The Donum Estate, Jordan Winery, Bricoleur Vineyards and Fort Ross Winery
Sonoma County is home to over 400 wineries, 19 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), and 63,000 acres of vineyards, so needless to say, I am always on the hunt for amazing tasting experiences.
Whether it’s visiting a small, family-owned winery, enjoying an over-the-top afternoon at one of the more acclaimed estates, or chatting with someone who’s excited to share their knowledge about the intricate world of winemaking – exploring vibrant wine country is one of my favorite pastimes
And while I love discovering new places (whether that means new to most people or just new to me), there are a few wineries I am always happy to return to again and again, including these four, which are all extraordinary (and extraordinarily delightful) in their own way.
The Donum Estate in Sonoma
Donum is located in the Carneros wine-growing region, which is unique in that it straddles the Sonoma-Napa County line, is one of the coolest and windiest AVAs in either county, and is known for producing some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir you’ll find in California.
And while tasting those single-vineyard award-winning wines is always a treat, Donum is so much more than “just” its wine, especially compared to other winery experiences. That’s because most other wineries aren’t home to a larger-than-life sculpture collection, with over 50 pieces of art placed throughout a 200-acre estate.
Yes, you can taste wine, but you can also…
Walk to a eucalyptus grove to discover a giant wind chime. Slip inside a building to discover a giant steel spider. Wind your way through a maze of brass-coated tubes. Look at your reflection in a giant polished mirrored heart at the top of a hill.
And as if that isn’t enough, Donum is also committed to regenerative organic farming practices and products that respect the soil, which is excellent in terms of the environment but is excellent in terms of a visit because it means you’ll get to meet the most adorable sheep, chickens, and ducks, as well as two very friendly rescue donkeys.
Whether you prefer to explore on foot or by ATV or would rather enjoy a holistic sensory experience with a tasting menu, there’s something for everyone at this unique estate, which, yes, in case it wasn’t clear at the start, also produces some truly outstanding wines.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg
It’s not always possible to jet off to France (sigh), so when you find yourself in Sonoma, make your way to Jordan’s Bordeaux-inspired winery instead. It’s located just a few minutes outside of downtown Healdsburg in the rolling hills of Alexander Valley and is consistently magical in all ways (starting, of course, with the wine).
Everything about Jordan, from the wine to the food to the hospitality, is inspired by the great wine estates of France, which means you should plan to arrive hungry, thirsty, and ready for an afternoon full of indulgence.
My favorite tour is the Estate Tour Tasting which includes a Sprinter van tour through Jordan’s 1,200-acre estate with al fresco wine tastings along the way, followed by a wine pairing lunch on a hilltop with stunning views. But since one doesn’t always have time for a three+ hour tour (just ask Gilligan), the Chef’s Terrace Tasting, a lovely outdoor lunch with wine pairings enjoyed under the shade of oak trees, is always an excellent option.
Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor
Sometimes you want a winery experience that feels extra fancy, and other times you need an afternoon that’s a little more fancy-free. When the craving for laid-back fun hits, I visit Bricoleur, a gorgeous (and newer) winery in the Russian River Valley that flies a little off-the-radar (despite being a few miles south of Healdsburg) and can always be counted on to produce a relaxing afternoon perfect for enjoying elegant wines, including crisp whites and complex reds.
Bricoleur’s grounds are stunning, and during the summer, one of the best ways to enjoy them is with the winery’s “Essentials Picnic,” which comes with an adorable red wagon complete with a wicker picnic basket filled with everything you need to enjoy an al fresco tasting under the trellis by the pond or at a table in the rose gardens.
For those who want a more gourmet culinary experience, there are several to choose from (the winery also hosts some fabulous wine and food parties that are open to the public), or if you’re truly just looking for a chill afternoon with friends, book the “Rosé in the Roses” experience where you’ll play bocce on courts with a gorgeous garden backdrop while enjoying a plated picnic lunch and rosé. After one visit, you’ll quickly realize that the only way to truly appreciate everything Bricoleur has to offer is by booking another visit immediately.
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery in Jenner
If you’re in the mood for wine tasting with a side of adventure, you’ll need to venture off the beaten path of most Sonoma wineries to the “Coastal Cool” Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, located on the steep and wild ridges above the Pacific Ocean. There, perched 1,700 feet above sea level, you’ll discover (and it truly will feel like you’re discovering it) Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery, a rustic wood tasting room just a mile from the ocean (the closest of any in all of California, a fun fact that never gets old).
It’s hard to imagine how anyone farms this terrain (especially once you learn that the grapes are hand-picked and hand-sorted), but lucky for you, all you have to do is sit back, take in the views, and enjoy the fruits of their labor, including some truly unforgettable Pinot Noirs. Tastings are accompanied by what are described as “small bites,” but are bites big enough to very much qualify as lunch.
If you’re looking to make a night or weekend of it, book a room at Timber Cove Resort, a magical midcentury hotel with 1960s vibes, modern amenities, and dramatic views.
It’s the perfect spot to unwind after a day of wine tasting, thanks to a great restaurant, fire pits, and record players in every room. All rooms are great, but if you can snag one with a fireplace and soaking tub, you won’t regret it. (You also won’t ever want to leave, but that’s an excellent problem to have.)