Wine tasting is quite possibly my most favorite thing in the entire world. It should come as no surprise, then, that my recent trip to California to explore Sonoma wine country for the very first time was a huge highlight of my year! A 2015 travel experience second only to our amazing Caribbean adventure in April.
If you’ve ever been to California wine country, you know the sheer amount of wineries can be extremely overwhelming. Between Napa and Sonoma there are over 600 wineries/tasting rooms to choose from. Even the most dedicated drinker can’t hit ’em all in one trip. Believe me, I tried.
We stayed in an adorable house between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, so most of the wineries we checked out were in the general Healdsburg vicinity, and all of them were in Sonoma. If you know much about California wines, you probably know that the main varietals you’ll find in this region are chardonnay, pinot noir, and zinfandels, but plenty of wineries branch out into other wines as well. Three days of exploration and tasting wasn’t nearly enough – we only experienced the tip of the enormous iceberg that is California wine country – but I sipped enough to have some opinions and recommendations!
My favorite place in Sonoma, and possibly the world. Iron Horse offers so many of the things I hold dear: palm trees, bubbly, oysters, horses (ok there’s no horses but it’s named after horses, so I think it should count). But let’s rewind to… bubbles!! Iron Horse boasts a glorious array of sparkling wines, some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
9786 Ross Station Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472 [map]
Tastings every day 10am-4:30pm,$20 for a five-wine flight, cost refunded if you buy a bottle. Oysters on Sundays!
Porter Creek has a very small, intimate tasting room on an absolutely gorgeous vineyard and grounds. Expect chardonnays and lots of pinots, as well as some other white and red varieties. We savored a tasting flight outside on the little patio, using old wine barrels as tables and taking in the lovely view around us: rolling hills, big blue sky, and bright wildflowers. Our tasting host was an absolute delight, very knowledgable and pleasant. We all joked that he had the silkiest voice ever, which sounds creepy in retrospect.
8735 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448 [map]
Open to visitors every day 10:30am-4:30pm, $15 for a tasting flight, refunded with purchase. Reservations requested for groups of 8 or more.
Just down the road from Porter Creek is Rochioli, another beautiful winery (are you sensing a theme here? Everything is beautiful). Their visitor grounds are much larger than PC’s, with a nice picnic area complete with tons of vibrant flowers. Enjoy the vista overlooking the vineyards from the outside patio or the inside tasting area. Lots of nice chardonnays, pinot noirs, and a great sauvignon blanc as well.
Michel Schlumberger is probably the biggest and most commercial winery we visited, and their success is evident in both their wines and their facilities. They have a huge courtyard, complete with pretty water features, as well as a back patio for sipping and snacking. You can take tours of the vineyards and facilities or do some shopping inside their welcome area. We opted for a vineyard tour (on a golf cart, no less) and the five-course food & wine pairing. If you have time, money, and appetite for the latter, I highly recommend it.
I wrote a full run-down of the Michel Schlumberger food & wine pairing experience for Endless Simmer, go check it out! The talented onsite chef paired all sorts of their wines with summertime favorites like spicy hamburgers, watermelon salad, Vietnamese shrimp lettuce wraps, and more.
Moshin is Lots of pinot noir tasting at this one – it’s their flagship varietal. You’ll also find a variety of whites as well as perhaps some zin, sirah, and more. If you like puns, Moshin is the place for you – “range of moshin,” “moshin pictures,” etc etc. Our tasting room host was a super funny, personable dude and I really enjoyed tasting the subtle differences in all their pinot varieties. Cute, rustic-y wood cabin space, not a lot of room to hang outside from what I saw but they do offer tours where you could see more of their grounds and facilities.
10295 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448 [map]
Tasting room open daily 11am-4:30pm. $10 for up to 5 wines, refunded with purchase.
Cartograph is a tasting room in Healdsburg itself. It has a really different vibe than most of the wineries and tasting rooms we visited – very sleek, modern, and non-traditional. Expect excellent pinots as well as Alsace-style whites. Oh, AND they have wine on tap! I love wine on tap.
340 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448 [map]
Tastings every day, noon-6:30pm.
Another tasting room in downtown Healdsburg… what I love about Williamson is that they emphasize the relationship between food and wine, so each pour in their tasting flight is paired with a complimentary small bite! And most of said small bites involved artisan cheese, so you KNOW I was on board with this place. I just love their philosophy of finding the balance in life and taking pleasure in the little things like a great glass of wine in good company – but it doesn’t hurt that their wine itself is tasty, as well. I especially liked their reds, like the Enchant, which would pair perfectly with so many of my favorite fall & winter foods.
134 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA 95448 [map]
Complimentary tastings every day, 11am-7pm.
So this one isn’t a winery, but it is a restaurant, and during a day of intense wine tasting you’re gonna need some food at some point. Campo Fina is a super cute space in downtown Healdsburg, complete with outdoor bar, a shaded patio, and even a bocce court. Enjoy crowd-pleaser small plates like oysters, cheese, bread & oil, and plenty more wine-friendly favorites. I especially loved the burrata with prosciutto.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this wine-tastic voyage, this is only the beginning. Sonoma is just bursting at the seams with vineyards, tasting rooms, and cafes begging to be explored. I can’t wait to go back and drink yet more wine forever and ever. Did I miss any of your must-dos in California wine country? Holler at me in the comments or email me and let me know!