It’s hard to believe it’s been a full month since I embarked on my first trip to Sonoma, aka wine country! I’ve been a wine enthusiast since my first wine knowledge class I took as an elective during college (I was a hospitality major –wine class was par for the course!). Prior to this introduction, my familiarity with wine went about as far as knowing what Franzia white zinfandel in a box was (oh, college…). By the time this class ended I had graduated to loving wines and my days of only sipping on Franzia quickly came to an end (No offense to all you Franzia lovers out there!) In the years since that class, my interest in wine has continued to grow. I would not group myself into the category that considers all wines to be created equal however; I am a far cry from any type of wine expert. What I’ve come to realize is that I just love to learn about all things wine. I try not to get too hung up on the price point or even the popularity of the wine label. If I like the taste of the wine, it’s good enough for me; no matter the varietal, region, terroir etc.
Visiting Sonoma was a phenomenal trip. My fiancé and I quickly realized what all the hype was about and decided this would definitely not be our only vineyard focused vacation in our lifetime. We even went as far as to join one of those “fancy” wine clubs where they send you wine a few times a year. For any of you not familiar with the wine club process it’s an interesting concept and it varies from winery to winery. Essentially, for many of the small production wineries who don’t distribute their wines outside of their tasting rooms, you can sign up for wine shipments throughout the year. As I mentioned each program is different however, the general idea is to allow you to enjoy these limited production wines in the comfort of your own home. I’m sure that the big name brands also have wine clubs. We just did not happen to visit any. We wanted to experience wines we couldn’t get at home!
In the short time we were in wine country we covered a lot of ground. We made it to 10 wineries across Sonoma, Napa, Glen Ellen, and Healdsburg. Today I’m going to share some of my favorites with all of you. One thing I will note is that it is hard to go wrong at any of these wineries if you are a wine lover. There will always be a glass or two that may not be your style but, it such a great experience just to hear the passionate explanations from these winemakers about their final products.
Buena Vista Winery- This is the winery where we joined the wine club. It also happens to be California’s first premium winery, established back in 1857. We loved the history factor of the winery and the old stone buildings on its grounds give it the revolutionary look and feel. Our wine guide even dressed in dated costume (which was not the required uniform) to show his passion and embrace the winery’s past. He was very knowledgeable about the wines and provided some fun background stories on Buena Vista’s history. At Buena Vista you won’t be gazing out to miles of vines. You’ll be housed in one of the stone buildings in a grand room with an opulent chandelier that puts on a modern twist. Like many of the wineries in the area, they are most known for their chardonnay and pinot noir. Yet, what we fell in love with was their rich, spicy zinfandel and the complex Sheriff blend. The wines here are all limited production and their selections in the tasting room change season to season as new harvests come and go. We felt the strongest connection with their wines here but for the winery with the best views/overall experience….keep reading! http://www.buenavistawinery.com/
Kunde Family Winery- This winery came as a recommendation from the couple whose wedding we went out to celebrate in Sonoma. They are members of the wine club at Kunde and said it was a necessary stop on our adventures. They also forewarned us to call ahead and book the mountaintop tasting. They did not steer us wrong. As we pulled into the estate we saw sprawling hills and mountains filled with vines, bins full of grapes waiting to be harvested and a very pretty tasting house that was situated next to a pond. We started our tour in a private tasting room but, were quickly led out to our mini bus to start towards the mountaintop. Our guide walked us through the history of the winery, their winemaking, and even current harvest anecdotes. We sipped on wine while simultaneously stopped at the exact vines where the grapes had been plucked. It made for a personalized experience. When we finally made it to the top of the mountaintop (after weaving in and out of the cows on the cattle ranch the owners also have on the property) we finished our tasting with a breathtaking view. Kunde is most known for their chardonnay which is not our personal favorite but they also had some fruit forward reds on their list. For an overall wine country experience I highly recommend Kunde Family Winery. http://www.kunde.com/
Picking a third favorite winery was difficult. We truly didn’t have a bad experience while we were out there. So instead of choosing just one I’m listing some of the other wineries we visited with some quick superlatives about each.
Artesa Winery- This winery specializes in the Spanish varietals of Tempranillo and Albarino along with some other California classics. Do the outside deck tasting or the tapas tasting on your visit. The view is fantastic and the dedicated waiter who explains each wine is a nice touch. http://www.artesawinery.com/
Imagery Winery- We enjoyed an outdoor pizza picnic at this winery for an event we attended. It has a laid back feel with bocce courts and picnic tables to enjoy on its lawn. They have a wider array of wine varietals then some of the other wineries we went to. The wines we tried on our visit, due to the many whispers of favoritism from the crowd, were the White Burgundy and Barbera. The Barbera was one of my favorite wines on the trip. I loved the full body and deep fruit flavor. http://www.imagerywinery.com/
VJB Winery- This spot is where Italian market meets winery. When you enter the winery you’ll actually feel like you are sitting in a piazza in Italy. The tasting room is accompanied by a true Italian market. The family who runs it are straight from Italy itself (and they actually still personally work the deli counter and spoke with us for a brief moment). We took our tastings outside to sit in the sun, sip, and nibble at brick oven pizza and prosciutto sandwiches. http://vjbcellars.com/
Banshee Wines- This was a very different experience then the rest of our visits. Banshee wines is a small tasting room in a busy storefront in downtown Healdsburg. They buy grapes from local wineries to produce their wines so there is no vineyard on the property. This was the only wines we had tried prior to coming to California. It’s a limited production company however; they happen to distribute to our favorite little wine shop, Cambridge Wines. Their Pinot Noir and Cabernet are favorites of ours! The tasting room had a hipster flair to it. We sat if funky oversized chairs and had a winemaker come sit and chat with us about each wine as we worked through the tasting list. It was a relaxing last stop on our trip with some fantastic red wines. Stop in for a change of pace! http://www.bansheewines.com/
Three days in wine country was nowhere near enough. There was a whole world left to see and of course we’d love to return to a few of the stops we already made along the way. I’ll just start counting down the days now until we plan our next trip out there. Until next time…..
…all for the love of the dish