My Favorite Wine Itinerary: 2 Days in North Sonoma

A blogger submission to Snooth's itinerary contest


As a wine writer and reviewer I have visited numerous domestic and international wine regions, and love many varieties and styles of wine. Home is where the heart is and two years ago I moved to the Russian River Valley of North Sonoma County to surround myself in its beauty, food and wines.

Over 200 wineries can be found in the North Sonoma Wine Road, in a 30-mile radius. If you are looking for ‘palace’ wineries, head to that ‘other’ valley.  lmost all here are small, artisan and family owned.

At its hub, is Healdsburg, a small town with world class restaurants, over 20 downtown wineries, and a great array of bakeries, coffee shops, bookstores in more.  You can stay or live off the grid yet be  10-15 minutes away from a Michelin-rated restaurant. Only miles apart, the four main wine regions, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Coast, offer an incredible diversity of climate and terroir variance, this resulting in many different wines.

Day One:

Santa Rosa/Fulton – The Santa Rosa Wine Trail
Santa Rosa has become home to a growing number of wineries, including the growing ‘Urban winery trend.’ While people often envision a vineyard attached, this is not often reality for many small producers who buy from high quality winegrowers, whom themselves may make little or no wine.
I used to turn my nose up to ‘urban’ wineries, until I discovered how many amazing small microwineries I was missing.

Recently, ten of the wineries have started the Santa Rosa Wine Trail, a new group offering incentives to consumers to visit them, as well as at local restaurant, Willi’s Wine Bar.

Stop One: Siduri/Novy Wines
Make sure you start with a good breakfast, and call ahead to make an appointment at one of Sonoma’s original urban warehouse wineries. Started by Adam and Diana Lee in 1994, Siduri makes over 20 different Pinot Noirs, from all over California, and even Oregon. Their second label, Novy Family Wines makes non-Pinot varietals, including Syrah and Viognier.

Stop Two: Sheldon Wines, Santa Rosa Vintners Square
Next stop is Santa Rosa Vintners Square, home to 5 great wineries; Krutz, Sheldon, MJ Lords and next door is Santa Rosa Vintners Plaza founder - D’Argenzio. While it’s hard to pick only one, the Rhone lover in me is especially fond of Sheldon Wines, whose Vinolocity & Vinolocity Blanc red and white Rhone blends are favorites. Sheldon makes other wines; a hard to find Graciano, Pinot Noir, & Chardonnay.

Time permitting, and spit cup handy, do try any or all of the others.

Stop Three: Old World Winery
Visit Old World and be transported back to wine made the way it used to be, including native yeast fermentation, crushing via foot stomping and more. Owner/winemaker Darek Trowbridge offers a range of interesting styles and varietals, ranging from Old Vine Zin, white wines with skin contact, barrel samples of varietals like Abouriou you likely have never seen, and more.

Stop Four – Your Choice
There are many great choices in a few miles. Love Zin? Go visit Carol Shelton or Robert Rue. Fan of more French style Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvigon Blanc? – drop in on Inspiration Vineyards. Italian wine? – D’Argenzio. Pinot Lover? – Krutz and MJ Lords. Make an appointment at Donelan Wines, a near cult status, but laid back winery, with unique, brilliant wines or hit the Kendall-Jackson Center and do one of their special food and wine pairing offers.

Dinner That Night – Willi’s Wine Bar

Most of these wineries have limited production and distribution, so you bought at least a few bottles, right?

Head to one of my favorite North Sonoma restaurants for many years; Willi’s Wine Bar. Willi’s is consistently picked as a top Bay area restaurant, and again made the San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 in 2011.

Willi’s specializes in creative small plates, and changes the menu seasonally. As they do with their wine list; which they offer dozens of interesting choices, in as small as 3 ounce pours. Start by sharing a flight of a few wines, pick from one of theirs or just make your own. Then hand the server one of your purchases from the 10 Santa Rosa Wine Trail wineries for free corkage!

Day Two – A Day of Pinot Noir in The Russian River Valley

The Russian River Valley is home to dozens of great wineries. This is a cool climate region, and renowned for its Pinot Noir.  Narrowing this down to four is no small task.

Stop One – Inman Family Wines
Kathleen Inman is a small producer, known both for her restrained, elegant wines, as well as her widely recognized focused on green and sustainable practices. (Including the first electric car recharging station.) Her Pinot Noirs are made with minimal intervention, modest alcohol and great acidity. If she is pouring her chardonnay (often sold out) and her Pinot Noir Rose’ (made only every other year) you are also in for a treat.
Make sure you take the time to get a tour of her new winery and tasting room, all made from recycled, reclaimed materials, full water reclamation, and more.

Stop Two – Lynmar
Drive deeper into the Russian River Valley and enjoy yourself at the elegant Lynmar Estate. Lynmar has an in-house chef and does food pairings on certain days; so call ahead to check. Sit outside in their gorgeous gardens and sip your way through Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. If you are lucky enough and they are pouring their Syrah that day, enjoy. Lynmar’s wines are highly rated by Wine Spectator, and will contrast as bigger than Inman’s, and are a good way to compare two styles, both different, and excellent. 

Lynmar makes a wide assortment of small production lots, often showcasing individual vineyards, and even many block designates. (A specific section of a vineyard.) This is an excellent way to experience just how different Pinot Noir, even from the same vineyard can be.

Stop Three – Iron Horse Vineyards (Note, this is also an excellent place to start with sparkling.)
Enjoy your rustic, relaxed drive into Iron Horse. Park your car and enjoy their simple tasting room that’s mostly open air, with stunning views. Iron Horse is one of Russian River Valley’s few sparkling producers with excellent still wines, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well. Select from tasting flights of sparkling, whites, or Pinot. Or share one of each. The staff is always friendly and accommodating, and will often allow changes if asked nicely.

Stop Four – Your Choice
Select from the many other dozens of wineries. Care for a producer of Rhone and Burgundy wines – head to Copain. Old World and interesting wines like sparkling Gewürztraminer and cool climate Zinfandel – try Harvest Moon. Make an appointment at Wind Gap Wines.

More great Pinot is to be had at many producers: Arista, Dutton Estates, Moshin, Deloach, Freestone, and more. One could easily spend a week.

Dinner at zazu
Wind your way back to your hotel, or grab an early dinner at zazu restaurant and farm. zazu is highly awarded both for their local food sourcing and sustainability focus, and their fresh, innovative cuisine. Their wine list is spectacular too. 

Mentioned in this article


  • I think it might be quite a leap to assert yourself as a wine've definitely inserted yourself into Sonoma's wine scene--however, this sample above is very poorly written with scads of syntax problems. Upon reading excerpts from your blog and facebook it seems that you can benefit from a full-time, full-service editor. As for the claim that you're a reviewer; I'll buy that---as long as you come clean that currently you're reviewing your friends' wineries since it seems they are a constant theme (the same few wineries) throughout your blogs and social interactions. Your blogs also reveal that you're an aspiring wine maker and that you are presently bottling your first product in your garage---they also reveal that as a Wine Consultant you host wine industry events in your property's greenhouse. Interesting: Wine Writer, Wine Reviewer, Wine maker and Wine Industry Consultant in a matter of 2 years----how did you gain so much knowledge so fast? Your Bio states that you got your start with Yelp---some of your earlier winery reviews can still be Googled---are you worried that you are setting yourself up for some just deserts ? (not an eggcorn)

    Jul 18, 2011 at 9:46 PM

  • Clearly you have an axe to grind, and have chosen to do so in public, this time. I will respond to at least educate others.
    (1) Yes the article had some syntax errors, now fixed. I had to race to get this to Snooth while trying to get away for the Media trip to Spain I just returned from. I didn't have the ability to edit myself. Indeed, I could use an editor, have had some in the past, but sometimes the pace doesn't allow.
    (2) Inserted myself into Sonoma scene? Yes, I 'started' here, but these days it seems I am as active, if not more, in other regions. I actively cover and am invited to events Paso, Willamette, Mendocino, and many other regions, on press tours, judging, and more. If you would take the time to look, very few of my articles these days are about Sonoma.
    - Reviewing my friends wineries is a constant theme? My last 10 wine reviews: (1) Oregon Müller-Thurgau media sample (2) Carol Shelton rose' (local) and paid for (3) Tablas Creek 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc - Paso Robles, paid for (4) 2009 Charity Case Sauvignon Blanc - media sample (5) Spot-On Cellars Pinot Blanc - paid for (6)Pueblo del Sol - Tannat from Uruguay -media sample (7) 2009 Paul Dolan Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County - media sample (8) Charity Case Rosé - Napa Valley - media sample (9) Parducci 2009 Pinot Noir - Mendocino (media sample) (10) 2007 Hahn SLH Estate Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands - media sample.
    I hope the trends are clear enough for you. Thats one local wine, from a winemaker I met in person for the 1st time 2 months ago. If you would like YOUR wines reviewed, sending a sample is a good start.
    (3) Aspiring wine maker - sort of. I am, as I have shared very publicly, starting a small label, ~200-300 cases a year. Its as much for education, dabbling. Perhaps its a long term retirement plan, but still TBD. I don't see how this is a negative.
    (4) Wine Consultant - yes, I do a bit, for marketing and social media, as well as paid seminars at some schools and occasionally wineries and AVAs. I have a 20 year history of sales and marketing, and have been applying some of that to the wine industry, for a few clients, as well as technical innovations.
    That has absolutely nothing to do with the tastings I do in the greenhouse. The one to which you refer was for social media #chardonnay day, people all over the world participated, and I provided a venue, and will again, with ABC license, for producers and consumers to connect. Not sure what the dig on doing wine marketing, and helping support a social media event that got chardonnay millions of impressions.
    I donate hundreds of hours of pro bono work and support to the wine industry, to which many have been publicly appreciative.

    (5) I launched the blog and doing formal writing in the last 2 years. That is not correlated to how long I have been studying, tasting, visiting wine regions, domestic and global.

    I'd be happy to meet face to face and discuss your concerns, issues should you wish. Cheers.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 10:50 AM

  • Snooth User: vinopulce
    888969 1

    I've only just started to explore Sonoma and I found your article very useful. I'm a huge Pinot fan and am really looking forward to visiting Kathleen Inman's winery. I've heard other great comments about her style. Thanks for sharing your favorites. Always good to have a locals point of view.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 1:01 PM

  • William,
    Like the article--and always hope my writing doesn't get the red pen treatment on my blog or articles! The wine world is a big place to explore, so thank you for the great ideas--all with some background and friendly spots to try. I know how overwhelming the wine world can be as a tourist, so giving some recommendations is a great help for visitors to have a pleasant trip.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 2:15 PM

  • Snooth User: jmberry
    245511 1

    Nice job William. I actually DO write for 5 publications, one even a wine magazine, and I believe blogs are not really subject to AP style, kind of a place where writers get to use their own voice. Ignore the first poster, clearly a personal axe to grind.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 2:23 PM

  • I enjoyed the article throughly. Lynmar and Inman Family Wines are two of my fav stops in the Russian River valley. Both beautiful properties with a great tasting room staff. Ignore numero uno and keep on truckin. Can't imagine why someone would spend so much time and effort on criticizing a fellow wine lover.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 4:16 PM

  • Thanks to William's recommendations, I have been to many of the wineries in this article and now recommend them to friends and readers. It is incredibly helpful in a place that can be overwhelming (especially when time is limited!) to have such a variety of recommendations and also to learn about wineries I would likely have missed otherwise.
    I appreciate that both this article and William's blog are approachable, informative, demonstrate a great enthusiasm for North Sonoma, and overall aim to give people the best experience possible while visiting Sonoma.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 4:47 PM

  • Snooth User: wineraven
    392690 18

    I really enjoyed this article! It was an insightful, thoughtful look into a few of Sonoma County's lessor known (and well known) gems. I was perplexed by the first post? Sounds like a jealous jilted lover to me. Perhaps you did not give a favorable review of their favorite wine/wine producer? As an art form it seems writing and wine-making garner the most criticism from hacks. Please continue to share your adventures in wine with those of us that appreciate the journey.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 4:47 PM

  • Snooth User: JodyT
    745492 8

    Sonoma is full of wonderful wineries and people to discover and you've have some great picks here! There's a brief mention of D'Argenzio, which I would have never found without following William's blog, but love their wines! Full disclosure: I'm now a happy wine club member so I do have some bias ;) I'm looking forward to visiting Kathleen Inman's soon - I've heard some very positive feedback and reviews on the wines there. The hospitality shown by Sonoma properties is a reason it has become *the* go-to spot when I bring visitors for wine-tasting.

    Addressing the first response: To dismiss someone simply because they only have a few years in the industry, is in my opinion, a disservice. Another disclaimer: I've worked for over a decade in the industry. New voices and new perspectives bring an injection of vitality into a group that sometimes takes itself too seriously. It doesn't take that long to get one's feet wet - it's the ability to hang in there and make a difference that is an even better achievement...

    Jul 19, 2011 at 5:32 PM

  • Vinolocity from Sheldon Wines is something I have been sorely missing here in Austin Texas.

    Jul 19, 2011 at 5:42 PM

  • Great article! My parents are coming up for a visit, to celebrate my Mom's birthday and I was wanting to plan a day of wine tasting that ended with a lovely dinner. I will give my Mom the choice between day one or day two of your fabulous itinerary (although she might read this and make it a two day adventure!) Thanks so much. Lisa M.
    P.S. I would take the first comment with a grain of salt, poor guy obviously has some personal/communication issues (that I imagine have very little, if anything to do with you) and felt that an anonymous attack on a website was going to make him feel better (I doubt it did, at least in any lasting way). Poor guy needs a hug and to look at the energy he brings to this space. There is plenty of room in the world for everyone to share, inspire and educate others about what they are passionate about - keep up the great work!

    Jul 19, 2011 at 7:22 PM

  • Snooth User: jon1
    Hand of Snooth
    85512 4

    Thank you William - even though Inspiration Vineyards wasn't a must stop and only a choice for stop 4, we very much appreciated the mention! We are here - always happy to welcome visitors and introduce our wines. We are grateful for your attention and the fact that you have only known about us for about 9 months of our 9 year history. Thanks!

    Jul 20, 2011 at 1:29 AM

  • Thanks everyone for the feedback.
    Jon - one of the hard parts and a downside to an article like this - picking. Just keeping it to one AVA is hard, and doesn't even mention so many other great wineries i love nearby. 200 in 30 miles, a daunting task. Inspiration's viognier was my wine of the week, ( ) and the Sauv Blanc is stunning. I made it a conservative day (and due to space) of 4 stops, but hopefully people will get in more!

    Jul 20, 2011 at 7:33 AM

  • I have been following William Allen wine industry update for quite a while. He has been extremely supportive to the Wineries in several major wine region in California, Oregon Washington and many other parts of the country and also giving great reviews on his travels to Spain. He has true passion and good will for wines and its people. Anyone who loves wine and love the wine making process has the rights to fulfill there dreams of growing grapes and making wine and doing what every they want to do on there own ranch and property. William has a lot of respect in the wine industry.
    Ray D'Argenzio
    D'Argenzio Winery

    Jul 20, 2011 at 11:29 AM

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