Sipping wine in Sonoma County, California

No question about it–a long weekend in northern California’s Sonoma County calls for scouting vineyards and tasting vino.  Follow the Russian River from Cloverdale to Healdsburg to tour one of the premier grape-growing regions in the world.  Less commercial and crowded than Napa, this is one of the most picturesque regions in California.  Framed by forests of towering redwoods and vineyard-studded hills and valleys, you can take relaxing yet lovely road trip on uncrowded country roads to many area wineries.

For a truly al fresco experience and time to appreciate the scenery at a slower, “Stop and smell the Zinfandel pace,” consider a bike tour.  Choose your own route or sign up with a local outfitter. Excursions range from one day Sip and Cycle tours to premier 6-day vacations covering multiple valleys and activities. Whether you travel on four wheels or two, the temperate California climate is just right for enjoying the landscape and exploring local wineries.

Stryker Sonoma Winery

Located in the heart of Alexander Valley, Stryker is less than five miles from Healdsburg.  An observation deck allows guests to see harvest in progress.  Passion and talent have led winemakers to produce bold tasting, handcrafted wines.

Hannah Winery

With vineyards in Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley, Hannah uses only its own grapes—allowing control over every aspect of the process and resulting in numerous award-winning varieties.

Passalacqua Winery

Owner Jason Passalacqua, great-grandson of an immigrant winemaker, is reviving traditions.  Family owned and operated for four generations, this winery in the historic Dry Creek Valley returned to its heritage with its first crush in fall, 2004.

Bella Winery and Caves

Wine storage is underground at Bella Vineyards in central Dry Creek Valley.  Man-made caves provide stable humidity levels, resulting in a slower fermentation process and less evaporation.  Surrounded by 200-year-old olive trees, the caves include a dining room for tastings and entertaining and a vineyard with 85-year-old vines growing directly over the caves.

Mauritson Winery

After providing grapes to many top wineries for 130 years, the family produced its own first vintage in 1998.  Believing exceptional fruit makes exceptional wine, Clay Mauritson, a sixth generation grape grower, has produced outstanding Zinfandels and Sauvignon Blanc.

More than 200 wineries dot this quintessential wine region, some just small family plots and others part of large corporations.  If you enjoy celebrations, time your visit for one of the special events scheduled throughout the year, such as Chardonnay Lovers weekend in May, Happy Zin-depencence Day in July, and Marvelous Merlot in November.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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