Nestled along a quiet, country road west of Sebastopol and surrounded by Redwood trees, you’ll find Freeman Vineyard & Winery, known for its critically-acclaimed wines. To the left of the winery’s cellar is the Gloria Estate Vineyard and above the wine cellar doors, surrounded in stone is a small, modest sign that reads: “Freeman 9-28-85.” These two elements are part of the winery’s charm and a nod to its owners, Ken and Akiko Freeman, and their serendipitous encounter more than 30 years ago.
Jim Rickards is not your average grape grower. He takes chances, regularly tests new grape varietals in “the cradle” (his experimental plot), and works as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital when he’s not in the vineyards. His boutique winery, J. Rickards, is nothing short of a success, with award-winning wines and a loyal fan base enjoying what Rickards calls, “Darn Fine Barn Wine."
Every morning at 6:30, winemaker Laura Diaz Muñoz, begins the day with a walk through the vineyard at Ehlers Estate in St. Helena to check the vines. And the crew that tends the vineyard also works in the cellar, as needed. “There’s basically one sole crew for vineyard and cellar work. It’s very unique,” says Muñoz. So if there is one aspect of Ehlers Estate that sets it apart in the industry, it’s that the work of Muñoz and crew is reflected in each bottle of wine.
2201 Westside Road
Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
Hours: 11a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except holidays
Farming first isn’t just a platitude for Tom Gamble, the man behind Gamble Family Vineyards, located off St. Helena Highway in Napa Valley. It’s a philosophy and a way of life. A third-generation farmer, Gamble has been influenced by his ancestors since childhood. “My most lasting memory of childhood is dirt,” says Gamble.
The drive along Dry Creek Road, with its picturesque vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley, is an experience in itself. An added treat to the region is VML—a whimsical winery nestled in the valley that is both playful and amusing and feels like a different land altogether.
On a mild afternoon in the heart of Sonoma Valley, the first signs of spring are starting to show in the Wild Oak Vineyard, just outside the tasting room door at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. The hills are lush and green, and the vines are starting to bloom again. “We call it the ‘bud break’ on the vines—the birth of a new vintage,” says Katie Madigan, winemaker.
Perched on the top of a hill in the Russian River Valley, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery offers an intimate wine tasting experience. The winery opened its new tasting room last summer after seven months of renovation and construction. The salon offers indoor-outdoor seated tastings in a modern, relaxed atmosphere where you can sink into the experience, learn about the fine art of winemaking and enjoy panoramic views of the forested valley below.
At the end of a long, tree-lined driveway on Kirkland Ranch Road in Napa Valley, Roots Run Deep Winery is an oasis. Set amongst more than 300 acres of the property’s own Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, as well as the original owners cattle that graze in the distance, the tasting room and lush grounds share a rural and refined ambiance.
Gundlach Bundschu is located at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains, along the Napa-Sonoma border. Named “Rhinefarm” by its founder Jacob Gundlach, the 320-acre estate vineyard is situated on three appellations—Sonoma Valley, Carneros and Napa Valley.
Three generations, four decades and five ranches—the Trione family history runs deep in Sonoma County. Brothers Mark and Vic, with their father, Henry Trione, began vineyard development in the 1970s, farming the best varietals in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations.
Driving through the entrance of Benovia Winery on a warm autumn afternoon after the wildfires, you’d never guess this part of the country was making news around the globe 15 days earlier. The sky is wide and blue, the grapevines lush and golden, and the sweet smell of harvest lingers in the air.
Located along St. Helena Highway, Markham Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, established by Jean Laurent, an immigrant from Bordeaux, France. Laurent came to California seeking gold during the rush, but instead found his way into the winemaking business.
103 W. Napa St.
Sonoma, CA 95476
Hours: Open daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tasting fees: $20-$40
Wines currently offered: sparkling rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, red blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Cuvée blend, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot
Appointment necessary: Yes
Pets: Service dogs only.
Heibel Ranch Vineyards
1458 Lincoln Ave., #12
Calistoga, CA 94515
Hours: Open Thurs. through Mon., noon to 5 p.m.; or daily by appointment
Tasting fees: $15 per person, two different options (waived with qualified purchase)
Wines offered: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lappa’s and Captain Bubba (red blends) and Etzio (Zinfandel dessert wine)
Reservations: See hours above
La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
3575 Slusser Rd.
Windsor, CA 95492
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tasting fees: $15-$65 depending on tasting experience chosen
Wines offered: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Rosé, late harvest Gewurztraminer
Reservations: Required for VIP experiences, including vineyard tour, picnic lunches and cheese-and-wine pairings; walk-ins welcome for signature wine flights
3451 Silverado Trail North
St. Helena, CA 94574
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tasting fees: $30 for five wines
Wines offered: Changes seasonally. Summer 2016: Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Meritage and Tinto (red blends)
Picnics: Wine club members only
Ledson Winery and Vineyards
7335 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood, CA 95409
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tasting Fees: $15 to $47, depending on experience chosen.
Wines currently offered: Ledson makes 70 wines and tasting selections vary widely based on customer preferences.
Reservations: Required for private tasting and groups of six or more.
Picnics: Yes. Gourmet sandwiches and snacks available for purchase in the marketplace, no outside food please
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