The United States has the fourth-largest wine output in the world, 90% of which comes from the state of California. Within California, almost all wine of note comes from either Napa or Sonoma Valley. Wine Country in the US is a world leader when it comes to wine tourism, so if you’re planning a visit to the area, these are the best wineries in Sonoma that you absolutely cannot miss.
There are a total of 60,000 acres of vineyards in Sonoma, and more than 425 wineries producing world-class bottles for your enjoyment. Activities when visiting some of these well-established wineries include historical tours and private tastings, with so much to learn and even more to taste. Read on to find out about some of the absolute best Sonoma County wineries.
A brief history of Sonoma Valley
Often hailed as the birthplace of Californian wine, the Sonoma Valley has some grapevines up to 200 years old. The area borders on Napa Valley, which is California’s other main wine-producing region. Russian Colonists planted the first grapevines here in 1812, and in 1857 the historic Buena Vista Winery was established. This was the first commercial winery in California, and the oldest still producing wine to this day. After that, an epidemic of the vine-borne disease Phyloxxera devastated both the Sonoma and Napa wine counties.
However, the area quickly recovered, and by the 1920s there were nearly 300 wineries in Sonoma. Prohibition limited the number of official Sonoma county wineries, but it actually increased the number of total grapevines planted due to the rising popularity of homemade wine. During World War 2, restrictions on the import of French wine lead to a higher demand for Californian vineyards and wineries, and even more grapevines were planted.
The Sonoma Valley has a total of 17 sup-appellations called AVA’s, or American Viticultural Areas. The climates range from Meditteranean to mountainous, giving Sonoma wines a huge range of flavors and styles. There are more than 60 grape varieties grown within Sonoma County wine country, some of which are famous all over the world. For example, Zinfandel grapes and the wines they make are almost synonymous with California, every wine lover has sampled or at least heard of these bottles.
Forty miles south of San Fransisco, the Gloria Ferrer Winery is home to award-winning sparkling wines. This winery uses traditional Spanish winemaking practice, as the Ferrer family winery was established in Spain more than 600 years ago. They decided to expand to California, purchasing land for a winery in Carneros Sonoma. This family-friendly winery has a fascinating history that you can enjoy learning about, whilst sipping a world-famous sparkling rose on their beautiful grounds.
Wine tours and wine caves will entertain visitors on a trip to the Gloria Ferrer winery, where we recommend sampling one of their exemplary bottles of Californian bubbly. Enjoy some full-bodied fizz with rich fruity flavors of ripe apple, pear, and honeydew melon. Our recommendation is the Gloria Ferrer Brut, a creamy bottle of sparkling white featuring just a hint of vanilla. Located in Sonoma County, this wine estate also offers extra-special Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
This wine house is the oldest in Sonoma wine country, where delicious tastings happen throughout the whole year. For anyone interested in the history of Californian winemaking, this location is one you definitely can’t miss. Here, a museum will guide visitors through the historical process, a great activity for the whole family. Sample Buena Vista wines directly from the barrel, or you can even book a private tasting to try some of the historic estate’s famous sparkling wine.
The winemaker at Buena Vista uses many grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (or Shiraz), Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, California’s signature Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. We’d love to draw your attention toward the Chateau Buena Vista Pinot Noir, produced by grapes grown on the Sonoma Coast giving them a rich terroir. This medium red wine is brightly acidic, with aromas of red fruit and currants, with delicious notes of dark chocolate and blackberry.
In Healdsburg you’ll find a winery of French origin that’s nearly 50 years old; the Jordan Winery and it’s attached estate vineyards. Located in Alexander Valley AVA, this estate winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Russian River Valley Chardonnay in the finest vintages. Only making two wines is quite a singular choice for winemakers, but the Jordan Winery does it well in a style considered more French than Californian. This estate wasn’t always an ideal destination for wine tourists, as prior to 2013 it wasn’t open to the public. Nowadays, however, you can visit this estate in the Sonoma wine region and enjoy wine tastings and tours.
The Jordan Winery is an excellent choice for foodies to visit as they specialize in food and wine pairing experiences. This Healdsburg estate offers delicious tastings in their wine cellar and tours through the family chateau, as well as throughout the beautifully scenic property. This includes 1200 acres of estate vineyards, olive orchards, and other stunning natural areas.
This family-built estate, now owned by Glen Ellen, earned the highly-respected biodynamic certification in the year 2000, making it a stop you absolutely cannot miss on your Sonoma Valley wine tour. This eco-friendly winemaking producer is a definite cannot-miss for anyone interested in organic viticulture or eco-friendly farming, where you can learn about the ways we can make winemaking a completely green practice.
Tours of the lands and wine caves will keep everyone interested in the beautiful Sonoma Mountain area, and of course, you can enjoy a tasting of some of their sustainably grown and made wines. There are private tours and tasting also available, where you might sample for red, white, or rose- all made in accordance with environmentally friendly values. These Bordeaux-style and single-varietal wines are the Benzinger Family Winery’s specialty, like their excellent Sauvignon Blanc or delicious Zinfandel blend.
The Gundlach Bundshu estate in Sonoma, called Rhinefarm, is the oldest family winery in California. They’ve been producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and more for over 150 years, from their sustainably farmed 320-acre vineyard. Their beautiful location at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains gives a beautiful setting to your Sonoma wine country experience.
As well as the usual activities you can expect from a trip to a wine estate, Gundlach Bundshu offers a DJ on summer weekends with local food truck cuisine to enjoy in their courtyard. Seasonally offered cave tours mean guests can learn about every step of the winemaking process at Gundlach Bunschu, and see where their award-winning wines come from.
Gundlach Bundshus estate wines are made on the property from vine to bottle, and their fantastic location at the junction of four different California AVA’s means they can produce a huge range of home-grown and bottled wines at their best. This winery’s Sonoma County Mountain Cuvee is a great example, made primarily from Merlot and Cabernet grapes, in the style of French Bordeaux wines. A well-balanced red from Rhinefarm grapes and aged in French oak, this everyday wine is perfect with everything from steak to pizza.
Unlike Gundlach Bundschu and many other Californian vineyards and estates, the Martinelli winery has Italian roots. This winery in the Russian River Valley AVA has operated since Giuseppe Martinelli arrived from Italy in the 1880s. A pioneer of Californian Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, this small family-operated winery can easily compete with the biggest producers. This winery is smaller than other more commercial operations, so a visit to the Martinelli winery offers a more personal tasting experience.
Why not try one of Martinelli’s Zinfandel wines, which come from some of the oldest grapevines in California. Heritage Zinfandel vines planted up to 140 years ago are still producing grapes today, offering tremendous flavor to those who get to try them. We highly recommend sampling the Giuseppe and Luisa Zinfandel, grown on a vineyard from 1899 called Jackass Hill.
This vineyard is visible from the Martinelli tasting room, so you can truly appreciate the wine’s origin while you enjoy it. This medium to full-bodied red is brimming flavors of stone fruit, jam, and cinnamon. It’s the perfect example of a California Zinfandel, so we highly recommend trying it directly from the source.
The St Francis Winery was originally planted full of Merlot and Chardonnay, however now they are best known for California’s most successful grape. Their award-winning Old Vines Zinfandel is oak matured with a full-bodied profile, featuring ripe flavors of blackberry jam and vanilla. This estate winery is worth a visit just for that, but couple it with their charcuterie and fantastic food pairings and a trip to St Francis winery is bound to be a tasteful delight.
Another Californian winery with a certificate of sustainability, this green wine estate offers self-guided tours and artisan wine tastings. However, this winery’s number one pull is its nationally recognized five-course meal, each food coupled beautifully with an appropriate beverage of course. This winery actually has three separate vineyards to explore, each with a different climate and terroir. This outlines the diversity of California wine country and is what makes St Francis one of the best wineries in Sonoma.
Located in Santa Rosa, at the heart of Sonoma County, Kendall Jackson wine estate and vineyards offer a wholly Californian tasting experience. Not only can you taste the wines, but visitors can enjoy a farm-to-table dinner from their culinary gardens. Enjoy specially tailors wine and food pairings directly from the on-site gardens, a fresh and delicious tasting experience. Kendall Jackson also has a truffle orchard on location in Fulton, which truly elevates this vineyard to another level.
If you decide to visit Kendall Jackson, then you have to try their most popular bottle. Their Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay is the top-selling Chardonnay in America, displaying fruit-forward and complex flavors directly from the coastal vineyards of California. This wine is aged and fermented in oak barrels giving it a rich and toasty palate, with a creamy finish that’s perfect for pairing with local seafood.
Iron Horse is a true family vineyard, there are three generations of the founding Sterling family still living on the estate. However, don’t confuse this Sonoma winery with Sterling vineyards, which is featured on our list of the best wineries in Napa. Iron Horse winery’s tasting room is outdoors, so visitors can enjoy stunning views of rolling hills and endless grapevines while sampling their sumptuous brews. The wines from Iron Horse are truly exemplary and have been served at the White House and even Buckingham Palace. Visit this vineyard estate in Sebastopol and taste the sparkling wine enjoyed by Presidents at its source.
Made primarily from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, these white and rose sparkling wines are truly something special. For example, the Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut is a classic Sonoma bubbly, showcasing the iconic flavors of Russian River Valley and Sonoma County. Fruity flavors of red apple and citrus follow a delicious doughy aroma in this Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend from the Green Valley AVA. This sparkling wine is a perfect representation of the California wine region, ideal if you want to sample some of Sonoma’s very best.
Scribe Winery offers a range of different varieties, but their Riesling and Sylvaner are the oldest established wines on the property. These were planted by famous sparkling wine producers from Germany, way back in 1858. Nowadays, these produce some of Scribe’s delicious dry white wines, like their Estate Sylvaner. Savor a glass of this crisp white in this winery’s gorgeous outdoor tasting area, and experience the refreshing notes of peach blossom, citrus, and delicious minerality.
If you’d prefer a red, Scribe has a smaller but equally tasty offering. Their Pinot Noir is full of red berry flavor, with earthy undertones, ideal for pairing with beef or game. From Los Carneros, this dry and smooth red wine has oaky notes and is a great example of the Californian Pinot Noir style. We think Scribe is definitely one of the best wineries in Sonoma, it’s gorgeous views and summery ambiance just cannot be missed.
If you’d like to enjoy a wine tasting in an architectural landmark, why not visit “The Castle” Ledson Winery. This 16,000 square foot French Normandy style structure features marble fireplaces, coffered ceilings, and several bars where wine tastings are hosted. This location is perfect if you want to make an occasion out of your trip, ideal for birthdays, events, and romantic getaways. Ledson Winery is located in Kenwood, Sonoma County, and offers private tastings on its stunning 17-acre estate vineyard.
This family-owned winery produces more than 70 different wines, with grape varietals from up to 20 appellations. What makes Ledson Winery special is that they sell their bottles exclusively at their Kenwood location, giving it a real personal touch. Why not try their Estate Vineyard Bellisimo; an award-winning wine with excellently balanced flavors. Flavors of mulberry, plum, and cherry blossoms are complemented by notes of oak and spice. Enjoy a glass of this richly textured wine in a private tasting room, at the bar, or take a bottle home to add to your collection.
This winery and it’s nine estate vineyards offer a very polished and high-class tasting experience to its customers. There’s something for everyone at J Winery, found in Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley AVA. They have four different venues where not only can you taste wines, but experience some of the culinary mastery of the Sonoma Valley. One offering is a 5-course food and wine pairing menu, specially crafted by resident experts in local winemaking and ingredients. If you don’t feel like a full meal, you could try artisan cheese pairings instead.
The winery tour at J Vineyards offers in-depth learning about old-world winemaking methods accompanied by a tasting of some of the award-winning wines produced there. The estate is known for its sparkling wines, made using the Traditional Method in small batches for the perfect end result. One well-known example is the Brut Rose, which boasts a vibrant pink color and an effervescent texture. This sparkling fruity rose offers a palate of ripe strawberry and cherry, with notes of almond and watermelon.
That concludes our selection of top Sonoma wineries, from the San Fransisco area to Geyserville. This vibrant wine country has so much to offer, no matter your preference. If beautiful views and countryside ambiance is what you’re after, look no further than Martinelli or Scribe Winery.
If long-established and historical winemaking locations make your heart sing, check out Buena Vista or Gundlach Bundschu. There’s something for everyone in Sonoma County, so visit one of these world-class wineries and see what all the fuss is about.
Bonus tip: While you’re at it, check out this video to learn about the history of California’s oldest winery!