Winter Wine Tasting in Sonoma County

Winter Wine Tasting in Sonoma County
Separated by a low range of hills, the Napa Valley and its less lionized neighbor Sonoma County can be visited together in a weekend - but why not take the time to really get to know Sonoma for a change? And why not visit during the less touristy season? A winter visit offers the same wines without the crowds; tasting room personnel are calmer and chattier, the winery pets are out and afoot, and the architecture and design of each abode stands out in relief against the wintry (for California) countryside. Here are five Sonoma wineries with amazing fireplaces for a full day or relaxed weekend.

Kendall Jackson Winery is the best known of this grouping. The tasting room can be found in a palatial estate, which sits amidst immaculately groomed gardens that together give the effect of a French chateau. While the gardens are a summer destination in themselves, the winter visitor will find comfort inside the large, high-ceilinged tasting room. Large windowed doors on two sides bring plenty of light in; the small fireplace in the corner is immaculately decorated and boasts two club chairs for the taster who prefers to take his or her time. Cookbooks and items for entertaining are displayed by one of the windows. Tastings are conducted at a large island in the middle of the room, and the staff is relaxed and friendly.

Further north, Seghesio Family Vineyards is just up the street from downtown Healdsburg. The winery offers a more intimate tasting room, with plenty of wood tones and warmth. Seghesio has been in business for 120 years, and family portraits are intermixed with historical photographs over the fireplace. Tasting is conducted at a long bar on one side of the room. The focus here is less about the vineyard lifestyle; the visitor will not find cookbooks and the like for sale.

Dry Creek Vineyards is just up the road from Seghesio, but is located outside of the city limits proper, amidst the Sonoma countryside. This is historic Northern California at its best: moss-covered walls on the outside, white-washed high ceilings within. The fireplace has the look of rock and adobe, a stylish take on rustic design, swathed with giftables. This is perhaps the smallest tasting room of the tour, but the lack of elbow room even in the off-season is aptly compensated by the chance to overhear international visitors comparing the wines to those from back home.

In contrast to the prevailing historical feel, White Oak Winery’s tasting room is very clean and modern. The fireplace is built into the wall and surrounded by rock, which features in other parts of the building. The walls function as art gallery, with artists’ work displayed both in the tasting room and in a separate gallery space up the stairs. Next to the gallery area, a corridor covered with wine bottle storage leads to a private area with a long table. The tasting area is expansive and comfortable.

The tasting room at Alexander Valley Vineyard stands once again in contrast to the other wineries on this tour, as it resembles nothing so much as a family living room – if that living room were furnished with wines, a tasting area, giftables, and Dexter, the affectionate pug curled up on the seemingly enormous hearth but ready to wander over to greet the visitor. The staff is chatty, and the experience is akin to discussing wine with knowledgeable family members.

Tastings at these wineries vary in price, with the fee waived if wine is purchased. Whether one wants to restock a wine cellar or just relax and enjoy the day, the wines are interesting and varied. A designated driver is a must, as is a comfortable car with windows – there is a fair amount of driving involved, but the countryside views are amazing. Bring water to stay hydrated between tastings, and be sure to stop for food at some point – it is easy to lose track of how much wine has been consumed. Above all, enjoy the quiet, the beauty, and the expanse of Sonoma County wine country.

Kendall Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, 5007 Fulton Road, Santa Rosa.
Seghesio Family Vineyards, 700 Grove Street, Healdsburg.
Dry Creek Vineyards, 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg.
White Oak Vineyard, 7505-A California 128, Healdsburg.
Alexander Valley Wineyards, 8644 CA 128, Healdsburg.

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Wine in California
Laeticia Vineyards and Winery
Back Roads California

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