Six Wine Country Tasting Rooms to Try
As the number of popular Napa and Sonoma wineries continues to increase, choosing where to taste can sometimes seem intimidating. This is especially true when you figure in the time it takes to drive to Wine Country and from one winery to the next, plus where to eat along the way.
To keep it simple, head to these downtown-adjacent tasting rooms to try some of the area’s best wines. Many of these hip spots stay open into the evening, so it’s easier than ever to make the most of the day.
Napa: Starmont Winery and Vineyards
A few miles south of downtown Napa, Starmont Winery and Vineyards serves as a welcome sign to the Napa Valley. The brand’s historic estate vineyards were planted in the 1880s, and became a research lab for growing pinot noir and chardonnay vines in the 1950s. The Schlatter family bought the ranch and created the Starmont brand in 1989, then finally opened the winery to the public, with a tasting room that launched last July.
Next to the wine-making facility, the tasting room boasts large glass-panel doors and a lovely mixture of barrels and modern furniture. On the outside patio, guests can relax on chic wicker couches or at small tables with vineyard views.
At the winery, guests can try limited-release wines made from the estate and nearby vineyards in Carneros. Seated wine tastings are available every day, and tours of the historic ranch are available upon request.
Drink this: The Starmont 2012 Chardonnay showcases the classic style of Carneros, with vibrant flavors of fresh citrus, grapefruit rind, Meyer lemon, and ripe apple, along with a smooth texture and bright acidity.
Cellar selection: Made with a mixture of special clones planted around the estate, the Starmont 2013 Stanly Ranch Estate Pinot Noir exudes lovely aromas that lead to deep earthy flavors of dark cherry and black plum.
Nearby pleasures: Close-by wineries include Acacia Vineyard, Adastra, Cuvaison Estate Wine, Domaine Carneros, Etude, Saintsbury, and Truchard—some of which are open only on weekends or by appointment. Stop by The Carneros Inn for lunch at the Boon Fly Café or dinner at Farm Restaurant. Starmont Winery and Vineyards, 1451 Stanly Ln., Napa, (707) 252-8001, starmontwinery.com.
Yountville: Cornerstone Cellars
Although it’s located only 20 feet away from its original site in downtown Yountville, Cornerstone Cellars’ new tasting room—with its high ceiling, colorful art, and stone countertop—has more space for guests to relax.
Once you’re seated, the knowledgeable staff offers the inside scoop on each wine on the list, from the crisp and clean Sauvignon Blanc, to the elegant flavors of a variety of newly released Pinot Noir, to the more structured Bordeaux-style wines that have garnered critical acclaim.
For an experience beyond the standard tasting, the staff offers Wine 101 for beginners, as well as packages that include food pairings, cheese pairings, and the intimate Reserve Tasting.
Drink this: With lively flavors of red berries, plum, fresh herbs, and roasted walnut, the Cornerstone 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, Black Label, pairs well with food.
Cellar selection: Made with grapes from the Ink Grade Vineyard, the Cornerstone 2011 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon has deep flavors of dark fruits and mineral, and a silky texture.
Nearby pleasures: Enjoy other tasting rooms along Washington Street, and be sure to check out V Wine Cellar in the historic V Marketplace 1870 next door, which carries an eclectic mixture of boutique and hard-to-find wines. Make reservations at Bouchon Bistro, Hurley’s, or R+D Kitchen for lunch; and Ad Hoc, Bottega, or Lucy Restaurant and Bar for dinner. Cornerstone Cellars, 6505 Washington St., Yountville, (707) 945-0388, cornerstonecellars.com.
Healdsburg: Ramey Wine Cellars
Since breaking into the wine industry in the early 1980s, Ramey Wine Cellars’ David Ramey has become one of California’s most respected winemakers, known for his world-class Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux-style blends.
After working for other wineries, Ramey started his own label with his wife, Carla. In 2007, they found a new home for their brand near the Russian River and historic Memorial Bridge on Healdsburg Avenue.
At first glance, the gray concrete building looks simple, but inside is a fully operational wine-making facility that features high-tech equipment and barrels holding the future releases of Ramey wines.
Over a 90-minute course, the staff explains the special characteristics and processes of each wine poured, including how the expressive Chardonnays get their creamy texture from sur lie aging, and why the finished wine is fined but not filtered.
Drink this: The winemaker’s touch is highlighted in the Ramey 2013 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Expect a quilt of flavors marked with notes of pear, lemon custard, and vanilla, with a warm mouthfeel and mineral bite at the finish.
Cellar selection: Although the full lineup of Ramey’s classy red wines is great to save for the cellar, don’t miss the Ramey 2013 Chardonnay, Platt Vineyard, a deep, rich, and complex single-vineyard wine.
Nearby pleasures: Davis Family Vineyards, Holdredge Wines, and Pezzi King Vineyards have tasting rooms around the corner; and Healdsburg Plaza is less than a mile away. There, you can find food options ranging from the casual Baci Cafe and Wine Bar, Bear Republic Brewing Co., and Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar; to the more formal Dry Creek Kitchen, Scopa, and Valette. Ramey Wine Cellars, 25 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, (707) 433-0870, rameywine.com.
Sonoma: Corner 103
Located in the wonderfully reconditioned old Feed Store building, across the street from historic Sonoma Plaza, the Corner 103 tasting room is within a few blocks of Della Santina’s, The Girl and the Fig, Oso, and other fine restaurants. With this in mind, proprietor Lloyd Davis developed his tasting room program to showcase new wine releases paired with bites made from seasonal ingredients.
The tasting room, open since last April, features daily tasting flights of limited-production wines, showcasing the flavors of seven different Sonoma County appellations.
The Corner 103 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, has lovely flavors of apple, pear, and citrus; and the spicy Corner 103 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, has notes of ripe berries and black pepper. More robust-style wines, such as the Corner 103 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley—which has layers of ripe blue and red fruits, a smooth texture, and chewy tannins—are also featured at the tasting room.
“Our goal is to create a comfortable atmosphere that is fun, engaging, and not intimidating—a place where people will learn more about the wines of Sonoma County, no matter how much experience they have before they visit Corner 103,” says Davis.
Drink this: Prime the palate with a taste of the Corner 103 NV Carneros Sparkling Rosé, an elegant blend of grapes that offers balanced aromas and fresh flavors of rose petals, plum, cherry, raspberry, and sage, and a lively mouthfeel.
Cellar selection: From Northern Sonoma County’s Rockpile appellation, the Corner 103 2012 Petit Verdot offers generous flavors of boysenberry, huckleberry, and licorice, and layers of spice.
Nearby pleasures: Sonoma Plaza offers an expansive park around city hall, retail shops, and restaurants. Try El Dorado Kitchen for lunch, and Harvest Moon Cafe or LaSalette Restaurant for dinner. Other highlights include Vella Cheese Company on Second Street East and the new Williams-Sonoma located in the spot where the brand was born in 1956. Corner 103, 103 W. Napa St., Sonoma, (707) 931-6141, corner103.com.
Santa Rosa: Ancient Oak Cellars
Ancient Oak Cellars opened the first downtown Santa Rosa tasting room on Fourth Street in 2012, but last year, owners Ken and Melissa Moholt-Siebert jumped on the opportunity to purchase a deli down the street to serve food with their wines in an outdoor setting. The new site offers wines by the glass and tasting flights, plus sandwiches, salads, and soups during the day, and bistro-style cuisine at night.
“We want our wines to be consumed and enjoyed,” says Melissa. “That’s why we love being a destination where people come to eat as well.”
In keeping with the winery’s mantra, “Real People, Real Dirt, Real Wine,” the deli’s menu highlights local purveyors. These include Imwalle Gardens produce; Zoe’s Meats; Redwood Hill Farm, Joe Matos Cheese Factory, and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses; and chef Conrad Griese’s organic sourdough bread, which he bakes at home and crisps on-site.
In addition to showcasing flavorful Ancient Oak wines, the wine list offers tastes from other local boutique wineries. Guests looking for something other than wine can enjoy a wide selection of local brews, including Nana Mae’s Organics cider, Revive Kombucha drinks, Heidrun Meadery mead, and Devoto Orchards hard cider.
Drink this: With vibrant notes of dark cherry, earth, and spice, the Ancient Oak 2012 Pinot Noir, Siebert Ranch, is an ideal wine to pair with the magic forest sandwich made with sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, Brie, and sourdough grilled on the panini press.
Cellar selection: If you are a fan of robust red wines, don’t miss the Ancient Oak 2011 Sappho Red, Berger Vineyard, a dazzling reserve blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, with deep flavors of raspberry, cherry, and mineral.
Nearby pleasures: The tasting room and deli are only a block away from Russian River Brewing Co.’s popular pub, and are also within walking distance of the retail shops around historic Railroad Square. Ancient Oak Cellars, 621 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, (707) 536-1546, ancientoakcellars.com.
Sebastopol: MacPhail Tasting Lounge
Sebastopol is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, which is bringing out world-class wines and hip cuisine. The axis of this movement is The Barlow, a renovated apple-drying facility that is home to nearly 40 businesses, including art galleries, clothing shops, a distillery, and artisanal wineries.
One of the notable winemakers in residence is talented Pinot Noir specialist James MacPhail, who showcases his small-lot wines at the MacPhail Tasting Lounge on McKinley Street.
Built with garage-style sliding glass doors, aluminum walls, and accents of locally milled wood on the interior, the lounge is colorful and inviting. Outside, the patio features stylish tables and comfy Adirondack chairs.
Tasting flights of current releases and more complex vineyard-designate wines are available. But the real showstopper is the Terroir Tasting, which includes samples of the limited-release wines made with fruit grown from vineyards in Anderson Valley, Green Valley, the Russian River Valley, and the Sonoma Coast.
Drink this: In the Single Vineyard flight, closely pay attention to the MacPhail 2012 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, Green Valley. With lofty aromas and complex flavors of wild berries, plum, and dark cherry—and a burst of bright acidity on the finish—this vibrant wine is crafted to please every part of the palate.
Cellar selection: From the special Petaluma Gap region south of Sebastopol, the new release of the MacPhail 2012 Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir features flavors of blueberry, strawberry, plum, cocoa, wild herbs, and savory spices.
Nearby pleasures: Also at The Barlow, taste regional wines made by La Follette Wines, Marimar Estate, and Wind Gap wineries; fresh beer at Woodfour Brewing Company; and liquor at Spirit Works Distillery. For bites, snag a pastry at Village Bakery, a Neapolitan-inspired pie from Vignette Pizzeria, or farm-to-table food at
the award-winning Zazu Kitchen and Farm. MacPhail Tasting Lounge, 6761 McKinley St., Sebastopol, (707) 824-8400, macphailwine.com.