in Sonoma -- and their staff is quite knowledgable.
The Ridge Vineyards tasting room in Lytton Springs will sell older vintages of wines from its ATP (advanced tasting program). I've picked up some gems there for $25 to $35 a bottle.
there are some other wines that have some hipsterish credibility but aren't widely distributed. I'd suggest looking for Cowan Cellars, Bedrock Vineyards, Holdredge wines and Sandlands. the last is an interesting project of a winemaker making wines from different parts of California using only vines planted in sand. I will see where these are sold in Sonoma.
Second Ridge. Just ask each winery you go to whether that particular wine is or will be in distribution or in restaurants in CA. Be skeptical if they say distribution is limited but can't define how limited.
Places that require appt and may be worth looking into (there are many) but Littorai, Paul Hobbs, Arnot Roberts, Hanzell.
Warning the 101 is crazy during weekends in the summer. Aim to get to your northwen-most destination by 10:30 am then work your way down. Try to stick to one area.
I used to work with one of the owners of this winery so full-disclosure, since I like her and her husband their wines may taste better to me. Anyway. I suggest checking out Talisman in Glen Ellen if you (or I suppose more importantly, your friend) like Pinot Noir. While you may be able to sleuth out one of their various single vineyard expressions at a specialty shop in Southern California (they are also found on wine lists of course), the vast majority of their production is only available at the winery or via their website/club.
Vision Cellars located in Forestville is sold only at the vineyard or on line, except for a few select restaurants. Imho, they make the best Pinots in CA. www.visioncellars.com And they love to have visitors come for a tasting, but you should make an appointment.
I'm not sure who (if anyone) makes Port for sale in Sonoma -- which, by the way is a vast area.