Wine Country Itinerary: Sonoma Valley

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historic_press-room.jpgBy Robert Farmer

East of the Square

Sonoma Valley is a singular appellation that has many forms. Soils and climate are similar throughout, but style and texture can vary widely from place to place--often just a couple as-the-crow-flies miles separate those places. The corner of the valley east of downtown--Sonoma Plaza--is one of my favorite places to visit. Not only is it home to what basically amounts to the birthplace of Sonoma Wine Country, it is also a close-knit collection of fantastic wineries that ideally represent the wines of Sonoma. From gorgeous well-structured pinot noir to zippy zinfandel, they are all presented with a neighborly smile

Stop 1 Gundlach Bundschu
The folks at Gun-Bun, as locals know it and as they are fond of referring to their winery, are as ripe with character as their award-winning wines. The winery has a rich history in the family, with the estate vineyard having been tended by six generations of the Bundschu family. The stellar pinot noir and chardonnay reflect the long commitment to quality. In addition to regular samplings in the lively tasting room, tours of grounds and the cave are available. In summer, tours of the 150-year-old sustainably farmed vineyard are offered for small private tour aboard the lunar-landing-like six-wheel vehicle.  It's great Gun-Bun fun.
Tasting Room: Open 11am-4:30pm daily. 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma, 707-938-5277

Stop 2 Buena Vista
This is where it all began - and they've got the National Historic Registered building to prove it. Buena Vista, renowned as California's first winery is still  one of its best winery visit experiences. Though it's close to the relative bustle of Sonoma Plaza, it imparts a reverent atmosphere of quiet serenity from its wooded local. The walls of the gorgeous stone structure that houses the tasting room and event space tell a thousand stories; figuratively and literally via the litany of historic photos that adorn them. Still producing great pinot noir and chardonnay, this remains one of Wine Country's Don't-Miss destinations.
Tasting Room: Open 10am-5pm daily. 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, 800-926-1266

Stop 3 Bartholomew Park
One of Sonoma's great hidden gems, the beautiful grounds surrounding Bartholomew Park seem to yell out to visitors to spend a long afternoon at a picnic table. But its location in the heart of a public park also beckon the intrepid visitor to explore the three miles of hiking trails, that meander through oak groves and wildflowers, and afford great views of the vineyards below. More languid types can opt for exploring the region's winemaking history in the great little onsite museum. The tasting room offers winery-only and library selections from BP's list of excellent zinfandel, cabernet, and sauvignon blanc.
Tasting Room: Open Mon-Sat 11a-4:30pm, Sun 10:30am-4:30pm. 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma, 707-935-9511

Stop 4 Ravenswood
Few wineries maintain as close an association with a particular varietal as Ravenswood does with its zinfandel. You'll hear it and see it displayed frequently when visiting the winery: No Wimpy Wines. The mantra provides a through-line to all that goes on at Ravenswood, from producing boldly structure, spicy zinfandel, to hosting fun and sometimes raucous events on its grounds. Regular facility tours and barrel tastings are scheduled daily. Meanwhile in the tasting room, the atmosphere is always bubbly and fun loving, and that's just the way they the Ravenswood folks like it.
Tasting Room: Open 10am-4:30pm daily. 18701 Gehricke Road, 707-938-1960

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