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There is something so refreshing, calming and authentic about tasting wine outdoors as opposed to indoors. Especially now.
June in Sonoma County is a feast for the eyes with its sheer beauty of green leafy grapevines, the colorful palette of wildflowers, towering redwoods, majestic oaks, undulating hillsides and the meandering Russian River. It also offers soothing sounds for the senses: bees buzzing in winery gardens, chirping birds guarding their nests.
When Sonoma County tasting rooms were first allowed to reopen during the pandemic — outside only — on May 23, some wineries quickly adapted and some were already prepared with expansive patios, seemingly designed for coronavirus times. (Indoor which istasting rooms were recently allowed to reopen, too.)
The large paved patio at Kunde Family Winery in Kenwood, for example, allows for safe physical distancing between tables. The soft babbling of the water fountain and surrounding cloak of vineyards make the space feel a world away from the traffic on Highway 12. Canvas umbrellas block the sun on bright mornings and warm afternoons.
Here are 10 Sonoma County wineries that, like Kunde Winery, offer an opportunity to spend time outdoors while sipping excellent wines and taking in the summer landscape.
Fill your eyes with panoramic Russian River Valley views and your glass with cool-climate chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and rosé at this south-of-Healdsburg winery. Perched on a hillside above the river itself, Copain has a spacious, casual patio where you can enjoy two distinctive tastings. The Classic Copain Experience ($30) includes four wines representing the regions and grape varieties that comprise the winery’s Single Vineyard portfolio. The Reserve Copain Experience ($50) is a flight of five limited-release wines from past vintages, giving guests the opportunity to see how wines evolve in the bottle. For an additional $15 per person, guests receive a selection of artisan cheeses, charcuterie, fruits and crostini. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday-Monday, with seatings on the half-hour.
7800 Eastside Road, Healdsburg, 707-836-8822, copainwines.com
Chalk Hill Estate
William Foley’s Sonoma winery empire shines most brightly for visitors at this 1,300-acre property in the Chalk Hill AVA, adjacent to Alexander Valley. Foley’s daughter, Courtney Foley, is the winemaker, producing high-end chardonnays, sauvignon blancs and Bordeaux red varietals from 300 vineyard acres. The patio is the place to enjoy tasting flights of four wines ($30) as well as various pairings, including Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay with fried chicken and caviar ($115 for two people). Starting June 26, cheese and charcuterie platters with pickled estate vegetables are offered ($25). Appointments are available 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
10300 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, 707-657-1809, chalkhill.com
Davis Family Vineyards
Go wine tasting down by the riverside with Guy Davis and his family. Their large patio, bocce court and organic garden area hug the Russian River, just north of Healdsburg’s Memorial Bridge. Guests sit at safely spaced picnic tables or in the garden lounge to enjoy tastings of five wines (various flights are available) and bites from chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart and their Black Piglet food truck.
Pinot noir, both still and sparkling, and Rhone Valley varietals are the strong suits of this friendly, fun-loving winery. Open by appointment only, with seatings at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. $20 per person
2 Front St, Healdsburg, 707-433-3858, davisfamilyvineyards.com
Dry Creek Vineyard
Forty-eight years young and getting stronger by the day, this pioneering Dry Creek Valley winery was founded in 1972 by Dave Stare, whose passion for the white wines of France’s Loire Valley prompted him to plant and produce sauvignon blanc between Dry Creek and West Dry Creek roads.
Today, Stare’s daughter, Kim Stare Wallace, and winemaker Tim Bell turn out a wide range of well-priced varietals, among them chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, although sauvignon and zinfandel are the longstanding stars. The vast lawn outside the tasting room door has long been outfitted with picnic tables for casual tastings, and the custom continues, albeit at 6 or more feet apart. Mature trees and other landscaping make for a cool, welcoming environment. $25. Open by appointment, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-1000, drycreekvineyard.com
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery
For a real get-out-of-Dodge day, venture to this strikingly beautiful winery setting in Jenner. The outdoor deck offers jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean, coastal redwoods and lush meadows. Here, owners Linda and Lester Schwartz planted chardonnay, pinot noir and pinotage on fog-shrouded ridges, going against viticultural advice that the spot was too cold to ripen wine grapes. The South Africa-native couple proved the pros wrong, achieving a bracing, high-acid style of wine currently made by Jeff Pisoni. Wine tastings ($45) include four estate-grown wines accompanied by a sit-down meal of locally sourced charcuterie and artisanal cheeses; a vegetarian option is available. Reservations are available 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Monday.
5725 Meyers Grade Road, Jenner, 707-847-3460, fortrossvineyard.com
Hamel Family Wines
Since opening in 2014, Hamel Family Wines has set a high bar for customer service, wine and food experiences and Bordeaux-style red varietals and blends. The coronavirus shutdowns and slow reemergence hasn’t stopped this Glen Ellen winery from offering a most-of-the-frills Reserve Experience.
Start with a glass of rosé during a private guided tour through the Hamel Family Ranch vineyard, winery and adjacent cave. In the cave, taste a yet-to-be-released cabernet sauvignon from the barrel, then move to the patio for a four-course menu prepared by the estate chef and paired with Reserve Series Cabernet Sauvignon blends. $150.
15401 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, 707-996-5800, hamelfamilywines.com
J. Rickards Winery
The motto for this Cloverdale winery is “Darn Fine Barn Wine,” and a visit here is a throwback to the days when winegrowers preferred to be called farmers and tasting rooms were humble and homey. Proprietor/grower Jim Rickards now schedules appointments in the tasting room Wednesday through Saturday, at the modest price of $15 for five wines.
Yet the best way to go is to order Big John’s Market box lunches from the winery online (prices vary) and reserve a shady spot to picnic outside and taste the wines among the vines … or order a glass or bottle (sauvignon blanc, viognier, rosé and zinfandel are personal favorites). The barn is real and the experience is a reminder that farming forms the foundation of winemaking.
24545 Chianti Road, Cloverdale, 707-367-77, jrwinery.com
J Vineyards & Winery
This Healdsburg winery (it’s just as close to Windsor) is known for its wine and food pairings, some of which constitute full meals. The recent “soft” reopening offers the Legacy on the Terrace tasting, with five small-production chardonnays, pinot noirs and sparkling wines served with complimentary cheeses.
J’s terrace is a quiet oasis, tucked into the vineyards with plenty of umbrellas for shade. $55.
J Vineyards & Winery, 11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, 707-431-5430, jwine.com
Kunde Family Winery
The generous patio between the parking lot and indoor tasting room is conducive to hosting tastings with plenty of physical distancing. A pre-set group of wines from an amazingly broad lineup is served, along with a food component.
Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, old-zinfandel and merlot are fan favorites, made by Zach Long, who has his choice of grapes grown on the 1,850-acre estate. For now, Kunde’s estate hikes and cave tours are not available. $40.
9825 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-5501, kunde.com
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
St. Francis is known in these parts not only as a producer of top-notch wines spanning a broad price spectrum, but also for its restaurant-level wine and pairing program. Since reopening, this eastern Santa Rosa winery offers its acclaimed Wine & Food Pairing experience in its dining room ($85 per person).
For an entirely open-air tasting, go for the Estate Pairings ($50) of wines matched with light bites on the Vineyard Portico. The views of vineyards and the Mayacamas mountain range are an added bonus.
100 Pythian Road at Highway 12, Santa Rosa, 888-675-9463, stfranciswinery.com