Are you searching for a personal winery experience? The old days when you met in a casual setting with the owner and/or winemaker can still be found. You just have to get off the beaten path, but not all that far. There are plenty of small boutique producers who more than willing to share their passion and wine in a small and sometimes very personal setting. This is also an opportunity to add some interesting hand-crafted wines to your collection since most are only available online or locally in Sonoma County. Here’s a few off the beaten path wineries in Sonoma we love for both the wine and personalities. Stay tuned to this list as we will add to it when we discover more fantastic and novel experiences.
Russian River Valley – Near Healdsburg, CA
Bucher Vineyards John and Diane Bucher have a 38 acre sustainable vineyard of premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard sits next to their 360 acre organic dairy farm. While most of their grapes are sold to outstanding wineries like C. Donatiello and Willams Selyem, they hold back some of their favorite blocks of grapes to make Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Pinot Rose’ under the Bucher label. Expect to meet the Buchers at their home with expansive views of the Russian River Valley. You will sit with John and Diane on their patio as you sample their wines; learn about the vineyards and dairy farm. John and Diane enjoy taking their guests on a tour of the vineyards and explain their meticulous planting and clone selection concepts. This experience is like stepping back to those early hands-on days of the Sonoma wine pioneers. Appointment Required
DRNK Wines Pronounced Drink Wines; this is a true family project. Headed by fifth generation winemaker Ryan Kunde, the family partnership includes Ryan, his wife, Katie and his wife’s parents, Dale, Ryan, Nancy and Katie, hence the name. DRNK is tucked away off a dirt road near Sebastopol. The signage is small and easy to miss but the wines, view and the time spent with Ryan is all worth the effort. Before DRNK, the property was an abandoned wine cave with a small production area.
With offices in an Airstream trailer sitting outside the cave, Ryan will greet you at the cave’s entrance; walk with you back to his “tasting room” which consists of two old wine barrels spanned by a length of board. Ryan specializes in Pinot Noir but also has an excellent Chardonnay and Viognier. You will find young Mr. Kune to be soft-spoken yet very engaging. He is not only a wealth of wine knowledge, but also very knowledgeable regarding Sonoma history and the local wine families. Be sure to ask Ryan about his pioneering use of flying drones for vineyard management and observation. BTW their 2012 “Caver’s Cuvee” was just awarded a whopping 97 point score. Appointment Required
Bacigalupi Vineyards Originally purchased in 1956 by Helen and Charles Bacigalupi, Bacigalupi Vineyards is a multi-generational masterpiece. The new farm-house style tasting room is surrounded by vineyards, While Bacigalupi does offer a traditional tasting experience, there is so much more to discover and enjoy. It is very likely you will be greeted by one or both of the third generation Bacigalupi twins, Katey and Nicole. Both cut their teeth at other area wineries before teaming up to open the tasting room in 2011. In addition to a traditional tasting, join one of the twins on the vineyard patio and hear tales of growing up in Sonoma wine country. The patio is a perfect spot to slow down and simply enjoy a great bottle of wine and take in the view.
A little known fact is that the now famous Chateau Montelena Chardonnay surprise winner of the 1976 Tasting of Paris, depicted in the movie Bottle Shock, was made in part by Bacigalupi grapes. The actual hand-typed sales receipt hangs in the tasting room. The vineyard sits on the hill above the tasting room and has not been replanted. Needless to say, those grapes are in high demand. The folks at Bacigalupi are happy to arrange a walking tour of this historic Sonoma vineyard that ironically put Napa Valley on the world stage of wine. No Appointment Necessary
Inman Family Wines As you approach the quaint barn-style winery, below the winery sign you may see a smaller sign stating “The Winemaker is in.” Kathleen Inman produces extraordinary Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that consistently score big. The winery is compact and Kathleen prides herself in the eco-friendly approach she takes to winemaking, vineyards and even packaging. Tucked off to side of the winery, near her organically farmed Olivet Grange Vineyard are a few tables and seating, creating a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the vineyard view. Try her delicious Endless Crush Pinot Noir Rose. The first vintage was created as an anniversary gift for her husband, Simon.
Kathleen is a third generation Napan who came to Sonoma to make the wines she loves. She runs a very lean staff at Inman Family Wines, so it often seem like Kathleen is a one woman show. When “The Winemaker is In” sign is out, most likely Kathleen will serving your tasting, personally. This is a great opportunity to meet and chat with one of Russian River’s most respected winemakers.
Hint: Kathleen has a farmhouse to rent, right in the vineyard. Billed as a “Bed and Get Your Own Breakfast,” the three bedroom, one bath home is perfect for those who want an authentic taste of wine country life. No Appointment Necessary
Petaluma Gap – Near Petaluma, CA
Azari Vineyards Take a series of winding roads beyond the town of Petaluma up into the hills of the Petaluma Gap and you may find yourself at an unmarked gate. The gate serves as the entrance to the Azari family estate, vineyards and winery. Appointment only and well worth the effort. Founders Kamal and Pari Azari, Persian immigrants, still live on the property and are generous hosts. Their son, Kaveh, a self-proclaimed refugee from the “boring” high tech world, has now taken over the winery reigns so his parents can slow down.
The winery focuses on Pinot Noir and Shiraz. They choose to refer to their Syrah as Shiraz in honor of their Iranian homeland. Their winemaker, Nico moved to Sonoma only three years ago from his native France. A visit to Azari includes a stroll through the vineyards and estate grounds, a tasting in the wine cave and homemade pizza from their wood fired oven. Azari offers two labels, Azari which is their premium wines and Corkscrew, more affordable yet still delicious.
On our visit we were greeted by Keveh and Nico who showed us around and fired up the pizza oven. While tasting in the caves, we were joined by Kamal and Pari for a lovely afternoon which in addition to the amazing pizzas included hand-made cheeses from the elder Azaris. This is a fascinating family with much to offer in conversation, in addition to the wines. We easily could have spent the afternoon taking in the views, enjoying the wine and fellowship. Isn’t this what wine is all about anyway? Appointment Required