The Splendid Sonoma Valley

What to do when your older sibling gets all of the attention? STEP UP and be just as fabulous yourself, but in totally different ways. Meet Sonoma Valley. I have only recently started to dig into this next door neighbor to the (in)famous Napa Valley, but it really is something special.

This is not to say that Napa isn’t wonderful in its own right – and I love the underdog story that put it on the map! Watch Bottleshock if you have no idea what I am talking about. But, with this fame comes a lot of crowds, high prices and people who are VERY serious about wine. That’s not to say that you can’t find some really special spots (see my post on the Napa Valley), but it’s about time that I give Sonoma the props that it really deserves.

Everyone has their own preferences on wine (and wine tasting), but I have really come to know and love Sonoma as the laid-back, less crowded and more unique sibling to Napa. Plus, while I enjoy a good Napa Cab, that’s not all I want to drink so I appreciate the variety that Sonoma has to offer.

Pro tip: Before my most recent trip, I just walked into wineries and did their standard standing tasting, but in Sonoma, a lot of the best spots are smaller and as a result, by appointment only. This means that you’re forced to pre-arrange a tasting. I was annoyed by this at first, but it’s now the only way I will wine taste. It’s so incredible to have the peace of mind that the winery won’t be too crowded for you, have a space to yourself and have someone who is there to answer all of your questions – without feeling rushed or cramped. Beyond seated tastings, wineries will also have tours of their property and other special experiences available – definitely consider these! They really bring to life the wine and the winery in a whole new light.

So, without further adieu I am sharing some of my favorites in the Sonoma Valley – and I will add to this list as I discover more gems that I believe to be something truly special.

Note if you’re looking for Healdsburg recommendations, that’s going to be a separate blog post coming soon!

Wine

B.R. Cohn

I am never sure what to expect with celebrity-affiliated wineries. But, this winery, owned by the manager of the Doobie Brothers, is spectacular! The property in the Sonoma Valley is beyond gorgeous, has plenty of places to make yourself feel at home while listening to live music, wine tasting and even olive oil tasting.

Hamel Family Wines

If I were a millionaire, this is the winery that I would create. The property is stunning, the buildings are immaculate, modern and gorgeous, the wine is fabulous and they do not miss a detail. This place is by appointment only (unless you’re a wine club member) and their tour is totally worth it. You’ll get a 1:1 tour of their facilities (including their cave!), learn about their biodynamic practices, get a private seated tasting (with a view) and a enjoy a yummy cheese snack. They have a fairly limited wine list, but what they produce is truly the best.

Muscardini Cellars

This is a tasting room (not a vineyard) so you won’t have the gorgeous views, but you will have incredible wine – especially Italian varietals like Sangiovese.

Pro tip: Whenever you’re wine tasting, “revisit” is the magic buzz word that allows you to try something that you’ve already had again (for free). Sometimes you just want a little more wine. Other times, you want to make sure you love something before you buy a bottle. Either way, trust me that it’s one word that you NEED to memorize and use while you’re wine tasting!

But…

Just as important as the places I love, are the places that I have had mixed experiences at…or can’t remember after a long day of wine tasting. Oopsie! Here are some of those spots, though of course this is just my opinion:

  • Benziger – While it is a stunning property and is also biodynamic (read up on this – it’s amazing!), the wines just fell short for me the two different times that I have been there.
  • Cline Cellars – Another gorgeous property, but the wines missed the mark for me when I was there a while back.
  • Deerfield Ranch – It’s SUPER cool that they do their tasting in a wine cave! This was one of the last stops on a bachelorette wine tasting weekend though, so I can’t really say if the wine was good or not. This one definitely needs a “revisit” in my book!

Food

El Molino Central

If you love Mexican food, look no further than this place. They make their masa daily and then use it to make the fresh, insanely yummy corn tortillas (and tortilla chips) to go with their dishes. I am a sucker for a good mole and they definitely have it here! It really feels like you’ve been transported to a small, causal and local Mexican cantina which I loved.

Accommodations

Kenwood Inn & Spa

This place is such a gem! It really feels like you’ve been transported to a Tuscan villa for the weekend and every detail is so thoughtful. Plus, there’s so much that comes included in your stay like fresh baked cookies, a nightly wine and cheese hour and a full breakfast in the morning. I know I am a loyal Marriott gal, but this hotel really made me question things!

Airbnb

Probably the most popular way to stay the night up in this area – especially if you have a larger group! Definitely book early and keep an eye on the night minimums if you’re looking to do a quick weekend getaway.

Have you been wine tasting in the Sonoma Valley? I’d love to hear your favorite spots!

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