Oh, the weather outside’s not frightful, but the fire is still delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, let us go, let us go, let us go … wine tasting during the holidays.
Sonoma County may not get snow, but December’s chilly days and frosty nights make us want to bundle up and get cozy among the seasonal lights and tinseled trees. Local wineries, many in full holiday dress, are offering special events and pouring winter-friendly wines to warm the coldest of hands and hearts. Here are a few to visit during the festive season.
Barber Cellars: Take in Hotel Petaluma’s beautifully decorated lobby and courtyard with a massive Christmas tree, then step into Mike and Lorraine Barber’s tasting room for a sip and a casual bite. They pour their wines, most produced from Petaluma Gap and Carneros grapes, and serve grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese and charcuterie boards to match, just a few steps from the restored art deco hotel’s lobby. Zinfandel, sangiovese and barbera are ideal Barber winter warmers. 112 Washington St., Petaluma, 707-971-7410, barbercellars.com (Hotel entrance is at 205 Kentucky St.)
Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves: Caroling in the caves used to be a popular holiday activity, but COVID has silenced the voices for now. That doesn’t mean wine caves are off-limits to visitors, and Bella’s experience has and continues to be well worth the time. The Cave Tour/Immersive Wine Experience ($55) is sold out through December, but seated tastings inside the cave (or in the Bella Backyard overlooking the Lily Hill vineyard) were still available at press time ($30), with a focus on Bella’s numerous zinfandels, plus chardonnay and pinot noir. From Dec. 12 – 19, this upper Dry Creek Valley producer offers a dessert and wine pairing, Bella Bingo, with sweet treats, a Celtic harp performance, cookie decorating kits and a fiddle and guitar performance by Chris Rovetti on Dec. 19.Visit the website for details. 9711 West Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg, 707-473-9711, bellawinery.com
Bricoleur Vineyards: On Dec. 12, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Hanson family hosts a Holiday Market on its Windsor property, with local vendors selling gifts and goods, photo ops with Santa, holiday activities and foods, and Bricoleur wines available for purchase by the glass and bottle. A $5 donation is requested, to be used to buy toys for deserving kids. There are also several sessions of evergreen wreath-making classes on Dec. 12 ($125), which start with a flute of Bricoleur Flying by the Seat of Our Pants Brut sparkling wine and continue with a charcuterie board and glass of Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. 7394 Starr Road, Windsor, 707-857-5700, bricoleurvineyards.com
Freeman Vineyard & Winery: The sights and smells of evergreens and redwoods surrounding this family winery west of Sebastopol are enough to put anyone in a winter holiday state of mind. On pleasantly warm days, outdoor tastings under the forest canopy are invigorating. When the weather turns wet and cold, the wine cave is a welcoming shelter, where winemaker Akiko Freeman and her husband, Ken Freeman, pour their chardonnays and pinot noirs for a very fair cost of $30. Tours of their small winery and cave are available, perhaps even a stroll through their adjacent Gloria Vineyard, time and rain permitting. 1300 Montgomery Road, Sebastopol, 707-823-6937, freemanwinery.com
Lambert Bridge Winery: This Dry Creek Valley winery is somewhat famous for its big stone fireplace and redwood-beam mantle in the vaulted, wood-ceiling tasting room. Warm, welcoming and surrounded by redwoods, it reminds of a visit to a Tahoe lodge, one filled with artfully stacked oak barrels. Jerry Lambert established the winery in 1975 and in 1993, Patti and Ray Chambers took ownership. Over time, Lambert Bridge has become one of Sonoma County’s finest producers of Bordeaux-style red wines, sold only at the winery and to wine-club members. The 90-minute Cellar Tasting Experience ($95) is private and includes five limited-release wines made by Jennifer Higgins, accompanied by a cheese and charcuterie board. The Barrel Room Tasting Experience ($50) offers four current-release wines plus cheese and charcuterie and is also available on the outdoor patio. Closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 1. 4085 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 800-945-0555, lambertbridge.com
Meadowcroft Winery: The location of Tom Meadowcroft’s tasting room at Cornerstone Sonoma affords visitors an eyeful of holiday wonder and whimsy. In 2004, Artefact Design & Salvage owner David Allen bought hundreds of decorative snowmen from a factory soon to close, and the dapper gents have lit up the Cornerstone complex since. At Meadowcroft, four wines are served at each tasting ($25). Tom and his winemaker, Peter Kiralov, produce a dizzying range of wines, among them cabernet sauvignons from Sonoma County and Mount Veeder in Napa Valley and Sonoma-grown pinot noir, chardonnay, viognier and roussanne. 23574 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-934-3094, meadowcroftwines.com
Ram’s Gate Winery: Joe Nielsen’s remarkable chardonnays and pinot noirs taste even better sampled in front of the veranda fireplace. The Veranda Package ($165) includes a guided two-hour tasting of five wines, accompanied by cheese and charcuterie boards. A $50, five-wine, open-air tasting is also offered. The modern ranch-house-type architecture of Ram’s Gate is classy and welcoming, with the hilltop location affording vast views of the Carneros region. 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-721-8700, ramsgatewinery.com
Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery: For nearly 120 years, wine was produced at this Sonoma winery. Various Sebastianis operated the winery until 2008, when William Foley added it to his Foley Family Wines portfolio. The winemaking has since been relocated, yet a vibrant visitor center remains, which is decorated to the nines for the Winter Wine Fest, ending Sunday (1-4 p.m., tickets $75). There will be fresh oysters paired with Carneros rosé and hearty bites served with new-release red wines. Barrel samples of the flagship Cherryblock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon will also be poured. Can’t make the event? Then bask in the glow of holiday lights during the daily tasting ($40) of five wines in the courtyard. Or reserve the Cherryblock Vineyard Tour and Tasting ($110), where a wine educator discusses the winery’s history during a walk through the estate vineyard, followed by a tasting of five wines. 389 Fourth St. E., Sonoma, 707-933-3201, sebastiani.com
Three Fat Guys Wines: Local Tony Moll and two fellow (and former) Green Bay Packers football linemen are partners in this Sonoma winery and, as you can guess, big, bold cabernet sauvignons are their passion. Another big guy, Santa, will visit their tasting room 4 – 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to enjoy cookies, cider and wine with visitors. The event is free and reservations aren’t necessary. They are, however, for the Friday Cuts N Cab – Holiday Edition dinner on the outdoor patio of the tasting room. Chef Erik Lowe of Belfare will prepare grilled New York steak and rosemary frites, matched with Three Fat Guys 2019 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($60). Regular tastings are $30 and include sparkling brut rose, chardonnay and pinot noir. 20816 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-938-7211, threefatguyswines.com
Zina Hyde Cunningham: Zina Hyde left Maine in 1849 for the Gold Rush, landed in Sonoma County in 1865, established a ranch in Kenwood and expanded into Mendocino County. Hyde grew grapes and made wine and, long story short, his great-great grandson, Steve Ledson, revived the Zina Hyde Cunningham winery in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. The tasting room, the Zina Lounge, is now located in the Ledson Hotel on the Sonoma Plaza and it has all one could want in a tasting venue this time of year: a wide range of wines, festive holiday decor and a cozy fireplace. A flight of five wines is $25; add $18 for cheeses and charcuterie. 480 First St. E., Sonoma, 707-895-9462, zinawinery.com
Healdsburg for the holidays: Downtown Healdsburg is decked out with decorated trees, bright lights, wreaths and garlands through Jan. 1. The city is also loaded with some two dozen tasting rooms on or within a few blocks of the central plaza, making it a gold mine for one-stop walking to several tasting venues, no driving required. There are too many to list here, but here are a few personal favorites:
Hartford Family Winery, 331 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-887-8031, hartfordwines.com. Chardonnay, pinot noir, zinfandel.
Jeff Cohn Cellars, 34 North St., Healdsburg, 707-938-8343, jeffcohncellars.com. Zinfandel, Rhone varietals.
LIOCO, 125 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707-395-0148, liocowine.com. Chardonnay, pinot noir, carignan.
More Healdsburg tasting rooms here.
Celebrate in Sonoma: As in Healdsburg, the town of Sonoma buzzes with holiday energy and 30-plus wine tasting rooms within a block or two of its plaza. Visit sonomaplaza.com/wine-tasting-rooms for suggestions. Among my personal favorites:
Auteur Wines, 373 First St. W., Sonoma, 707-938-9211, auteurwines.com. Chardonnay, pinot noir.
Bedrock Wine Co., 414 First St. E., Sonoma, 707-343-1478, bedrockwineco.com. Zinfandel, old-vine blends, sauvignon blanc, rosé.
Three Sticks, 143 W. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-996-3328, threestickswines.com. Chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot blanc, rosé.