After more than two months of winery tasting room closures, Sonoma County’s health department granted permission for winery visitor centers to reopen as of May 23. Shortly before that, a couple of local wineries took advantage of relaxed coronavirus closure rules to offer walking tours followed by sales of wine and food. The new regulations go a step further — wineries can open for onsite tastings, though with limitations.
Those itching to hit the winery road ASAP should be prepared for a different tasting experience. You will need to make a reservation, sit down to a meal to accompany the wines outdoors and belly up not to the tasting bar, but to a hand sanitation station when you arrive. To meet Centers for Disease Control recommendations, servers wear masks and non-latex gloves. Tables are spaced at least 6 feet apart, and employees maintain this spacing from each other and guests. Glassware is washed in commercial washers reaching 180 degrees. All touch points, including tables, chairs and payment processing devices, are sanitized after each use. Visitors are asked to wear face coverings until they are seated.
While the vast majority of Sonoma County wineries remain closed to visitors, every day brings news of another winery or two adding food components and moving tastings outside in order to resume service. Check your favorite wineries’ websites for updates (you can also find a list here). Many tasting room managers say they are hopeful for mid-June reopenings, with safety-minded protocols in place, reservation-only service, and small groups instead of large crowds. Some are arranging for caterers and food trucks to provide meals and snacks, in order to open more quickly.
In the meantime, these excellent wineries are open for patio tastings. And, for those not quite ready to venture out, they also offer curbside pickups of wine and, in some cases, delivery.
This Geyserville winery’s back patio offers west-facing views of Alexander Valley vineyards and is a quiet, calming space for tasting deLorimier wines (the Meritage red and Primativo are outstanding) with a picnic lunch prepared by estate chef Donna Parsons. Each reservation, offered at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., has a dedicated host who serves three wines with the lunch. Seatings are staggered to comply with physical distancing requirements. $30 person. This is the only member of the Wilson Artisan Wineries family to be open now.
2001 Highway 128, Geyserville, 800-546-7718, delorimierwinery.com
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Leave it to Francis Ford Coppola to jump on an opportunity to show off his myriad wines and Italian cuisine from his Rustic restaurant on the winery property in Geyserville. While the hospitality center, with its swimming pool, Coppola’s movie memorabilia and tasting bars, is not open, outdoor dining and wine tastings are back. Reserve a table, from noon to 4 p.m., to indulge in Mrs. Scorcese’s Lemon Chicken and a glass or bottle of sunny sauvignon blanc. Seating is limited to four people per table, and guests pay menu prices. Or pay $30 per person for a wine tasting and pairing session, with four tasting portions of wine matched to small-plate dishes.
300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1471, francisfordcoppolawinery.com
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens
K-J’s visitor center, a fixture on the west side of Highway 101 just north of Santa Rosa, sprang back to life May 24 with the resumption of its popular Food & Wine pairing program. Executive Chef Justin Wangler and his team take advantage of local ingredients and hyper-local produce from the 4-acre culinary garden to prepare four small dishes paired with the winery’s small-production, limited-release wines. Cost is $70 per person and the alfresco experience is offered, by reservation, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Guests also can stroll through the gardens, keeping physical distancing in mind.
5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, 707-571-8100, kj.com
Russian River Vineyards
Owners Gio Balistrieri and Chris O’Neill have long had a restaurant at this Forestville winery (some will remember it as Topolos Russian River Vineyards, which O’Neill and “Pasta King” Art Ibleto bought in 2008). The kitchen, restaurant license and outdoor patio allowed them to welcome visitors just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. Picnic tables are arranged on the grounds, appropriately distanced. Compostable plates, flatware and napkins are used in service, and wine and food orders are taken via a form at each table. The current menu features charcuterie and cheese boards, salads and sandwiches, all casually paired with the winery’s pinot noirs, chardonnays and rosés. Wine and food tastings are offered daily, by reservation, from noon to 5 p.m.
5700 Highway 116 North, Forestville, 707-887-3344, russianrivervineyards.com
The Williamson family has two downtown Healdsburg tasting rooms, both on Matheson Street. The patio gates are open at each, and the focus, as always, is on wine and food matching. The Wine & Cheese Pairing ($20) with four wines is available at the 134 Matheson St. location, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Lunch Pairing takes place in Bill’s Cellar, at 18 Matheson St. (owner Bill Williamson, a native Australian, is the winemaker), and pricing is based on the level of wines chosen by guests — $50 for four Icon wines, $65 for Bordeaux-style wines and $75 for reserve wines. Reservations are available hourly for groups of two to four, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Shy about going out? Williamson offers dinner for two for curbside pickup, with a daily special and one bottle of wine ($69). A typical menu: American-Style Ribs with Cole Slaw and a bottle of Scandal Zinfandel.
134 Matheson Street and 18 Matheson Street, Healdsburg, 707-433-1500, williamsonwines.com