n the other side of the Napa Valley is its bigger sister known as the Sonoma County.
When I started planning this trip to “Sonoma,” I quickly learned how diverse this area of wine making is and how expansive it can be when you’re traveling. Traveling from the west end of Sonoma County to the east end can easily take over an hour even without traffic. So to plan a weekend trip exploring the Sonoma County, we had to narrow our scope to a few regions to sample the best of that region.
Start your trip planning with the map in mind so that going from one place to another doesn’t take upmost of your travel. We flew into Oakland International Airport, which was an hour outside of the Sonoma Wine Country. You can also fly into nearby San Francisco International Airport or to the county’s own Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa.
If you are planning to do wine tasting, plan for a driver ahead of time so that you can enjoy your tasting safely. For the spring time in the wine country, pack a light jacket for the cooler mornings and nighttimes, and hats and sunglasses for sunny days once the fog clears in the mornings.
The options of good winery and tastings are endless in Sonoma. I used Wine Spectator’s guide to narrow down the list of wineries whose wines I was most interested to try, and honestly this really vary from person to person. Sometimes I looked for the varietals they produce, sometimes I looked for the story behind the winery and its history, sometimes I looked for the winemaker. I did not choose my wine tastings based entirely on the tasting room experience, while others may value the wine tasting experience above other considerations. And that is really what I love about these trips, the ability to completely personalize your own trip.
The 3 wineries we went to are:
1. Unti Vineyards—small scale winery in Healdsburg (north part of SonomaCounty) where the owner, George Unti, is on-site regularly to meet and greets guests for tastings. We enjoyed learning about the history and how hands-on winemaking is at Unti. Their 2020 Rose sold out in a month, and we loved their Chateaunef du Pape-style reds.
2. Jordan Winery—this Healdsburg winery far exceeded my expectation with its beautiful grounds and perfectly planted trees and ivy walls. They offer tasting with food pairing that is thoughtfully curated to highlight local bakeries and cheeses. They specialize in cabernet and chardonnays.
3. Flowers Winery—owned by Huneeus family wines, Flowers was a surprise and turned out to be our favorite on this trip. They greeted us with a glass of rose and offered plush outdoor seating with view of the vineyard. We loved the pinot noir made from grapes on the extreme coastal temps of the Sonoma Coast. The tasting came with 3 small bites are made from in-season farm to table selection.
Where to Stay:
We loved our stay at the Gaige House in Ryokan, an intimate Japanese zen garden inspired boutique hotel run more like a bed and breakfast. They brought us wine and cheese bites every afternoon, and bento-box style breakfast along with yogurt, fruit cups, coffee and fresh juice. The location is in the heart of Glen Ellen, so many restaurants and tasting rooms that are within walking distance. We visited Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen and took a stroll along the old ranch and vineyards along hiking trails lined by eucalyptus trees.
Where to Eat:
Since Sonoma County was first an agricultural region before it became a wine region, it’s hard to not have fresh farm-to-table meals during your visit.
Layla: We had dinner al-fresco at Layla Restaurant at MacArthur’s Place. The wine menu featured a mix of local wines and regional wines, and everything we had from the chicken to fish to pappardelle was delicious. The staff was wonderfully attentive and made sure there were blankets and heaters for all the guests.
Auberge: Make a reservation at The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil in Napa if you’re able to make the 45 min trek from Sonoma. It'd be totally worth it! Truly one of the top 5 dining experiences in my book of all times. The view of the Napa Valley was breathtaking, top-notch service from start to finish, and the food and wine menu did not disappoint. I enjoyed a prix-fixe 3-course meal that came with a beet salad, seared ahi tuna with seasonal veggies, and strawberry shortcake dessert.
Glen Ellen Village Market: This was a HIDDEN GEM in Glen Ellen. This market is a local favorite with fresh produce, deli shop, and anything and everything you might want in the wine country. We ordered our panini sandwiches, a bag of fresh peaches, and some crackers for the wine tasting trip. Be sure to stop by for snacks, wine or a lunch if you're in the area.