You could spend weeks enjoying Sonoma County’s vineyards and vistas and never get bored. But if you only have a day, then pack a picnic and rent some bikes to explore one of the many wine trails the county has to offer.
The area in North Sonoma County is made up of three valleys: the Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and the Dry Creek Valley. The Dry Creek Valley has been home to grape growers since the California Gold Rush, when prospectors came for gold but stayed for the fertile ground.
Vineyards and wineries were established here as early as the the 1880’s but then prohibition dampened the industry. It did not fully recover until the 70’s when the famed Judgment of Paris wine competition brought recognition to California winemakers and business took off.
We visited three wineries with distinctly different personalities and that was more than enough to fill the day and our bellies with good wine.
One of the larger wine producers in the area, Lambert Bridge has a sophisticated atmosphere and beautifully manicured grounds. It produces more than 13 different wines that can be sampled in its tasting room. There are several tasting options that take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes and cost about $15-35. For tours and larger groups you should call ahead and make an appointment. They also have private seating in the Redwood Barrel Room.
The wine here was delicious but since it was our first stop on the trail and we did not want to be weighed down so we did not purchase any bottles. Perhaps that was the reason why our server virtually abandoned us for another group in the private room but all was copacetic after another server stepped in and gave us an extra sample to make up for it.
Mounts Family Winery
Your reward for making it up the steep hill to the entrance of this small vineyard will be views reminiscent of the Bordeaux region in France, and of course tasty wine. The antithesis of pretentious, the wine here is often served by a member of the Mount family. Visitors can sip wine and enjoy the view from the outdoor picnic tables.
Our server, Richard Mount, a senior member of the Mount family, explained that he had never been to Bordeaux and did not know much about its scenery but he did know about grapes, which he and his family has been growing for over three generations.
Historically a family of fruit farmers, the current generation of Mount family decided to take a crack at formulating and bottling their own wine and opened Mounts Family Winery in 2005.
Open most Saturdays from 12-4 and weekdays by appointment. There is a $10 tasting fee per person that is waved if you buy a bottle, so that is was a no brainer and we took a Zinfandel with us. They are best known for their Zinfandels and Petit Syrahs.
Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves
The tasting rooms for this popular vineyard are located at the top of a hill with scenic views of the valley below. We enjoyed the laid back rustic atmosphere along with other couples and families camped out on the lawn relaxing.
Bella Vineyards may own several vineyards in Dry Creek Valley and the Alexandra Valley but they are committed to producing small lots of distinct high quality wine. There is a $10 tasting fee that is not waived with a purchase. During our visit they served a gourmet amuse-bouche to pair with one of the sample wines.
Spoke Folk Cyclery is located at 201 Center Street in the town of Healdsburg. It’s open 10-6 on weekdays and 10-5 on weekends. The price ranges from $38-$100 for the day and they also have child trailer attachments that allow children to pedal along with you.
We took the Dry Valley Road trail which is about a ten minute ride from the bike shop. We followed West Dry Creek Road all the way to Yoakim Bridge (Bella Vineyards is to the left at the dead end) and then looped around to Dry Creek Road for the return ride. There are plenty of vineyards on both sides of the loop.
Tips for Visiting
- The trails here are on shoulderless roads shared with vehicles so traveling with younger independent riders is not recommended. Most of the vineyards in Sonoma County have an outdoor space but there is not enough for children to do to enjoy a whole day of it.
- You can purchase water at some of the vineyards but bring plenty of your own and a picnic lunch. There are no restaurants or shops on this trail.
- Mind the time. We chose a relatively short trail and picked up our bikes at about 11am, but we still had to speed race from Bella Vineyards to get to Spoke Folk before it closed at 5pm. The staff must be used to this because they stayed open until we got there 10 minutes late. It wasn’t easy hoofing it after a leisurely wine-drinking day!
- Drive straight to the end of the trail and drink (responsibly) your way back.