First, a definition: by Sonoma Valley, we mean the area around the town of Sonoma, which includes Glen Ellen and Kenwood. You'll find more than 100 wineries to choose from just in this small area, where the official wine-growing "appellations" include Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain and Bennett Valley. Local wineries also bring grapes in from many other locations.
We can't get to all of those Sonoma Valley wineries ourselves, so we collaborated with an expert to create this list. My friend Jesse Warr of tour company A Friend in Town has been giving customized wine country tours for more than 10 years and shared a few of his secrets just for you. We've thrown in a few of our personal favorites, too.
Within each category, the top Sonoma Valley wineries are in alphabetical order. While you don't need reservations to visit these tasting rooms, some of the tours require them.
Best Sonoma Valley Wineries: Tasting Rooms and Tours
Many Sonoma Valley wineries have tasting rooms, but in some you're lucky to get enough attention to have your glass filled. These top places offer a chance to relax in beautiful surroundings and get personal attention. Some of them also have a picnic area - if you use it, be polite and buy a bottle of wine from them.
- Benziger Family Winery: Everyone we take to Benziger loves it. Tasting room staff are friendly and helpful, but the star of the show is the vineyard tour, given in a tractor-drawn tram. The property is one of Sonoma's prettiest and their bio-dynamic growing techniques fascinating. They also offer a special tour for wine enthusiasts by reservation. They have nice, shady picnic tables, too.
- B. R. Cohn: The "B R" in B. R. Cohn is Bruce, manager of the Doobie Brothers rock 'n' roll band. This place has a friendly, cheerful vibe, a pleasant outdoor patio and food products that rival the quality of their wines. You'll find Cohn's gold records hanging in the tasting room and his former band reunites from time to time for charity concerts at the winery. Their outdoor picnic area also has nice views.
- Gundlach-Bundschu: California's oldest family-owned winery produces only estate-grown wines. Focus of their cave tour changes seasonally, but it always ends with a seated tasting inside the cave. They also offer a unique vineyard tour in an all-terrain vehicle. Reservations required for the tours, but not for the tasting room. The small picnic area overlooks the vineyards.
- Matanzas Creek: Matanzas Creek gets an A+ for its lavender garden and great views. It's the farthest from the town of Sonoma of any winery on this list, which is less than 10 miles, but it's reached via a winding, two-lane road that takes you across the shoulder of Sonoma Mountain. You'll need reservations for their tours and food pairings.
- Ravenswood: If you love Zinfandel wine, vintner Joel Peterson's Ravenswood is a must-stop. We love their unpretentious attitude and "no wimpy wines" motto, which extends to all the varietials they produce. Visit the tasting room any time, take a daily tour with a barrel tasting or if you can get 5 other people to go with you, try their blend-your-own seminar.
If you're looking for the next big name in wine, tasting room collective Grange Sonoma offers wines from small, boutique wineries that don't have their own tasting rooms.
Sonoma Valley Wineries: Free Tasting
Free tasting is almost as hard to find in Sonoma Valley as it is in Napa. Some wineries don't list their fees on their website, but we're not going to assume that means they're free. In fact, the only place we can confirm where you can taste wine for free is Jacuzzi Winery.