DSC_2637Bartholomew Park – More commonly known as Bart Park, and located very close to the Sonoma town square.  The Bart Park land has a sordid history and has changed ownership several times since 1830.  Today it is no longer family owned, and became property of the state when its last owners did not have any children to take over the family business.  We biked to Bart Park, and enjoyed a private tour and tasting.  However we learned that a tour guide’s knowledge can make or break an experience and unfortunately for us: our Bart Park guide was not able to keep up with our inquisitive minds.

  • Pros: Side by side tastings, interactive private tour guide, California history
  • Cons: Tour guide knowledge, dark tasting room with no view
  • Interesting Fact: Certified organic
  • Superlative: Most quoted quide
  • Wine Rating: 2
  • Overall Rating: 2

DSC_2457Bella – This winery was probably the best example of an experience being better than the wines. The wines themselves did not overwhelm either of us, but we would gladly go back if we lived in the area. The outdoor grassy area was filled with picnickers and live music, and the food pairing offered with the wine was original for tastings as well. They also had a variety of tasting stations set up all over their vineyard so you were able to walk from station to station and get several views of their establishment.  Perfect for those who like to be outside in the sun, or inside a nice cool cave in some confortable leather chairs.  We would gladly spend and afternoon here with a bottle of their wine, but wouldn’t seek out their wine specifically in Georgia.

  • Pros: Food pairings, live music, good mix of environments, inexpensive tasting, beautiful views, relaxed atmosphere
  • Cons: Wine didn’t stand out
  • Superlative: Best overall entertainment
  • Wine Rating: 3
  • Overall Rating: 4

DSC_2325Benovia – Probably the best pure tasting experience on the trip, we were in a room that was completely private and we were given all the attention of our host. The tasting included a few side by side comparisons which were very interesting. One of them was two different ones, one from 2009 and one from 2010 that came from the same rows of vines so we could tell how the wine ages year over year. Another side by side was two wines from the same year that came from different areas of the vineyard and how the flavor profiles differed between the tour. Perhaps the surprise of the tour is that we actually enjoyed their Rose enough that we bought a bottle to be shipped to us once the weather cools back down. All in all an amazing tasting experience, but not somewhere you would go to spend a lazy afternoon.

  • Pros: Small town feel, fully private tasting experience, side by side comparisons, tastings not on the menu, knowledgable staff, variety in wines, manual farming methods
  • Cons: Limited outdoor space/entertainment, not all grapes are grown on property
  • Interesting fact: Only use 70% of the grapes grown, the rest are just dropped to the ground
  • Superlative: Most knowledgeable staff
  • Wine Rating: 4
  • Overall Rating: 4

DSC_2491Coppola – This winery was a very different experience than the other 8 wineries that we visited on our trip. The other 8 wineries were are fairly small in nature, with limited production capabilities with Gunlach being the largest at 30,000 cases per year. Coppola’s winery is capable of producing 10,000 cases per day, and that kind of scale easily translates into a different experience. Every piece of the winery was focused on making money, compared to the other places that we visited that seemed to love wine and making money was just the way they could enjoy more wine. On the bright side, we always thought we would like the smaller wineries and going to Coppola allowed us to confirm this suspicion beyond a doubt.

  • Pros: Gift shop, opened a 2nd bar just for us, very friendly staff
  • Cons: Overcrowded, amusement park/resort theme, wine, no views
  • Interesting Fact: Owned by the director of The Godfather
  • Superlative: Most corporate
  • Wine Rating: 1
  • Overall Rating: 1

dfcreekDeer Field Ranch – This one was actually not on the original itinerary, but due to traffic we were not able to get to our original choice of Chateau St. Jean. While we were disappointed in missing out on Chateau St. Jean, this was a pleasant surprise to both of us. There was a solid mix of wines here, and while the staff was slightly inattentive, that can probably be attributed to how late we arrived and them trying to close up shop for the day. The actual wines were quite pleasant and they had some of the most expensive (by the bottle) wines on their tasting menu of any winery that we visited, which was nice. The cool temperatures of the wine cave was also a welcome change to the mild heat that was occurring in the late afternoon.

  • Pros: Caves, most expensive wines on tasting menu, comfortable tasting experience
  • Cons: Limited staff knowledge
  • Interesting Fact: Wine cave is shaped like a chalice
  • Superlative: Best cave experience
  • Wine Rating: 3
  • Overall Rating: 4

DSC_2604Gundlach Bundshu – Pronounced “gun-lock bun-shoe”, Gunlach is the oldest continually operated family winery in California, and was by far Charles’ favorite experience. Part of that was that it was the only winery that we visited that provided more than just a tasting room, but the wines themselves were also his favorite. The Pinzgauer tour took about two hours and took us through a good portion of the 320 grape growing acres on the property and offered countless photo opportunities. The 2010 Pinot Noir was the only wine of the trip that Charles asked for more of at the tasting, if that tells you anything. Overall – this was Charles’ favorite stop of the trip and we will try to find this wine in Georgia for special occasions.

  • Pros: Best vineyard tour, gift shop value, history, varied terrain, phenomenal views, photo ops, Pinzgauer, Bob
  • Cons: Crowded gift shop/public tastings – go private
  • Interesting Fact: Oldest continually operated family winery in California
  • Superlative: Charles’ Favorite Wines & Best Tour
  • Wine Rating: 5
  • Overall Rating: 5

DSC_2273Landmark – Our first winery of the day – and the perfect way to kick things off.  They run a very traditional tasting, but at the time we were first timers and had no idea what to expect.  Their tasting menu had a Granache: a type of wine/grape that Charles and I had never tasted before.  We instantly fell in love with its different flavors.  They also had a rose on the menu that we were sure we would hate but fell in love with.  The wine’s surprising revelations won us over and we bought a few bottles we just couldn’t say no to.  After our tasting we were able to roam around their gardens, ponds, vines, and bocce ball court!

  • Pros: Beautiful porch, picnic area, bocce ball, easy access to vines, unique gift shop items, knowledgeable staff
  • Cons: Tasting room in a bar, make a reservation to avoid crowds
  • Superlative: Wine stands above experience
  • Wine Rating: 4
  • Overall Rating: 3

DSC_2355Lynmar – This was the most relaxed tasting that we went to and therefor a group favorite.  The tasting room had a large patio with oversized comfortable chairs and seating areas that overlooked their rolling vineyards and local gardens.  The gardens wrapped around the patio and were full of flowers, fruits, veggies and herbs for a beautiful and fragrant walk around the property.  Our driver had to round us all up and make us leave the property so we could make it to the next scheduled tasting.  If he hadn’t I am pretty sure we would have stayed there for the rest of the day and continued to take in the beautiful views, robust collection of delicious wines, and atmosphere they were dishing out.

  • Pros: Outdoor patio, outdoor gardens, view, extremely friendly staff
  • Cons: None
  • Interesting Fact: Make brick oven pizzas in the summer from fruit grown in the gardens
  • Superlative: Jes’ Favorite Wines & Best Outdoor Space
  • Wine Rating: 5
  • Overall Rating: 5

DSC_2466Zuchichi – Family owned winery in the Dry Creek Valley.  Their 22 acres of land is considered rather small for a winery and contributes to their limited variety and quantity of production.  Our tasting was done out of a barrel of partially aged wine, because they do not have any bottles available for tasting.  This doctor turned farmer sells out of every ounce he bottles years in advance and can only sell futures – an industry term for a bottle that will be available in the future.  Because the wine was not fully aged, it was hard to expect what it would taste like once matured.  As total wine novices, Charles and I did not feel we could reasonably project the outcome and opted not to buy a bottle that wouldn’t have been available for 2 years.  However, it was a different exposure to the process and an inspiring story of success.

  • Pros: Tasting from an aging barrel, gorgeous deck view
  • Cons: Wine futures, no fully aged wine to taste
  • Interesting Fact: Owner was the team doctor for the New Orleans Saints until Hurricane Katrina
  • Superlative: Most original experience
  • Wine Rating: 2
  • Overall Rating: 3

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