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While Napa Valley is arguably more internationally famous, Sonoma’s wine country has really captured my heart over the many years I’ve lived in the Bay Area. Not only is it closer to San Francisco, its slightly less famous status means even the best wineries in Sonoma tend to be more relaxed and less crowded than those in its neighboring county.
With roughly 400 wineries in Sonoma, it can be hard to determine which ones to visit, especially if you’re from out of town. From wineries that can accommodate large groups easily to boutique wineries that only open up for private events to the prettiest wineries in Sonoma, there’s something for everyone.
To help you shorten the list, here are the best wineries in Sonoma to visit in my opinion. Of course, as with many things, it’s all subjective. But I do drink a lot of Sonoma County wine!
So pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine (at least until you visit these spots), and let’s go on a virtual tour of the best wineries in Sonoma County.
1. Gundlach Bundschu
Located just a quick drive from downtown Sonoma, Gundlach Bundschu is my absolute favorite winery in Sonoma.
I first visited this family-owned winery at least half a decade ago (details from wine country trips in your early 20s can be hard to remember!) I’ve been at least a dozen times since, and we always have their wine at home.
GunBun, as it’s lovingly called, is situated on a gorgeous plot of land called the Rhinefarm. My favorite time of year to visit is in the fall when the vineyard is full of gorgeous colors and the weather in Sonoma is absolute perfection.
You can drop in for a flight inside the tasting room, or you can make reservations at one of their fantastic seating options, from lakeside tables to picnic settings under the shade of giant oak trees. During the summer months, there are often concerts and even music festivals on the weekends.
GunBun is the oldest continuously family-owned winery in California. Since 1858, the family has farmed Rhinefarm (yes, even surviving through Prohibition).
And that family tradition shines through every interaction I’ve ever had at GunBun. The staff is the friendliest and most chill in Sonoma. My absolute favorite is Cat, whom we seek out whenever we go.
P.S. Not sure how to pronounce GunBun’s full name? No worries, they’ve got the cleverest way to teach you.
My favorite wines at GunBun
The Gewürztraminer, Rhinefarm Rosé, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel are my top choices for GunBun.
I know, I know, that’s a lot of favorites!
I typically drink more reds than whites, but GunBun’s whites are so good, I’ll just as easily reach for a white as I will for a red.
Even if you’re not usually a white wine person, at least try their Gewürztraminer. Only slightly sweet instead of cloyingly so, and so fragrant that even the most unsophisticated wine drinkers will pick up that this is one special wine.
To me, that Gewürztraminer is what makes GunBun one of the best white wine wineries in Sonoma.
2. Cline Family Cellars
I think I also first visited Cline about half a decade back. Like GunBun, Cline has that carefree, relaxed atmosphere that makes stopping in so wonderful. And like GunBun, Cline is also a short distance from downtown Sonoma.
As you drive into the vineyard, you’re greeted by a charming house surrounded by grassy lawns, picnic tables, rose bushes, and ponds. Groups of six people or fewer can drop in for tastings, while reservations are required larger groups.
About those picnic tables: Cline is one of the best picnic wineries in Sonoma in part because they allow you to bring in your own food. You have to make reservations and pay a small table fee, but then it’s all you. As someone who has strong opinions about the limited (and pricey) menus at some wineries that don’t allow you to bring outside food, Cline’s policies are a huge bonus!
The BYOPicnic policy and their reasonably priced bottles also make Cline one of the more affordable wineries in Sonoma.
Tastings of five wines are only $10, while private tastings and tours are $20. At many nearby wineries, it’s hard to find a good bottle of red for under $60. At Cline, there are delicious reds for $20-$30.
Fun and eco-friendly fact about Cline? They use sheep and goats as weed killers instead of herbicides. In the spring and summer, it’s always fun to drive by and see a bunch of goats and sheep chomping away.
My favorite wines at Cline
I’m a huge fan of Cline’s Ancient Vines Mourvedre and their Cashmere Black, which is a blend of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, and Grenache. Both $25!
3. Chateau St. Jean
While GunBun and Cline are fairly close to each other, you’ll have to drive further north to Kenwood to visit Chateau St. Jean. But the longer drive is absolutely worth it because Chateau St. Jean is definitely one of the most beautiful wineries in Sonoma.
As you might have deduced from its name, there’s a strong French influence on the winery. The estate has a stately, European chateau and a number of gorgeous gardens built to reflect those in southern France.
You can choose from a number of tasting options, from the basic flight in the main tasting room to more exclusive experiences in the gardens and around the estate.
Sadly, I’ve somehow lost all the photos I’ve taken there, so you’ll just have to check out their website for now. Guess we’ll have to swing by for a visit soon!
My favorite wines at Chateau St. Jean
If you enjoy Syrahs, the Durell Vineyard Syrah from Chateau St. Jean’s single vineyard collection is unparalleled!
4. Scribe Winery
I know this #4 ranking for Scribe is going to rile up some of my friends, especially since it’s the winery we probably spend the most time at. But I said what I said 😉
Scribe’s biggest highlight is the rolling knolls overlooking its vineyard. Grab one of the winery’s colorful Mexican blankets or bring your own picnic blanket, and soak up the Sonoma sun while enjoying a bottle with friends.
If you’re aiming to hit up the best Sonoma wineries with a view, Scribe has got to be on your list. You really can’t argue against the beautiful backdrop. (Honestly, we have so many photos around the house that were taken at Scribe!)
It can be hard to experience Scribe if you’re not a member or friends with a member, though. Tastings for the general public are at the winery’s Hacienda, and reservations can be hard to get.
So if you want to experience Scribe during your Sonoma winery trip, make sure to book ahead. Scribe is also right next door to GunBun, so if you plan it well, you can even visit both on the same day.
Word of note for the more traditional: Scribe definitely has a hipster vibe more than any Sonoma winery around. I have some feelings around that, but that’s a conversation to be had over a glass of wine.
My favorite wines at Scribe
Scribe’s Pinot Noir is probably the most commonly consumed wine chez nous. The only wine that contests its supremacy in our home is the Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany.
Another standout: Scribe’s Rosé of Pinot Noir, which is especially delightful on a sunny afternoon on the knolls!
5. B.R. Cohn Winery
Okay, this last choice is a little different because I’ve technically never gone there explicitly for wine tasting.
B.R. Cohn’s wines are more readily available in stores than those of the other wineries above, so I’d had their wine long before I ever stepped foot onto their estate.
Last autumn, I finally visited B.R. Cohn in person for the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival.
You see, before he started the winery, the eponymous Cohn was mostly known as the manager of the rock band The Doobie Brothers. The winery has infused that love of music into its environment, from memorabilia rooms to live music events, of which the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival is the largest.
And it’s a gorgeous space for a music festival. Rolling hills of vineyards and olive trees, plus spacious lawns and knolls for lazying around.
My favorite wines at B.R. Cohn
Their Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc is a white perfect for any sunny day or paired with a light meal.
Supporting Sonoma wine country
It’s been a tough few months for Sonoma’s wineries — indeed, a tough few years. Some are slowly starting to open back up as California’s COVID-19 reopening plan progresses forward.
Whether you’re exploring Sonoma from a stone’s throw away or you’re planning to visit in the future, keep these wineries in mind. In the meantime, you can always order their wines online directly from their websites.
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