Exploring Sonoma County California Wine Country

by Brian on October 16, 2013

in Guides, Tips

Yoakim Bridge Winery outside Healdsburg, California

I recently spent three perfect days exploring Sonoma County in California’s northern wine country. Last September, I wrote a TripBadger post about my visit to neighboring Napa County. For this trip, we rented a small 1940s bungalow on the Russian River right outside the quaint town of Healdsburg. We found the house through VRBO.com. From our home base in Healdsburg, we crafted an itinerary with stops at family-owned wineries throughout the various wine growing valleys in Sonoma County. This was a perfect time to visit with the fall crush underway. Here are a few highlights from the trip.

Yoakim Bridge Winery

This winery, located close to Healdsburg in the Dry Creek Valley, specializes in Zinfandel and Merlot varietals. We had a tasting led by the husband and wife owners of the vineyard. The wife, Virginia, was very friendly and we really enjoyed her. She walked us through a sampling of Yoakim’s wines and shared the story of their winemaking business. We loved the 2011 Zinfandel and took a few bottles home with us. As a nice personal touch, Virginia followed up with an email two days after our visit to thank us for coming and purchasing their wine. I highly recommend a visit. The tasting fee is $5 per person and it is waived with any purchase of wine.

(7399 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; (707) 433-8511; www.yoakimbridge.com)

Silver Oak Winery

Great Cabernet Sauvignon at Silver Oak

Silver Oak is well known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, which it has been producing for over 40 years from its vineyards in Napa and the Alexander Valley (in Sonoma County). We visited the Alexander Valley vineyard. The tasting room is housed in a French country estate-style building with a large outdoor courtyard where you can enjoy a glass or bottle of wine after the tasting. We sampled several of Silver Oak’s current release Cabernets. The tasting fee is $10 per person and it is applied as a credit toward the purchase of any wine. There is also an option to taste Silver Oak’s library reserve collection for $20 per person. The staff in the tasting room were very friendly. We purchased three bottles to bring home and one to share in courtyard. Silver Oak is definitely worth a stop.

(24625 Chianti Road, Geyersville, CA; (707) 942-7082; www.silveroak.com)

Rodney Strong Vineyards

Rodney Strong is one of the larger family-owned vineyard operations around Healdsburg. One of my friends on the trip had previously met a Rodney Strong winemaker, Justin, at an event earlier this year in Chicago and he set us up with a private tour of the winemaking operation. Our visit began with a sampling of Chardonnay in tasting room. Then Justin took us on a tour to see the entire winemaking process from grapes in crates to tasting in the glass. Highlights included tasting Malbec directly from the aging barrel and a visit to the bottling warehouse room where over 300,000 cases of wine are stored. The tour concluded back in the tasting room, where we sampled several of Rodney Strong’s single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. We purchased a few bottles of these special reserve wines to take home. While the size of the Rodney Strong facility may be intimidating at first, don’t be scared off because it is still family owned and it shows! Check out my friend’s Yelp review of our visit to Rodney Strong here.  The tasting fee is $10 and it is waived with the purchase of wine.

(11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, CA; (707) 431-1533; www.rodneystrong.com)

Touring the Rodney Strong winemaking process; tasting Malbec directly from the aging barrel

Other Recommended Vineyards

Lunch at the Dry Creek General Store

While exploring wine country around Healdsburg, be sure to stop for lunch at the Dry Creek General Store. While it looks a bit rustic on the outside, inside is an amazing small gourmet grocery and sandwich shop. I had Prosciutto di Parma, fresh buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, and oregano on a sourdough role. The reuben sandwich with pastrami, gruyere cheese, Alexander Valley sauerkraut, mustard or 1000 Island dressing on light or dark rye is also highly recommended. Delicious!

(3495 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; (707) 433-4171; www.drycreekgeneralstore1881.com)

I highly recommend stopping for lunch at the Dry Creek General Store

Dinner at Campo Fina

Healdsburg has a great downtown with a Spanish-style plaza and main street lined with numerous gourmet dining and specialty shopping options. The restaurant choices range from famed-chef Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen to several seafood and Italian establishments. We chose Campo Fina for dinner one night based on its high Yelp rating. The restaurant serves reasonably priced Italian food and brick oven pizzas. Campo Fina is located in a narrow, former barbershop (the old signage still hangs out front). It has a great covered back patio area with a large bar, additional restaurant seating, and a bocce ball court. We sat outside and I recommend eating here instead of inside. We tried the chicken liver crostini and several of the pizzas – all were very good. The restaurant lets you bring your own wine for a $20 corkage fee, which we did and enjoyed pairing one of the wines we purchased from Field Stone Winery with the pizza.

(330 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA; (707) 395-4640; www.camp-fina.com)

Getting There

We picked up a few bottles… all survived the flight home!

Sonoma County is located directly north of San Francisco on Highway 101. The drive to Healdsburg was 80 miles from San Francisco Airport and took an hour and a half with traffic. The larger town of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County has an airport with service to/from San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland (Oregon), and Seattle on Alaska Airlines.

TripBadger Recommendation

Sonoma County has endless wineries to explore. We highly enjoyed the family-owned ones we visited and I recommend you add them to your itineray! Be sure to stop for lunch at the Dry Creek General Store and drop by Yoakim Bridge Winery to say hello to winemaker Virginia. For the trip home, many of the wineries sell packing boxes that fit 6-12 bottles of wine. These can be checked as baggage and offer enough protection that your bottles should survive the flight. Cheers!

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