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Sonoma Valley Wineries

Sonoma Valley Wineries are Renowned

Sonoma Valley wineries constitute the largest appellation in all of Sonoma County - both by area, and by number of wineries. It also includes the sub-appellations of Carneros, Sonoma Mountain, and Bennett Valley.

Sonoma Valley is where Wine Country began. Often called the birthplace of California's premium wine industry, it seems worlds apart from the hustle-bustle of the Bay Area, yet it's only 45 minutes from San Francisco.

Here you can get caught up in the scenic views and lush farmlands, the stalls brimming with local organic produce, the history and the world-class restaurants.

But let's not forget that we're here for the wines, and the intimate family-run tasting rooms, the private barrel tastings, the wine and chocolate pairings, and the cooking with wine classes.

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Sonoma Valley Wineries are Too Cool for School

Situated between two protective mountain ranges, with cooling breezes from the south and warmer temps as you travel northward, Sonoma Valley is a terroir dream come true!

The valley receives an average rainfall of 29 inches per year, there's just enough coastal fog to cool down summer nights, and the winds off Pablo Bay help to moderate temperatures.

Situated between two protective mountain ranges, with cooling breezes from the south and warmer temps as you travel northward, Sonoma Valley is a terroir dream come true!

The valley receives an average rainfall of 29 inches per year, there's just enough coastal fog to cool down summer nights, and the winds off Pablo Bay help to moderate temperatures.

The area consists of a warm valley floor where Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes do well, cooler areas where Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs thrive, and even cooler hillsides perfect for producing Zinfandels.

But enough of the technical stuff - let's get on with exploring Sonoma Valley wineries, the wines those wineries produce, and the tastings of those wines!

Sonoma Valley Wineries are Historic

Wine Barrels; © Dawn M. TurnerWine Barrels; © Dawn M. Turner

California's First Premium Winery: Buena Vista

The official name is Buena Vista Carneros, but it was established in 1857 as Buena Vista by Count Agoston Haraszthy, making it the oldest of the wineries, and - in fact - the oldest premium wine producer in all of California.

Carneros was added to the name in the late 1970s when the winery began buying land and growing grapes in what is now the Carneros Appellation.

The original winery is an historic landmark and houses the tasting room and visitors' center. They're open year-round for tasting and touring, and there are several tasting venues to choose from.

If you'd like, bring a picnic lunch and enjoy one of the beautiful picnic areas provided; be sure to spend some time browsing the gift shop.

Gundlach Bundschu

Originally called Rhinefarm, this historic winery began growing Old World vines for wine production just behind Buena Vista in 1857. March 12, 2008 marked Gundlach Bundschu's 150th year.

Gundlach is still being operated by members of the original families and offers wine tasting in its tasting room, guided tours, cave tasting, and a vineyard tour.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped with picnic areas scattered throughout. Sonoma wineries are very user-friendly!


Now here's why there's so much confusion about which of the Sonoma Valley wineries is the oldest and when the California Wine Industry was actually born. Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery was started in 1904 by Samuel Sebastiani, an Italian immigrant. This means the Sebastiani Winery is not as old as either Buena Vista or Gundlach Bundschu.

But the vines on the property he purchased were actually planted in 1825 by the Franciscan fathers of Mission San Francisco Solano to produce wine for the sacraments and the dinner table. However, I don't think anyone would argue that the padres were producing premium wines in 1825.

Never mind... It's still a very old winery and it's being run today by third and fourth generation family members who invite you to join them in a glass of wine. They have a visitors center for tasting, winery tours, historical tours, and trolley tours. The wine tasting and marketplace are open seven days per week.

If you're looking for a truly special Sonoma Valley wineries experience, try a stay at Casa de Sonoma, historic home of the Sebastiani Family.

Some of Our Favorite Sonoma Valley Wineries

Rack of Wine Bottles; © Dani SimmondsRack of Wine Bottles; © Dani Simmonds

Bartholomew Park

Bartholomew Park is a comparatively young winery, having been purchased in 1994 by Jim Bundschu.

If that name sounds familiar, he's a sixth-generation winegrower from Gundlach Bundschu.

But, in addition to having an experienced vintner at the helm, the land the winery occupies has a venerable history as well, having once been owned by that famous Hungarian nobleman and rapscallion, Count Agoston Haraszthy of Buena Vista fame!

Bart Park offers wine tasting, a fascinating museum dedicated to wine making past and present, and more picnic opportunities.


Ravenswood is a down-to-earth winery with a bit of an attitude. Their motto is No Wimpy Wines! This is another young winery - its first vintage Zin was produced in 1976 - but it's had a lot of impact in spite of its youth.

You'll find tours and barrel tastings, a tasting room and gift shop, and even a seminar on blending your own non-wimpy wine. (Check out these selections from if you've ever thought about making your own wine

Castle Vineyard and Winery

The Castle vineyard is actually in the Carneros appellation, but they purchase grapes from throughout the Sonoma Valley. And, since their tasting room is in Sonoma, I've included them here.

Castle, founded in the 1990s, specializes in small lots of premium fruits. It doesn't have visitor facilities on the property, but there's a tasting room on The Plaza in Sonoma where you are more than welcome to join the tasting room staff for samples. If the weather's nice, you may be able to do your wine sampling on their patio - always a treat!

Ms Moo-lot is made from wine corks; by Suzi RosenbergMs Moo-lot is made from wine corks; by Suzi Rosenberg

Charles Creek Vineyard

Another youngster amongst Sonoma Valley wineries, Charles Creek was founded in 2002 by Bill and Gerry Brinton.

Part of their focus has been to create wines that pair well with food.

Interestingly, Mr. Brinton is a direct descendant of John Deere of John Deere tractor-fame.

This is another winery with a downtown tasting room - Charles Creek Vineyard Tasting Room and Gallery - rather than a visitor center on the winery property. It, too, is right on The Plaza.

You'll get a kick out of their mascot, Ms Moo-lot (could that be a play on Merlot?). She's made from wine corks!

Nicholson Ranch

Nicholson Ranch started out as a cattle ranch which newly-wed Socrates Nicholson bought in 1961, thinking it would be a great place to live and raise a family.

It was, and he's still there, but now the place is run by his daughter, Ramona, her husband and their three children. Ramona decided to plant a vineyard in 1996 so she could work at home with her children.

They built a gravity-flow winery in 2000, the first crush occurred in 2001, and work began on the winery, tasting room, and gallery in 2002. Now you can visit the winery, taste their wines, and enjoy the grounds and gallery.

Haywood Estate

Renowned for its estate-grown Zinfandels, Haywood has a very unique and interesting history amongst the Sonoma Valley wineries.

Owner and wine grower Peter Haywood originally bought the land, planted the vines, and produced the wine from his Los Chamizal Vineyards starting in 1973.

He sold the winery and the brand in 1991, but has since (in 2008) reacquired the whole lot and is back at producing estate Zins from his own grapes.

Haywood Winery has a tasting room in Vine Alley on Sonoma Plaza (25 E. Napa Street, Suite c), and their wines are often poured at festivals (such as Zinfandel Advocates & Producers - Zap - Festival in San Francisco and VinOlivo in Sonoma).

Looking for more on Sonoma and its wineries? Try these links:

  • Sonoma County Wineries
    Sonoma wineries number over 200, they produce 13 different varietals, and they're classified under 12 renowned appellations! You don't need to know that to enjoy Sonoma's wineries, but you could use it to impress your friends. :-) 
  • Sonoma Plaza
    California's history, darling boutiques, wine tasting rooms - it's all on The Plaza!
  • Sonoma Plaza History
    Sonoma Plaza played a very important role in the process of California's statehood, and that role is reflected in the historical buildings on The Plaza.

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