I visited Sonoma, California with several friends around the end of August and the weather was amazing! It was 60 and foggy in the morning, and 70’s and sunny around noon. We rented an AirBNB located in downtown Sonoma and walked downtown each evening. Although we sampled wine from ten different wineries, I would recommend that everyone who visits Sonoma should visit at lease one of these three:
Benzinger by far offered the coolest tour which was complemented by some of the best wine, but the price was hefty. They charged $20 for a tasting or $50 for a tour + private tasting (subject to a 20% discount for booking online). We purchased tickets for the top tour/ tasting and here is what we got:
This artsy shot was taken before our first tasting of a white wine in the vineyard.
The vineyard was located on the side of an old volcano so some parts were steep. The most profitable grapes are located to my left; they grow on obsidian rock. The pond near the shed is part of the vineyard’s BioDynamic feature of the vineyard which is a certification more stringent than Organic. This pond recycles grey water. If you’re into sustainable growing, this vineyard tour is calling your name.
The tour brought us up close and personal with the vines/grapes.
We received a tasting of an upcoming vintage of Tribute in the “caves.” I think the term caves is misleading because they are completely man-made, but there were still awesome. It smelled like a sweet, fermenting wine in the caves.
Finally, our tour concluded with a private tasting of Benzinger estate wines, the best that the vineyard has to offer. Will gave us tasting notes and helped us explore the wine.
The tasting menu. The 2013 Tribute (bottom) won a gold medal at the California State Fair. Tribute and the Pino Noir were my favorites.
Overall, we spent almost 2 hours at the vineyard and thought the steep price tag on the tour/tasting was worth it.
My second favorite winery was the Deerfield Ranch Winery because of its close proximity to Sonoma, cool “caves,” and above average wine. Tastings were $15 and you could pay an extra $5 to try a tasting of an old (library) wine. Of course, we had to try the old wine. We each ordered different ones so that we could taste the difference.
Upon arriving, you are greeted by a massive barn and intimidating steel fermentation canisters.
Although the winery sources a large number of its grapes from independent vineyards, some grapes are grown on the property.
Next to the steel canisters is the entrance to the “caves.” You can see the map of the caves in the entrance–they were shaped like a very large wine glass.
In the middle of the wine-glass shaped cave is a tasting room. You pick your own seat.
This is the tasting menu. The $15 tasting comes with the top 5 wines and you can pay an extra $5 to taste one of the bottom wines. I ordered the 1999 and a friend ordered the 2006. Both were very different experiences and we’re glad that we tried both, but I think the 2006 was much better. You could actually taste fairly distinct fruity flavors. The 1999 was so smooth that it did not have much flavor left. This was my first opportunity to try a wine that is 17 years old.
Overall, this winery is worth the trip if you are staying in Sonoma.
Now I may be biased because KJ makes my favorite chardonnay, but KJ made the list at number three. Of the three wineries, it is the furthest from Sonoma at a 45 minute drive but the chardonnays are really good. The building and ground are pretty cool too. You can opt for the $10 or the $20 tasting.
The building is located in the middle of a HUGE vineyard and the drive up to the estate is pretty epic.
There’s even a gazebo where you can drink wine. Who doesn’t like gazebos?
The interior includes two stories with a highly recommended wine-food pairing and a gift shop. We were too late for the wine-food pairing but we would have opted for that if possible.
The reserve tasting is $10 and the estate tasting is $20. KJ’s reserve wines are delicious so the extra $10 may not be worth it to everyone, but I already tried many of the reserve wines before the trip. The estate chardonnays were amazing as well. I was surprised at how few of our tours included chardonnays, but KJ knocks the chardonnay out of the park.
Sonoma exceeded my expectations. The weather was amazing, everyone was friendly and relaxed, and the wine was delicious. I’m interested to see how Sonoma compares to its more-commercialized neighbor, Napa Valley, California.