Are you planning to visit California and want to know the best wineries to visit? It can be tough to narrow down your choices since there are over 3500 wineries in the state and 400 in Napa alone! Last year I made some recommendations of my favorite wineries in Napa and people loved it, so I decided to expand to Sonoma this year.
Before we get started, keep in mind that this list is intended for parties of four. Some of the smaller boutique wineries do not or cannot host large groups, so make sure to inquire before you go if you have a party larger than four.
Before you plan a winery trip, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions as this will help you decide on the right winery for your group and maximize your enjoyment!
- Who am I going with? This can make a big difference! A trip to a winery with your mother-in-law and her friends who’ve never tried anything but Moscato will be a lot different than a trip with experienced wine-lovers.
- What are we hoping to get out of the experience? Do you just want to chill out and take in some beautiful scenery? Want to learn more about the history of a winery? Discover a new favorite wine? Knowing your goals will help you make the best choices!
I’ve organized my list based on the goal you hope to achieve with your winery visit. Hopefully this will help you select the perfect winery and make for a wonderful experience!
Goal: I want a winery perfect for beginners
Recommendations: La Crema, Kendall Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, Iron Horse
Located in the gorgeous Russian River Valley, La Crema makes renowned Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, two types of wine that are very approachable for beginners. I also love this winery because of the variety of choices when it comes to tasting. From the standard signature tasting to wine and chocolate pairing and even a unique nine barrel experience that includes a private exploration of their most acclaimed wines, La Crema has something for everyone.
Almost everyone has heard of Kendall Jackson wines, which makes the Kendall Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens a great experience for newbies. With four lush acres of sensory gardens to explore, Kendall Jackson also has a full farm and aims to provide the perfect experience of pairing food with wine. If you have foodies in your group, this is the place to go!
While Iron Horse may not be as large or widely recognized as Kendall Jackson, this little winery will steal your group’s hearts. Family-owned and operated, Iron Horse makes wonderful Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and three generations of the family live and work on the grounds. If you want to learn more about sustainability and passion for winemaking, you can’t beat Iron Horse.
Goal: I want spectacular views
Recommendations: Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, Gustafson Family Vineyards, Matanzas Creek
Get ready to have your breath taken away when you visit Stonestreet Estate Vienyards in the Mayacamas mountain range! This is one of the most extensive mountain estates in the world and the peaks, valleys, and ledges are astounding. They also make some amazingly distinctive wines from their crisp Sauvignon Blanc to their powerful Cabernet Sauvignon.
At 1800 feet above sea level, Gustafson Family Vineyards has the highest estate vineyard and winery in Sonoma. They sit above the Dry Creek Valley fog, making it a lovely environment of warm summer days and cool Pacific breezes with views that will stay in your memory for a lifetime. Their bold Zinfandels and delightfully sweet Rieslings are the perfect pairing to the awe-inspiring views.
Want to wander through a beautiful lavender garden while sipping a glass of world-renowned Merlot? Then you must put Matanzas Creek on your list. Nestled in the Bennett Valley, this winery is the perfect place to explore, take in the scenery, and even settle in for a rousing game of bocce as you sip their exclusive wines.
Goal: I want to see the hidden gems
Recommendations: Lioco, Banshee, Arrowood
While Lioco may not make a huge impact at first, you’ll appreciate the nuanced, interesting Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs produced from over 200 miles of vineyards spanning three counties and the dedication of husband and wife Matt and Sara Licklider to producing noteworthy wines. Visit their charming tasting room in Healdsburg Square to sample their ever-rotating selection.
With a goal of making wines to rival the best California has to offer but at prices everyone can enjoy, Banshee promises to over-deliver in every way and certainly succeeds. Their ultra-relaxed tasting room in Healdsburg offers some of the finest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in the region with an atmosphere that’s similar to hanging out at your best friend’s house—if your best friend served tastings of top-notch wine, of course!
Located in a “warm pocket in a cool region”, the Arrowood winery produces some spectacular Cabernet Sauvignons. It’s also a wonderful winery to visit with its cozy tasting room and veranda that overlooks the valley. Make sure you check out their special events or reserve a private seated tasting in their Estate Board Room.
Goal: I want to impress my group
Recommendations: Chateau St. Jean, Kistler; Peter Michael Winery
If you aim to make an impact on your guests, make sure you stop by Chateau St. Jean and try one of their 10 90+ point wines! While sipping an exquisite Chardonnay or red blend, you can soak up the glorious atmosphere or even take a crack at their wine country escape room. Talk about impressive!
When a wine critic states that a California winery could stand up to any in France’s Burgundy region if it were magically transported there, you know they’re doing something right. Kistler Vineyards only produces single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs that are exclusively available to their mailing list members. If exclusive equals impressive for your group, this is the place to go.
Crafted by hand and limited in production, wines from the Peter Michael Winery are top-of-the-line and sure to impress even the most discerning of wine lovers. The estate is family-owned and located in the mountains, combining excellent wines with over 35 years of intriguing winemaking history.
Ready to visit Sonoma yet? If you haven’t been (or if you’re ready to go again), there really is a winery for any type of goal. I hope you enjoy my suggestions and remember to let them know I recommended a visit if you do happen to take a trip to any of these outstanding wineries.