The famous Sonoma Valley wine region in California is one of my favorite places for wine tasting in the United States. The vast and unique growing areas – each with its own microclimate – make for many different styles of wine, so the experience nor the wine ever gets mundane.
If you’re planning a Sonoma wine tasting trip, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve spilled all our favorite places to go wine tasting in Sonoma, along with lots of other useful info on Sonoma for wine lovers.
The Sonoma vineyards are run by families who have been farming the land for decades, the wine is solid and reasonable priced, and the Sonoma tasting room experience is relaxed and friendly.
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About Sonoma Valley Vineyards
Located just an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, Sonoma Valley and the Napa Valley Wine Region sometimes meld together in people’s minds as one big wine region, but there is actually a fair bit of difference between the two.
- Sonoma is more spread out in terms of land mass (almost double the size)
- It’s more laidback and less pretentious
- Wineries are more typically fun by families rather than large corporations (though there are exceptions)
- It’s less expensive
- There is more diversity in the types of grapes grown in Sonoma
There are quite a few AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in the Sonoma Valley — 18 at current count — so the wine produced in this area comes from many different terroirs and can be significantly different depending on the AVA. That’s one of the things that makes Sonoma wine country so fascinating for wine tourism. There’s always something new and interesting to try.
Planning a Trip to Sonoma Wineries
How to Get to Sonoma
Being in such close proximity to San Francisco makes getting to Sonoma really easy. It’s a quick one-hour drive from the city. You can fly into either San Francisco or Oakland International Airport, and drive from there.
Better yet, fly right into Santa Rosa, which will put you directly in the heart of the valley. It’s one of the easiest airports to get in an out of, so you can be wine tasting within 20 minutes of landing.
You will need to rent a car for your time in Sonoma. The wineries are spread throughout the region and the public transportation options are not great.
Alternatively, you can book a private wine tour that will give you a private driver for the day – you can contract with them to take you to wineries on multiple days, so you don’t have to drive yourself. If you don’t have a designated driver, I highly recommend this option. Pickup and drop-off is available from most Sonoma hotels.
Sonoma Valley Wineries to Visit
Where to taste wine in Sonoma is often left up to personal preference, because each of the AVAs in the area produce such different wines. There are 18 diverse regions in Sonoma.
- Sonoma Valley
- Dry Creek (for Old Vine Zinfandel)
- Alexander Valley (for Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay)
- Sonoma Coast
- Russian River Valley
- Bennett Valley
- Chalk Hill
- Fort Ross – Seaview
- Fountaingrove District
- Green Valley
- Knights Valley
- Moon Mountain
- Northern Sonoma
- Petaluma Gap
- Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak
- Sonoma Mountain
If you have plenty of time in the region, plan to spend at least a few days and cover the regions that you are the most excited about. You can really learn the history and lay of the land by visiting diverse regions.
If time is short, or you’re just looking for a good representation of Sonoma wine in the area, here are some of our favorite wineries in Sonoma, where you’re guaranteed to have a good tasting experience.
Rodney Strong produces some very best wine in Alexander and Russian River valleys. You’ll get to taste some reserve wines that you can’t find anywhere else as well, and they’re all very good. We especially love their Dry Creek Zinfandel and Reserve Cabernet Franc. If you’re around in the summer, Rodney Strong puts on some really great summer concerts in their sprawling lawn.
Location: 11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, CA
Hours: Thursdays through Sundays by appointment only
Located right next door to Rodney Strong, J Vineyards also has some fantastic Russian River Valley wines to share. Their tasting room is modern and welcoming. You can choose from a few different tasting flights, including the Signature Tasting or the Legacy Tasting, which is paired with cheeses. They also have a lovely restaurant where you can book in for a 5-course wine-paired lunch. You can also reserve a tour and tasting together, if you’d like to take a closer looks at the winery.
Location: 11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, CA
Hours: Open every day 11am to 5pm
Kendall Jackson Winery
You can find Kendall Jackson’s wine at many grocery and wine stores throughout the U.S., so you might be thinking it’s not necessary to visit the winery, but that would be a mistake. They actually have a number of wines that aren’t sold outside the tasting room, and those are some of my favorites.
This is one winery we never skip when we’re in Sonoma. You’ll be glad you visited when you pull into the parking lot and realize how gorgeous the property is. The sprawling estate includes a tasting vineyard where you can try the grapes when they’re in season, and a huge back patio and garden, where you can enjoy food pairings.
Location: 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, CA
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, reservations are required
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Certainly a more touristy wine destination, Francis Ford Coppola has a lot more to offer than just a gorgeous chateau. The wine tasting experience is fun and engaging. You can taste wines at the tasting bar, or you can set up a group or private tasting experience. The wines are all very solid. We particularly like the Director’s Cut series.
The DC Cinema is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. It’s divine. You can also take a walk through the Coppola entertainment history museum set up inside the main tasting room. In the summer, there’s a pool club to join, and the views from the pool cannot be beat.
There are frequent winery events and dinners, so be sure to check their website for what’s going on. They also have a couple of dining facilities where you can enjoy tasty Italian specialties.
Location: 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, CA
Hours: Open every day 11am to 6pm, food is served on some days
You may be a hard time pronouncing it the first time, but don’t let that stop you from visiting Gundlach Bundschu. Not only is the location and building stunning, there’s an underground cellar where some tastings are held, plus a wonderful array of art and memorabilia.
This winery has been around a long time. It’s the oldest continuously family-owned winery in California. You will get a true sense of this family’s passion for the wine while you’re visiting this historic winery. You’ll want to make an appointment for your tasting.
There are quite a few options to choose from, including the basic historic winery tasting that takes about an hour, and the off the beaten path walking tour that takes about 1.5 hours. They are open every day except major holidays.
Location: 2000 Denmark St, Sonoma, CA
Hours: 11am – 5:30pm (summer), until 4:30pm (winter)
We were long-time wine club members at Cline Cellars before we moved to the UK. Their wine is consistently good, and the tasting experience at Cline is one of the best in the area. Cline is housed in a beautiful Victorian building with lots of lovely outdoor space to hang out and enjoy the nice weather. Be aware that if you visit on a sunny summer day, you can expect huge crowds.
Cline offers a $10 tasting on their basic line, but it’s the reserve Zinfandel’s and Syrah’s that we love the most. You don’t need a reservation at Cline unless there are more than 6 of you. For larger groups, it’s better to reserve a private space. You can also reserve picnic tables at Cline.
Location: 24737 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA
Hours: Thursday – Monday from 11 am – 5 pm
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
Cline and Jacuzzi are across the street from each other just south of Sonoma. Jacuzzi’s winery is a Tuscan villa-inspired building and tasting room. Inside is a huge shop with lots of Italian products and wine, of course. Jacuzzi Family Vineyards offers an array of tasting experiences with the basic offering being a 5-wine tasting for $10.
This applies to groups of 6 or less. Jacuzzi has some very good wine as well as olive oil tasting in their facility. You can also book a tour to go along with your tasting. The experience lasts about an hour. You can taste at the wine bar, or enjoy their lovely outdoor courtyard.
Location: 24724 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA
Hours: Thursday – Monday from 11am to 5pm – reservations recommended
There is a lot of history in this vineyard that’s been producing quality wine for over 100 years. Foppiano produces estate Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in the Russian River Valley AVA. Louis J. Foppiano helped to establish this AVA. You’re in good hands at this winery. It’s a beautiful tasting room. They do private tastings, estate tastings, Friday happy hours, and picnics too.
Location: 12707 Old Redwood Hwy, Healdsburg
Hours: Daily 11 am – 5 pm for outdoor tastings and limited indoor tastings (reservations recommended)
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
With estate vineyards in Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley, this family owned winery, stablished in 1978, is the place to go for old vine Zinfandel. The mission-style tasting room, complete with bell tower, is located in the heart of the Sonoma Valley and it’s surrounded by estate vineyards and gorgeous mountains. There are so many great tasting options, from trolley tours, to estate tastings, food and wine pairings and various flights.
Location: 100 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa
Hours: Thursday – Monday 10am-5pm (reservations required)
Hook & Ladder Winery
Founded in 2003 by pioneering growers and vintners Cecil and Christine De Loach, and helmed today by their grandson, winemaker Jason De Loach, Hook & Ladder carries on the family tradition of making superb Russian River Valley wines. We love the firehouse theme and decor, the old red fire engine, and the beautiful grounds that are perfect for a peaceful, lovely tasting outdoors. If you like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel, you’ll ove their style.
Location: 2134 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm (reserve online)
The best part about Healdsburg, besides the copious delicious wine, is that you can park and walk around to the tasting rooms. Be sure to make appointments in advance, where necessary.
You can also make Healdsburg you base of operations while in Sonoma, as it’s very centrally located and has everything you need, like great hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.
Check out our full guide to the downtown Healdsburg wineries for more suggestions and information.
Sonoma Wine Tours
There are plenty of tour companies who are happy to be designated driver for the week or weekend, so you don’t have to do the driving yourself. Alternatively, some taxi companies will agree to a set number of hours for a fee, which will cut back on the typical “tour” costs of having a guide along.
Wine Tour Options:
- If you book a group tour, they’ll do all the planning and set the schedule. You won’t have the chance to choose which wineries you visit.
- Hiring a driver will allow you to visit the wineries you want, and in your own time, at a decent price, but you have to do all your own planning and arranging.
- If you book a private tour, the guide will do all the planning, the driver will do the driving, but you can still choose where and when you want to go. It’s the most flexible and enjoyable option, but it costs significantly more.
- One of the most fun ways to see the valley is by bike. Rent a bike and ride along flat country roads to the wineries you like.
- Another alternative is to book a ride on the Sonoma Wine Trolley that takes you to four different wineries and is a unique way to tour the area.
Where to Stay in Sonoma Valley
The Sonoma Valley is rather large. It stretches from as far south as Petaluma up to Geyserville – roughly 40 miles. My personal favorite place to stay is in the town of Healdsburg. Some of my favorite wineries, restaurants and places to stay are located there. Other areas to stay include Santa Rosa, Windsor and the city of Sonoma.
Where to Eat in Sonoma Valley
- Downtown Healdsburg has many great dining options. One of my favorite places to eat in the entire Sonoma Valley area is Bravas Tapas Bar. Nearby is a good casual option for lunch or dinner, Healdsburg Bar & Grill.
- If you’re looking for picnic staples, you can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches or salads at the Oakville Grocery.
- J Vineyards has lovely winery lunch options. You can also enjoy a fantastic wine-paired lunch at Kendall Jackson. Or grab a pizza at Francis Ford Coppola.
- The Girl & the Fig is a top choice for upscale California cuisine with a French twist. And there’s always a quick stop at Inn ‘n Out to fill up before tasting more wine.
Wine tasting in Sonoma Valley is relaxed and fun, which is why I love it there so much. If you have a plan of where you’d like to visit, it’s really easy to get around and enjoy your day.
The wineries listed above are by no means the only or most prestigious wineries in Sonoma. They are just the ones we love and recommend. We hope you’ll love them too.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.