With over 400 wineries in Sonoma alone, it can be difficult to choose which of the gorgeous chateaux and vineyards to visit in California Wine Country. Take a stroll through some of the 90 acres of vineyards at Chateau St Jean or entice your taste buds with a picnic basket at Buena Vista Carneros Winery. Learn about the Prohibition Era at Sebastiani or take the tram up to Benziger and learn about Biodynamic farming practices. Whether you’re looking for a quaint, historical, or simply casual experience, each of these top wineries has something to offer.
- Chateau St Jean
Included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the chateau of the Chateau St Jean winery was built in 1920 as a summer getaway for a wealthy Michigan family by the name of Goff. In 1973, the chateau was transformed into a winery and by 1999, Chateau St Jean’s Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon had been awarded 2 prestigious awards from Wine Spectator Magazine. The grounds of the property are expansive, covering about 270 acres of land, 90 of which are vineyards. Be sure to visit the chateau and not just the visitor’s center; tastings at the chateau are $25 per person, but in order to have the true wine tasting experience, it should be inside of the renowned Chateau St Jean itself.
- Gundlach Bundschu
This Sonoma winery has a rich and fascinating history, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century with its founder Jacob Gundlach. Gundlach was a Bavarian who purchased the land in California, which he named Rhinefarm. A few years later, a German businessman named Bundschu met Gundlach and the rest is history. A century and a half after its founding, Rhinefarm is now composed of over 200 acres of estate vineyards that produce multiple varieties of wine, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Merlot. Don’t miss the summer courtyard tastings, which actually last through October. Gundlach-Bundschu offers cheese and wine pairings with a spectacular view.
- Buena Vista Carneros Winery
San Diego’s First Sheriff, Count Agoston Haraszthy of Hungary, was an entrepreneur and early California pioneer. In 1850, he built San Diego’s first jail for those citizens who regularly made trouble in the streets, and after a few years of serving, he moved north and established the Buena Vista Carneros Winery. Today, the legacy of this vineyard is steeped in pride and loyalty to those who protect and serve as part of law enforcement, yet has a warm and inviting atmosphere for all ages. This Sonoma winery is open year round and offers family cellar tours, private reserve tastings, and barrel room visits. Don’t miss Buena Vista’s shady picnic grounds where you can enjoy one of their custom picnic hampers, full of gourmet treats.
Established in 1904, Sebastiani was the only winery to keep its doors open in Sonoma County during Prohibition. During that short, but impactful time period, wine was produced for religious purposes only. Today, Sebastiani’s focus is on single-vineyard wines, which must be composed of 95% of grapes from only one single vineyard. Head winemaker Mark Lyon has over 30 years of experience and has shifted Sebastiani’s focus from optimum wine production to sustainable agriculture. If you’re looking for a casual and friendly tasting experience in the heart of Sonoma, Sebastiani offers reservations for wine and chocolate tastings, patio gatherings, and historical guided tours. Be sure to visit this October for the Annual Cherryblock Dinner to celebrate Sebastiani’s 110th Anniversary, which will include library wine tasting and a multi-course dinner.
Benziger prides itself in its family tradition, which started about thirty years ago with a passion for Sonoma Mountain and vineyards. After the family realized that it was important to restore the land back to its natural state as much as possible to produce better quality products, the Benzigers decided to move towards a wholly organic approach. Today, Benziger is a certified sustainable vineyard that encourages other vintners to follow their lead in preserving their soils and vines. Offering unique perks like Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tours, Benziger is a modern and updated version of the traditional Sonoma Valley winery and should not be missed on your next trip to California.