These valleys flanking the Russian River are great for spicy Zinfandels but also produce a wide range of other varietals.
Sonoma Valley is just one of 17 distinct growing regions, or AVAs, in Sonoma County. The 14,000-acre/5,666-hectare AVA, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is often referred to as the birthplace of California’s commercial wine industry, and old-vine Zinfandels, with rich hints of cherry and blackberry, are particularly noteworthy here. Visit the home of early wine pioneers at Buena Vista Winery, founded in 1857 as California’s first premium winery. For beautiful views, climb up to villa-like Chateau St. Jean, where you can tour formal gardens, buy charcuterie and have an on-site picnic, and of course sample wines.
On the west side of the Russian River is the appealing and intimate Dry Creek Valley, with pretty views that hint of Italy’s Tuscany and Piedmont regions. Not surprisingly, early Italian wine-grape growers felt at home here and planted Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Carignane grapes to produce hearty red wines. This is a sunny region that’s perfect for those big reds, yet hot summer days cool down nicely when the fog rolls in from the Pacific. For a perfect way to spend the day, relax on the lawn at ultra-friendly Bella Vineyards—it also has fantastic wine caves. Quivira has beautiful organic gardens; ask about the winery’s biodynamic agriculture techniques.