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The Perfect Central Sonoma Day Trip

How to hit wine country without spending the whole day in the car.

Seghesio.

 


Sonoma wine country is enormous, roughly 1,768 square miles. With all that ground to cover, it would be a fool’s errand to try to see, much less enjoy, all of that wine country in one day. To make it all more manageable, we’ve been separating Sonoma and Napa Counties into three easy-to-decipher areas—north, middle, and south—to cut down on the drive time and maximize the wining and dining. (Our previous guide to Northern Sonoma is here.) Central Sonoma is more posh, polished, and pricey than it used to be, but it’s still hung onto its country charm. And the wines here are still earthy and fun, but overall quality has increased dramatically. Here, we’ve devised a day trip filled with options that showcase some of the best that central Sonoma wine country has to offer.

Morning

The 70-mile trip from San Francisco to Healdsburg takes a little over an hour if you leave early. Start off at the charming Costeaux French Bakery, where you can grab a pastry, a coffee, and even a tasty boxed lunch if you opt for a picnic later (see Rodney Strong below). Another option: Sonoma-chic Flying Goat Coffee, which is an ideal spot for a well-made cappuccino or drip coffee, as well as creative locally made snacks like pastries and muffins.  

Photo: Gary Farrell.

Your first winery stop is Seghesio, about a four-minute drive from Healdsburg, which has been growing zinfandel vines since 1895. The winery specializes in zinfandel (they make 12!), but it has also become well known for red and white Italian varietals such as barbera and Sangiovese. The classic tasting ($20 per person) of Seghesio’s wines—think bold, spicy, dusty reds and complex and varied whites—requires no reservations. You’ll be treated to a flight of wines and a little charcuterie. Or skip the formalities and just buy a bottle and play some bocce (the courts can be reserved but are otherwise first come, first serve). If a private tasting with food pairings whipped up by the chef is more your speed (from $40 to $80), you’ll need a reservation.

Just four miles from Seghesio, Rodney Strong has something for everyone. The winery has a simple, warm tasting room, but it’s the terrace tastings and food pairings that put them on our radar. The terrace has a casual but modern vibe that makes it a relaxing place to hang out and sip rosé of pinot or sauvignon blanc on a hot summer day. The complex Rowen Red Blend is my top pick of the reds, but the pinot is silky, smooth, and delicately spiced. Rodney Strong offers everything from complimentary, self-guided winery tours to picnics and vine-to-table food parings (from $70 to $90 per person). The winery also puts on a summer concert series—this year it’s Melissa Etheridge, the Temptations, and Boz Scaggs—in an outdoor amphitheater surrounded by vines. The shows start at 6 p.m. should you want to circle back or visit here last. 

Afternoon

If you’d like to reduce drive time, opt for the food pairings at Rodney Strong in lieu of a lunch stop. But you’re basically in Windsor, so you can easily pop into Kin for a creative, upscale twist on American comfort food, along with craft beer and local wines; Tomi Thai for curry noodles, or Himalayan Restaurant for a tandoori or masala. 

Just off Westside Road, MacRostie strikes a nearly perfect balance between upscale chic and a comfy pastoral vibe. The winery has not one but three patios with expansive vineyard views, a modern farmstyle tasting house with windows and sliding glass doors everywhere, and a few cozy nooks for those that value a little extra intimacy. Tastings of the winery’s wide array of carefully made and complex pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are $20 to $25 per person. Grab a bottle of the citrusy 2017 Clockwise Sauvignon Blanc to take home for summer sipping, or make it a 2013 Wildcat Mountain Pinot Noir ($59) for a special dinner.

Head south on Westside Road for about 10 minutes until you get to Gary Farrell, which is perched on a hill above the Russian River. Home to some of Sonoma’s finest pinot noir and chardonnay, Gary Farrell has a plush, comfortable, newly remodeled tasting room, a shaded terrace, and a sunny lawn that overlook the vineyards and deep forests surrounding the winery. The tasting options here range from a wine and cheese pairing ($35 per person) to wine and food pairings from the chef ($75). The experience here isn’t stuffy at all, but reservations are required. When you call, you can go off-menu and ask for one of the custom tastings. 

Evening

You’ll be closest to Santa Rosa, where local faves include Cibo for pizza, Sazón for Peruvian, and Bistro 29 for French.  But there’s a lot of ground to cover before you get back to San Francisco, so don’t rule out Sebastopol, Petaluma, or Marin for dinner.

 

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