Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Plaza in downtown Sonoma

Sonoma Plaza in downtown Sonoma

The Sonoma Valley area stretches from the city of Sonoma at the south end, and then grows northward along the Sonoma Highway (Highway 12) on its way to Santa Rosa.  This wine country includes some very old wineries, and some excellent dining options.

Favorite Tasting Rooms in Sonoma Valley

Benziger Family Winery – Strong family values help drive this friendly wine producer that is certified Organic and Biodynamic.  Their commitment to Green Farming is beyond reproach.  Benziger produces a variety of wines ranging from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Noir and Bordeaux blends. We love their Pinot Noirs (particularly the “Terra Nuema”) and their Bordeaux blend “Tribute”.  1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen (888) 490-2739

Gundlach Bundschu (affectionately called “Gun Bun”) – Family business with six generations of history under their belt on this estate vineyard focusing on making small lots of ultra-premium wines. Gun Bun employs sustainable farming practices in farming all 320 acres of the estate Rhinefarm Vineayrd, which was established in 1858. Friendly, casual, thoroughly enjoyable place where you can hopefully try their Gewürztraminer, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, and Vintage Reserve.  2000 Denmark Street, Sonoma (707) 938-5277

Hawkes Wine – Very close to the Plaza is this quaint farmhouse-style tasting room for a winery that is actually based in Healdsburg.  The Hawkes family has been growing grapes in the Alexander Valley for forty years and currently farms over 85 acres.  Friendly service and an excellent Home Chardonnay can be found here.  383 West First Street, Sonoma  (707) 938-7620

Imagery Estate Winery – In a fusion of wine and art, these wines are bottled with one-of-a-kind artwork on labels from international artists. Founded by Joe Benziger of Benziger Family Winery, this winery really encourages visitors to experiment and broaden their palates. Beyond the labels you will find well-made wines from less-common varietals such as Cinsault, Lagrein, Tannat and Teroldego.  The grapes are sustainably farmed and the tasting room houses an onsite gallery featuring their unique art collection.  14335 Highway 12, Glen Ellen  (877) 550-4278

Kivelstadt Cellars – Founder and Head Winemaker Jordan Kivelstadt made his first wine in 2007 (Syrah made from grapes grown in the family’s vineyard) and production has grown since then to over 3000 cases annually.  In an effort to meld his winemaking experiences in the new world and his passion for European cuisine, Jordan creates wines which have an old world balance. The tasting room features art by Matthew Carlson (whose artwork is also used for the wine labels) and Kivelstadt frequently hosts events showcasing artists including live performers.  Our favorite wines here are the Sauvignon Blanc (called “Family Secret”), the Rosé of Mourvèdre (“Twice Removed”) and the Syrah (“The Inheritance”).  If you live in the area, you may want to check out their refillable growler program.   13750 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen  (707) 938-7001

Sojourn Cellars –Sojourn offers boutique artisan wines, in a quant tasting room just off of Sonoma Plaza, that are well worth the effort of making a reservation (which you can even do online).  The winery was founded by Craig Haserot, Ellen Haserot, and winemaker Erich Bradley back in 2001 and they have received many acclaims for their wines since then, particularly their Pinot Noirs.  Sojourn sources fruit from celebrated vineyards in both Sonoma and Napa counties and uses minimalist winemaking practices to showcase the character and personality of each vineyard. Our personal favorites here have been the Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, Rodgers Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, Riddle Vineyard Pinot Noir and Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir.  141 East Napa Street, Sonoma  (707) 938-7212  [reservation required]

Talisman Wines – Scott and Marta Rich may have started the winery over 20 years ago but their focus remains on small production Pinot Noirs, individually crafted to be true to their roots and reflect their places of origin.  The cozy tasting room, which is in the heart of Glen Ellen, is filled with comfortable furnishings and features artwork from local artists on a rotating basis.  Reservations are strongly encouraged but not required.  We’ve been fans for years and our favorite Pinot Noirs are usually the ones from the Adastra, Huckleberry, Red Dog and Weir Vineyards.  13651 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen  (707) 721-1628

Three Sticks Wines – If you’re looking for a unique tasting environment check out Three Sticks Wines, specializing in small-lot artisanal wines.  “Three Sticks” refers to the three Roman numerals that follow Founder and Principal Bill Price’s name (III) and he also owns Durell, Gap’s Crown and Walala vineyards.  Whether you select a four-wine Current Release Tasting, a seven-wine Current Release and Library Tasting, or the Food and Wine Tasting of five combinations, you’ll enjoy them all in the beautifully restored and re-landscaped Vallejo-Castañeda Adobe (originally built in 1842 and one of the town’s few remaining buildings from California’s Mexican Period).  Our favorite wines here in the past have been a Castañeda white wine blend, a Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir and a Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir.  143 West Spain Street, Sonoma  (707) 996-3328, x1 [reservation required]

Favorite Food Stops in Sonoma Valley

Cafe La Haye – Phenomenal farm-fresh California cuisine just off of Sonoma Plaza with gracious, welcoming service.  The place is pretty small, so make sure to make reservations, and you should seriously consider whatever the day’s specials are. Past favorites have included Barbecued Oysters with Chorizo Aioli, Risotto with Broccolini and Meyer Lemon, Lavender-Crusted Filet Mignon and Butterscotch Pudding.  140 Napa Street East, Sonoma (707) 935-5994   

Cochon Volant BBQ Smoke House – Fans of Chef Rob Larman’s food truck were thrilled when he obtained this storefront on Highway 12 in the Boyes Hot Springs area.  This is a great place to stop for casual (and excellent) BBQ, and you can purchase rubs and/or BBQ sauce to take home afterwards.  In addition to the typical grilled options (Ribs, Pork Shoulder, Brisket, Sausage) you’ll also find a Burger, Fried Chicken, and/or an Achiote Catfish Sandwich.  No reservations are needed but they are only open Friday – Sunday.  18350 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma  (707) 509-5480

El Dorado Kitchen – Classy, spacious wine country restaurant preparing wonderful food that showcases seasonal produce.  You have your choice of a stone courtyard for outside dining, an intimate inside dining area, or a relaxing bar lounge with a fireplace.  Popular dishes here include Chopped Salad, Mushroom Flatbread, Chipotle Braised Chicken Tostada, King Salmon as well as Parmesan Truffle Fries.  If you want the house EDK Burger, you’ll need to come at lunch or order in the bar during the evening – it’s not on the dinner menu.  405 First Street West, Sonoma (707) 996-3030

El Molino Central – Hole-in-the-wall find with authentic Mexican street food right on the Highway 12.  In the mornings, your choices are Chilaquiles or Enfrijoladas, but after 11 am there is a full range of choices including enchiladas and tamales.  The seating options have increased over the years, but this is also a great stop for to-go orders. We recommend the Guacamole, Pastor Pork or Beef Brisket Tacos, Mole Poblano Chicken Enchiladas or the Roasted Butternut Squash Enchiladas.  11 Central Avenue (at Highway 12), Boyes Hot Springs  (707) 939-1010

Girl and the Fig – Founded by Chef Sondra Bernstein almost 20 years ago, this restaurant offers French country food, excellently prepared, in an eclectic and fun environment. They also have an award-winning Rhône-Alone wine list.  Menu items include Heirloom Radishes with Anchovy Butter and Grey Sea Salt, Grass-Fed Steak Tartare, Smoked Trout Salad, Quiche Lorraine, Wild Flounder Meunière and Duck Confit.  If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Girl and the Fig also has a food product line.  110 Spain Street West, Sonoma (707) 938-3634.  

Harvest Moon Café – This lovely New American restaurant on Sonoma Plaza is well respected for its daily-changing menu based on locally sourced ingredients so you’re never really sure what will be on the menu (but it’s bound to be wonderful).  Owners Nick and Jen Demarest (he’s the Executive Chef, she’s the Pastry Chef) have also embraced the philosophy that the produce, meat, poultry and fish they use come from farms, ranches and fisheries guided by the principles of sustainability.  Past dishes have included Roasted Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese Soup, Mixed Chicory Salad, Risotto with Chanterelles and Arugula Rabe, Cornmeal-Crusted Petrale Sole, Petite Top Sirloin Steak au Poivre and Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Blood Orange Caramel.  487 First Street West, Sonoma  (707) 933-8160  [reservation recommended]

La Casa Restaurant & Bar – This casual and comfortable Mexican Restaurant has well-made food (and an excellent Happy Hour) and has been family owned and operated since the day it opened back in 1967 (it’s currently run by the Sherpa brothers).  When the weather is nice, they also have a charming patio.   The usual suspects are here: Guacamole, Salads, Tacos, Enchiladas, Burritos, and Fajitas made with Steak, Chicken and/or Tiger Prawns.  The Happy Hour is between 4 pm and 6 pm Mon-Fri, and offers $5 Margaritas and Well Drinks, $2.50 Sliders, $3 Tacos and $5 “Really Good Nachos.”  121 East Spain Street, Sonoma  (707) 996-3406

LaSalette – Led by Chef Manuel Acevedo, this “Cozinha Nova Portuguesa” restaurant (“New Portuguese Cuisine”) combines the core traditional flavors of Portuguese food with excellent local ingredients to create stellar dishes, just as it has since 1998.  Examples include Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup, Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Ball and Candied Walnuts, Cod Cakes with Olive Oil Mayonnaise and Preserved Meyer Lemon, and a phenomenal Caldo Verde.  Don’t miss the LaSalette Rolls, yeast rolls made with a spice blend of Paprika, Cumin, Cinnamon, Allspice, Cloves and Nutmeg.  After a recent remodel, LaSalette now only serves dinner Tues – Sat with a 3 or 5 course tasting menu.   At the end of the night, you can take memories home by purchasing Chef Acevedo’s LaSalette Cookbook.  452 First Street East, Suite H, Sonoma  (707) 938-1927 

Mamma Tanino’s Ristorante – Excellent Italian food (including homemade pasta) in a casual, friendly neighborhood destination.  Pay no attention to the fact it’s in a strip mall, just enjoy the great food and lovely service.  You’ll find well-made classic dishes here:  Caesar Salad, Pear and Arugula Salad, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Linguine Vongole, Fettuccine Contadina and Pappardelle Bolognese.  500 Napa Street West, Suite 512, Sonoma (707) 933-8826

Oso Sonoma – This casual and relaxing tavern, directly across the street from Sonoma Plaza, offers drinks and locally sourced small plates, including a raw bar, from Chef David Bush. Favorite dishes have included Grilled Bread (with Burrata, Broccolini and Romesco Sauce), Little Gem Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Miso-Glazed Squash, and an Achiote Chicken Sandwich.  Oso also has a Happy Hour from 5 pm to 6:30 pm Mon-Thur, offering $5 Beers, $6 Wines, $7 Sangria, $2 Deviled Eggs, a $6 Hummus Plate and fresh Oysters for $2.50 each.  9 East Napa Street, Sonoma  (707) 931-6926 

 

OTHER LINKS

Heart of Sonoma Valley Winery Association

Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau 

Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers

Cafe La Haye on UrbanspoonEl Dorado Kitchen on UrbanspoonEl Molino Central on UrbanspoonGirl & the Fig on Urbanspoon
Hot Box Grill on UrbanspoonMamma Tanino's Ristorante on Urbanspoon


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  1. Pingback: Wine Tasting Ideas from Downtown Sonoma | Two Guys From Napa

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