We visited the wine country most recently with a medium-sized group, and as part of the Carneros wine region, Cline Cellars is a welcoming entry point. Although some of us were only interested in sweeter, aromatic whites while others looked for full-bodied reds, Ron, who poured for us at Cline's patio tasting bar, was excellent at ensuring everyone found something they enjoyed. He recommended wines at the edge of our comfort zones, from less common varietals like Carignane, to a smooth red blend even the white-wine-only drinkers might enjoy, but was never pushy. Tastings are complimentary, the atmosphere is gregarious, and the staff members are knowledgeable.
With lunch in our sights, VJB Vineyard & Cellars was an excellent next stop. The central plaza is large and airy - the perfect place to take a glass of wine, a scoop of gelato, or a wood-fired pizza (from the on-site gelato shop or pizza oven.) The pizzas are prepared on demand, but the wait is worth it. The winery itself focuses primarily on Italian varietals, and a glass of their Nero d'Avola paired beautifully with a prosciutto and mozzarella panini. At the tasting bar, $10 will snag you five tastes, which range from a medium-dry and citrusy Prosecco to a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay Port was also delicious.
After the sommelier at VJB recommended St. Francis Winery, particularly its Zinfandels, we were thrilled to try a horizontal sampling of three different Zinfandels at the St. Francis tasting bar as part of our overall tasting. (The Dry Creek Zinfandel was my favorite, but they were all delicious.) The newly released Petite Sirah is also worth looking up, and if you can, wander with your glass to the patio behind the tasting room to take in a positively gorgeous view. St. Francis' staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and will work with you to tailor your tasting to your tastes: we visited as a group of six very different wine fans, and each found – and left with – something we enjoyed.
For our last stop, we headed to Sonoma's townsite, where a number of tasting rooms circle the charming Town Square. M wanted to show off Bump Wine Cellars, one of our favorites, to the red wine enthusiasts in our party, but as we were traveling with a couple of Niagara ex-pats who were missing icewine, we continued up past the Square to Roche. The Californian and Ontarian wine regions differ considerably in terms of climate and terroir, so while we knew icewine was out of the question, we'd heard good things about their Late Harvest options. It was a fun way to end the day; just off of the Town Square, Roche is a casual and welcoming tasting spot. After sampling six different wines, we enjoyed a bottle of the Late Harvest Merlot while tucked in to a table on their large, sunny patio.