In Sonoma County, life itself “opens up.”
Just like every good bottle of wine needs the chance to breathe, to “open up”, so all of its intended, treasured notes can be fully experienced, Sonoma County, with its rolling hills dotted with oak trees, 50-plus miles of rugged Pacific Ocean coastline, and picture-perfect vineyards, invites visitors to escape the ordinary and let life opens up to its fullest.
Home to sixteen unique appellations coupled with an incredibly varied topography that hosts 44 red and 22 white grape varieties, Sonoma County is the largest producer of California’s Wine Country region. It’s also on a mission: to become the world’s first 100-percent sustainable wine region.
Sustainable vineyards and tasting rooms
As you make your way throughout Sonoma County, you’re bound to see green and white signs that say ‘Sonoma County Sustainable’ posted next to vineyards or wineries. Though many of the region’s vineyards have been practicing sustainable farming techniques and winemaking practices for decades – more than 85% of Sonoma County’s vineyards are family owned and operated multi-generational, family-owned – this signage confirms that they are working to create and utilize practices that nurture the land for future generations while creating high-quality wines, a mission spearheaded by the Sonoma County Winegrowers in 2014. Top priorities include maintaining biodiversity on vineyards to ensure soil health, implementing best practices in recycling, water conservation, and renewable energy technology, while also encompassing social responsibility and community. To date, more than 90 percent of the county’s 450 wineries have been awarded the coveted sustainable certification.
Several vineyards offer the opportunity to see sustainability in action:
The artisan, family-owned winery and beautiful, estate vineyards of Amista Vineyards showcase the gorgeous grapes of Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Set off on a self-guided Vineyard Adventure Walk and you’ll learn more about grapes behind the award-winning wines and the extra care Amista dedicates to preserving its enveloping natural beauty, including efforts to restore the natural fish habitat in the onsite Dry Creek. Register at the vineyard’s tasting room, pick up a map and set off on an adventure along one-half mile of flat terrain.
Silver Oak Cellars
Silver Oak is perhaps best known for producing one of America’s most requested Cabernet Sauvignons. Its brand new, state-of-the-art winery showcases its tech-forward, sustainable practices inspired by the sweeping Alexander Valley and 75 stunning acres of prime Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. Book a Wine and Food Pairing With Tour, offered Wed-Sat at 11 am, and you’ll not only enjoy a four-course, educational wine and food experience featuring current release Silver Oak and Twomey wines paired with locally sourced bites by winery chef Dominic Orsini, but you’ll also learn more about sustainable farming and eco-friendly architecture as you tour the state-of-the-art tasting room, surrounding vineyard and culinary gardens.
Tucked away on the edge of Alexander Valley atop Bell Mountain, estate fine wine producer Medlock Ames farms and crafts small production, artisan wines the sustainable way: Only 55 of its 338 acres are farmed, organically with no insecticides, chemical fertilizers, or herbicides, with solar power used as its main energy source. Experience this exceptional vineyard with a Ranch Tour + Tasting + Picnic in the Vineyard (available Daily, 10:30 am Tour + Tasting Experience at Bell Mountain Ranch followed by picnic OR 1 pm picnic followed by Tour + Tasting Experience). Settle in for a leisurely picnic in the vineyards before or after your tour.
When the Pedroncelli family opened their winery way back in 1934, they sold their wine for 45 cents a gallon. Located in the Dry Creek Valley in Geyserville, California. the winery stands as one of the first wineries in Sonoma County and remains in the Pedroncelli family to this day. Pop into their tasting room to sip ripe, rich Zinfandel, and more than likely a fourth-generation family member will be pouring for you. It’s no surprise that this family-owned winery keeps preservation at its heart: the soil here is replenished with a compost of grape pomace, vineyard prunings, and other mature organic materials; hillside vineyards are terraced to minimize water erosion, and significant acreage is dedicated to permanent cover crops or no-till vegetation to prevent erosion and lower green-house emissions. Cover crops provide habitat to attract beneficial insects that prey on insect pests instead of harsh pesticides.
Arrange a Tasting Tour (for groups of 4-8 people) and you’ll hike through the Pedroncelli ranch vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and learn more about current vintages and the 90 plus year history of this exceptional winery.
La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
At the heart of the Russian River Valley in a historic barn dating back to 1900, La Crema Estate is best known for its cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But this iconic winery believes that great wine doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment.
Set off on Saralee’s Vineyard Tour, and you’ll tour the vineyard and estate in an electric cart with a personal guide, to see the signs of sustainability in action: Cover crops provide beneficial insect habitat and improve water-holding, Nesting boxes for raptors provide natural pest control and only drip irrigation is used to conserve water and the energy to pump it.
Reservations are required for Sara’s Vineyard Tour, which is offered at 10:30 am and 12 pm daily, spring through fall.
Sustainable wines? There’s an app for that!
You’ll also see the Sonoma County Sustainability logo on wine bottles that meet the strict certification standards. When you uncork a bottle of wine marked with the Sonoma sustainability certification, you know that the wine you’re sipping was made with the environment, social responsibility, economic viability, and high quality in mind. Wine brands bearing the label must commit to undergoing a strict Chain of Custody audit for each vintage and varietal bearing the label. With the new Sonoma County Sustainable Wine app (now available for free at the Apple App Store) you can simply scan the wine label with your smartphone and learn about the farm in Sonoma County where the grapes in your bottle once grew, as well as information on the winery that produced it.
Take home a souvenir to remember: Sonoma culinary know-how
The best souvenirs you can take home from your Sonoma vacation? Memories, of good company, good food, and of course, good wine. Bring the spirit of Sonoma home with you by learning new techniques, recipes, and ideas to take back to your own kitchen at Relish. This culinary education hotspot gathers the best chefs, food purveyors, and winemakers of Sonoma County, offering events, classes, and tastings at its downtown Healdsburg Relish Culinary Center. Unlike other cooking schools, Relish classes include a complete meal and not just small bites, so you truly get a taste of expertly prepared, local dishes that you can recreate in your home kitchen.
The heart of Northern Sonoma Wine Country unfolds at the doorstep of historic Healdsburg’s h2hotel, making it the perfect location for a weekend of wine. This eco-chic hotel’s organic aesthetic, creative amenities and gold standard in sustainability – it’s LEED NC 2.2 Gold Certified Green – means your conscious can rest easy, too.
Built on the former site of a gas station, h2hotel removed all contaminated soil and remediated the land during construction, also restoring the creek bed and riparian habitat of Foss Creek, which gently runs through the property. A “green roof” filters rainwater while also reducing the amount of heat the hotel gives off; solar panels, also on the rooftop, are used to heat the swimming pool and provide hot water, reducing electricity consumption.
Sustainability extends in-room with 100% Egyptian Cotton sheets, towels and robes; reusable water carafes are provided for guests to fill with purified sparkling or still water at the water bars on every floor; perhaps best of all, a a mechanical system provides fresh air at a rate of at least 150% that of a standard hotel, so you can breathe easy, too.
Fly direct to the Valley of the Moon
Jack London, who had a ranch in Sonoma Valley, noted that the Native American word Sonoma means “valley of the moon.” Though you can always fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and enjoy the scenic, approximately two-hour drive to Sonoma County, there are direct flights to Santa Rosa, California, the county seat of Sonoma County, from Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and, new in September, Las Vegas. Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) also boasts shorter lines, easy affordable parking, and ground transportation connections that will lead you straight to the heart of wine country.