Interested in Sonoma County?
We'll send you updates with the latest deals, reviews and articles for Sonoma County each week.
Topics include Transportation, Dining Scene, United States: For Foreign Visitors & more!
If you are planning a wine-tasting trip to Sonoma County, here are a few tips for planning. Many of these ideas can be found in a forum search, but that can be time consuming, so here is a short list:
First and foremost, use a good map!! Sonoma County wineries are much more spread out than in Napa County and its easy to misjudge distances without a map. The Sonoma County Visitors Bureau website has not only a good map but a distance chart as well*. Use this reference to plot your winery visits close together. This way, you don't end up skipping back and forth across the county and using up valuable time by being on the road instead of enjoying your tasting experience. It's especially important if you are making appointments at wineries.
*Keep in mind that not all maps will feature all wineries or things in the area; many companies require wineries/lodgings to pay to be a member and listed on a map. A lot of the small, very boutique wineries may be hard to find on local maps, so before you leave home, look up specific wineries and pencil them in on your map if you know you want to visit them. Don't plan on relying only on your GPS or phone for directions; reception is pretty spotty in some of the areas. The Wine Road has a great map for northern Sonoma county.
Choose a goal for your daily adventures. It helps to keep you focused in your planning if you are trying to accomplish something each day, so think about what you want to get from the trip; do you want to learn more about a certain wine type? Do you want to learn about pairing food and wine? Maybe your interest is in following a "celebrity" winemaker, or tasting award winning wines from certain area, or vineyard. One idea is to find a particular vineyard source for wines that you particularly like...such as Pagani Vineyard or Stuhlmuller...and then find the wineries that make wine from those grapes and see how they differ. It can be a very interesting study in terroir and winemaker style differences.
Not sure where to start? Try looking at your wine rack at home! What is on it? Figure out which winery is most represented, and plan that as your first stop! ( You know you will have a winner with that one- you already like their wine) Then check the map and see what wineries are near by, read about them, and pick one that sounds interesting. Its a reliable starting point for first-time visitors, and builds success into that day. Next day, start with the #2 winery in your rack at home....and so on...;) . If you're still unsure about where to go, ask your servers. They will get an idea of what you like as you work through your tasting and can offer suggestions about what nearby wineries may suit your palate. Its a wonderful way to find some of the hidden gems around the county.
A wine country adventure can be enhanced greatly by going beyond the tasting room experience and taking a tour. On average winery tours seem to take about 45 minutes to an hour. They can be brief overviews of the process at that particular winery, or they can be truly educational experiences that will explore the history and philosophy of the winery and how these relate to the current workings of that particular facility. As more and more places become focused on sustainable, organic, and biodynamic practices it can be very interesting to learn why these ideologies have come to the fore and why they are important.
Make sure to plan meals into your day. Self-driving or not, you need to eat if you are consuming wine all day, or the consequences are very uncomfortable. With the penchant for food pairing taking hold all over the county, it isn't difficult to find wineries that offer some sort of pairing option, but these are usually by appointment. If you aren't sure if you can hold to a schedule, then pick up picnic fare and carry it with you, along with plenty of water . There are numerous suggestions in the forums to help you decide where to gather foodstuffs for your day, if that is your choice. If you prefer to take a full-on break from the action, check out the list of restaurants for each city.
Don't try to "do it all" in one day. Its easy to get caught up in the excitement of visiting wine country and trying tons of new wines. Especially if you are first-time visitors, keep yourself to about 4 wineries the first day- 2 before lunch and 2 after. That way you will learn how things work and you won't wear out your palate right off the bat and spoil the rest of the trip. It may not seem like much, but with the driving and the scenery and all the excitement, you will be tired at the end of the day. As you have more visits you will figure out your personal tolerances and probably expand that, but start slow.
Remember, its not just about wine up there. Sonoma County has lots of neat things to offer aside from wine, and sometimes taking a break from the tasting rooms is the best enhancement for your trip. Hiking, canoeing, shopping, touring the farms, exploring the museums, doing the zip line course...these are a few of the "other" things that you can do to enjoy Sonoma County and if you have the time and inclination add one of these to your itinerary. It keeps things fresh and keeps you from "burning out" on the wine focus.
Most important point is have fun! Plan your days so you can be somewhat flexible in order to take advantage of those unexpected moments. Half the fun is when you stumble upon a little gem of a place along the way.
This is certainly not all inclusive, but hopefully offers a starting point for your planning.