48 hours in Sonoma County, California
California (wine country), here we come! Everyone on the planet's heard of Napa Valley, but fewer recognise the riches awaiting them in Sonoma County – which, coincidentally, is far larger in terms of production than the more famous Napa. Sonoma County is best-known for chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir – although merlot and zinfandel put up a pretty good fight.
Steeped in the history of eras such as the American Civil War and Prohibition, and planted with grapes as early as 1812, Sonoma County itself comprises a whopping 17 smaller American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including the world-renowned Russian River Valley. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on three of Sonoma County’s largest AVAs: Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley.
Fly into San Francisco, rent a car, and drive the two hours north to Sonoma County. We’ll start our first day in Sonoma Valley, the southernmost sub-AVA.
Day 1: Sonorous Sonoma Valley
Onto the vino! Sonoma Valley's interesting; for the most part, it's all warm weather and sunshine — but down at its southern end is Carneros, a cooler pocket known for pinot noir and chardonnay. In general, though, you can expect serious bangers from Sonoma Valley in the form of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and California's signature zinfandel.
A few wineries in this area have been around since the mid-1800s, and one of them is first on our tasting list: Gundlach Bundschu — aka Gun Bun — which provides a pretty excellent overview of the possibilities of Sonoma Valley, in the form of stellar cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab franc, zinfandel, tempranillo, gewürztraminer, and chardonnay. Check their seasonal hours; reservations recommended year-round.
From Gun Bun, slide over to the super-slick Scribe, who have the wine chops to match their cool kid vibe. Here's where you can sip on 'terroir-driven' beauties such as pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and a few pétillant-naturels. For tastings, make a reservation. It’s worth it.
After Scribe, see what the deal is with Carneros chardonnay and pinot noir at Cuvaison. They’re open daily by appointment.
Although it's not on the itinerary, a quick note on Sonoma Coast: it’s home to Kutch Wines, who produce some of the best chardonnay and pinot noir in the whole of Sonoma County. Tastings aren’t readily available — but luckily, you can grab yourself a few bottles right here at the 'fo, if you're quick.
Sonoma Valley’s swimming in dinner options, so here are a few that might tickle your fancy. Reservations required at all three.
The girl & the fig: Vive la France! Rustic French fare and a lengthy wine list.
LaSalette: Acclaimed Portuguese dishes and a wine list focusing on both Portugal and local California.
El Molino Central: Authentic Mexican food that changes seasonally. Olé.
Day 2: No rushin' in the Russian River Valley
It's day two in Sonoma County, and it's time to fill your belly before you head off to the Russian River Valley. Choose the Spinster Sisters for more inventive fare or Mac’s Deli for some hearty traditional options.
Wine tasting and lunch
After brekky, jump in your car and drive half an hour to the Russian River Valley — perhaps the most famous Californian appellation after Napa. Far cooler and foggier than pretty much everywhere else in the Golden State, the Russian River Valley produces absolutely world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, with some zinfandel plantings in the slightly warmer northern vineyards.
As far as wineries go, we recommend these bad boys:
Rochioli: Chardonnay, pinot noir, and some cheeky sauvignon blanc. Third generation, stunning outlook. Tastings by appointment.
Merry Edwards: The same offerings as above, but who’s counting? Acquired by Louis Roederer in 2019, and for good reason.
After finishing up at Merry Edwards, head 20 minutes north and grab some lunch at farm-to-table locale boon eat + drink. Then, it’s time to book it to Alexander Valley.
A quick meander to Alexander Valley
One of the most densely planted sub-AVAs of Sonoma County, Alexander Valley is hot, hot, hot — which results in bold, rich, warm red wines and juicy, ripe whites. You’ll want to stop at Sutro, where you can make an appointment to taste their small-lot cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and sauvignon blanc as part of a ‘nature walk and tasting’.
And finally, visit the legendary Francis Ford Coppola Winery for a tasting experience replete with Godfather and Apocalypse Now memorabilia. Seriously: it’s a trip, and it’s also got absolutely stunning grounds.
The last stop on your Sonoma County journey? Dinner at Catelli's in Geyserville, the heart of Alexander Valley. Known for exceptional Italian fare, the restaurant also offers a wine list that features Marietta Cellars, a must-try family-owned winery that doesn’t have a cellar door — but handily, does feature on the 'fo.
Taste Sonoma County from your Aussie couch
Not everyone has the time to flit up the US West Coast for a week or two, and taste their way through the myriad wineries and all their unique offerings. We've saved you the trouble.
You must be thirsty for some American wine about now. Lucky we shipped over the best we could find, direct from the makers, just for you.
Or maybe you're thirsty for more US wine info. We have that for you, too.