Norton Safeweb

Monday, January 8, 2018

Favorite Sonoma (and nearby) Wineries

Well heck, after years of writing this blog I've never actually listed my favs from the area. Will they be close to yours? Probably not. Think of it as another data point to use in selecting where to stop on your next visit.

Is this a "best of" list? Probably not. I can't really define best without a lot of "personal parameters." It comes down to things like the people, the place, prices and my history with them. Plus I don't often go to appointment-only wineries as it's easier to not be locked into time slots though a couple of these are appt-only places, but are easy enough to get into with a quick phone call.

The difference between this list and all the others? This one comes from living in Sonoma County for going on 40 years; not from a wine writer who visits for a week. Also, I don't make any money off this so there's no influence from that.

Having said all that:

Dry Creek Vineyards
Solid wines, solid people, fair prices. Cabernet, Zinfandel, and even Chenin Blanc! David Stare, founder of the winery, was one of the first to put Sonoma County and especially Dry Creek Valley on the wine map. The Lees of Kenwood Vyds and the Bundschus of Gundlach-Bundschu were among the others instrumental in the 1970s wine renaissance.

image from
Iron Horse
Best sparkling wines in Sonoma County. A funky little outdoor tasting room down a narrow, dusty road. During 2017 they went appointment-only, on weekends anyway, as they got too popular for the space they have.

Kenwood Vineyards
Yes, they have several grocery store wines and they've certainly had their ups and downs (not sure which one they're in now) over the years through different owners. It's the Jack London wines and a few other single vineyard and reserve wines they have kept my interest over several decades. This is the only one on my list that's not a family-owned winery. The founders, the Lees and Sheelas, sold to Gary Heck (of Korbel) in the 1990s who sold to a French company three years ago.

These folks are up in Mendocino County so I don't get there too often. The wines, mostly Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer are all outstanding. As I've said before, if more wineries made Riesling like Navarro it would be more popular in this country. Navarro is in Anderson Valley, home to several very nice wineries, and is worth a visit.

Who doesn't love port? Prager Port Works in Napa Valley puts out great port-style fortified wines. Nothing more fun then doing a port tasting (best done at the end of the day rather than before lunch).

The hidden gem of Sonoma County with prices and a wine style out of the 1990s and that's great for me. It's about the Cabs and Zins. The family started this winery in the 1920s.

Lou Preston won't distribute his wines, he won't make them big and jammy, but his Zinfandel and Syrah are some of the best. Pick up a loaf of bread from his bakery while you're there.

Dusty bottles of bubbly aging
in Schramsberg's cave

Home to the best sparkling wines in Napa Valley and maybe the state. A tour you won't forget. It is appointment-only, but is pretty easy to get one on weekdays and off-season.

Storybook Mountain
This one is in Napa too, but just barely misses being in Sonoma as their property butts up on the county line :) Top-notch wines. If you can find better, more consistent Zinfandels then let me know cuz these guys have it dialed in.

They make a line of reserve wines called LaStoria and they still aren't very expensive, but sure are yummy. The Zinfandel and the Cuvee are usually my favorites, but last time I even bought a f#$king Merlot! From the "regular" wines don't miss the Sangiovese and Carignane (you may have to look that one up). The Carignane was planted about 1900.