With more than 425 wineries scattered across 1,768 scenic square miles, a wine tasting trip to Sonoma County is a bucket list getaway for many travelers. But trying to decide which wineries to visit can be overwhelming for even the most sophisticated oenophile—and if you aren't careful you might spend more time in your car than you do in the vineyards.
One strategy to consider: Pick a single American Viticultural Area (AVA) within Sonoma County and make it the focal point of your trip. By doing so you can optimize your tasting time and really get to know a region's terroir.
If you love Pinot Noir, you'll probably want to spend most of your time in the Russian River or Carneros AVAs. Zinfandel fans should concentrate on the Dry Creek Valley or the Sonoma Valley. But if you love Cabernet Sauvignon, there's only one AVA that should be on the top of your To Do list: the Alexander Valley.
Wine Road Executive Director Beth Costa recently joined Soterios Johnson on the California Now Podcast and shared insights on four Alexander Valley wineries that will help you get a full understanding of this region, which is located east of Healdsburg, some 60 miles north of San Francisco.
1. Alexander Valley Vineyards
"When you walk in there, it's cold. You have to be sort of prepared for that and make sure you do have a little jacket even if you're here in the summer and it's, you know, 90 degrees [outside]. It's just barrels and barrels and barrels of wine aging so you just smell the wine. It smells great. It's just a fun little tour if you can get in there."
2. Silver Oak
Though better know for its tasting room in the Napa Valley, Silver Oak's Alexander Valley facility is really special. "They opened this particular winery about a year ago," Costa said. "It's LEED certified. It's really just architecturally a beautiful property and they offer a really nice variety of tasting experiences. If you don't have a reservation and you just want to walk into the tasting room and taste some Cabernet, you're welcome to do that. There are lots of glass walls looking out so the view is beautiful. Or you could plan ahead a little bit, call Silver Oak and book one of the seated food and wine pairings, which is really a beautiful experience. You go into a smaller private room, a little private dining room, and sit and have your food pairing and even those rooms are designed with big glass walls. So while you're sitting there, you're looking out over the vineyards."
3. Robert Young Estate Winery
If epic views are on your wish list, you're in luck. "I would go to the Robert Young Estate Winery," Costa said. "You drive up this hill that overlooks the valley that is just absolutely spectacular. They built it with visitors in mind, with these beautiful Adirondack chairs. So you can sit up there and just sip some wine and look out over the valley and really just enjoy the whole experience."
If you would prefer to head out into the vineyards and sip among the vines, that's also an option. Robert Young Estate Winery offers a two-hour Vineyard Tasting that includes a trip to its Burn Pile Cabernet Sauvignon Block, a history lesson about the property, and some exceptional wines. "You want to get out there and see the vines and see how they're growing them," Costa pointed out. "See what the different trellis systems are and kind of learn a little bit about it."
4. Francis Ford Coppola Winery
The most unique, and crowd-pleasing, winery in the region is run by Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola. "It's right in the town of Geyserville and it is an incredibly beautiful property," Costa said. In addition to housing some top-tier Hollywood memorabilia like the desk used in The Godfather and the car from Tucker: The Man and His Dream, the property also features two swimming pools comprising 3,600 square feet. "The pools are packed," she noted. "You have to get reservations months in advance to rent a little cabana. I have friends that live hundreds of miles away and they make reservations once a year to come and spend the day at the pool at Coppola. You can have wine and food and sit out by the pool. And yeah, it's really, really fun."