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Craig Kerstiens

Craig's Sonoma and Napa Wine Guide

As a frequent visitor to Sonoma/Napa area and wine drinker I often guide friends and visitors when planning their wine country trip. Even when not playing tour guide I’ll give advice to those looking for a wine tasting experience. To simplify this I’ve written up some notes on many of the places I’ve visited on several occasions and have a a set of recommended agenda over here based on your preferences.

Imagery Winery

Website | Yelp

Large variety, great to expose those newer to wines to some approachable ones as well as having something for the experienced wine drinker. They’re often a bit more creative with their wines, sometimes doing grapes that are commonly blended by themselves and other times doing creative blends such as their code blue which is 80% Syrah and 20% blueberry wine (a wine that smells blueberry, tastes like a solid Syrah and finishes like blueberry, but not sweet at any point).

  • Tasting ranges from $10-$20
  • Bottles range from $20-$80

Benziger Winery

Benziger, sister winery to Imagery, follows a more traditional approach to their wines. Here you’ll find great quality Chardonnay, Pinot, Bordeaux Blends and Cabs. They have a large emphasis on bio-dynamic wines (the next step up from organic) and are a great way to experience a variety of wines made in a traditional form. The grounds are also gorgeous providing a great place to picnic or enjoy a brick over pizza from them.

  • Tasting ranges from $10-$20
  • Bottles range from $20-$80


The smallest winery in Sonoma valley, it embodies much of what Sonoma is compared to Napa. The owner and wine maker is often behind the bar guiding you through the menu and he alone is a great experience. As for the wines themselves, their reds are generally good but nothing to write home about typically in the category of a good table wine. However they do have a great selection of Port in particular a white, blush and red port, with the white port most recently tasting like Hazelnut.

  • Tasting $5
  • Bottles range from $15-$40

Gundlasch Bundshu

Gundlasch Bundshu is the oldest winery in Sonoma. They make many traditional wines including Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir. They also have a few that are done a less common way such as their Gewurtzaminer done in an off-dry fashion which is enjoyable for those that like sweet wines but also approachable for those that do not. Its a bit more nestled away than some of the other Sonoma wineries and provides a good experience of being hidden away from it all.

  • Tasting $10
  • Bottles range from $20-$80

Sojourn Cellars

Sojourn is more of the Napa experience within Sonoma, its a private tasting by reservation only. They’ll take you through their current releases of Pinot and Cab typically 3 of each. The tasting room is just off of the Sonoma square and feels as if you’re sitting around someone’s dining room table. For Pinot or Cab lovers both are great here.

  • Tasting complimentary
  • Bottles range from $40 and $70


Cline is one of the larger producers within Sonoma and is something you can generally find at local markets. The wines are generally approachable to those newer to wine, though there are also some for the more experienced as well. In particular they have a large variety of Zins ranging from fruity to spicy. They also have a variety of birds and animals on the property around their pond making it a good place to entertain kids for a bit.

  • Tasting from $0 to $5
  • Bottles range from $15 to $40


Jacuzzi is the sister winery to Cline with Cline focusing on more French style Jacuzzi focuses on more Italian style. In addition to the traditional Sangiovese which is the primary wine in Chianti you’ll find Italian wines that are less common in California including Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, and Sagrantino. If you’re a fan of Italian wines this can be a good stop and with a large variety its likely to include something for people newer to wine as well. Also of note is they typically have a large selection of olive oils to taste for the non-drinkers in the party.

  • Tasting from $0 to $5
  • Bottles range from $15 to $40


Falling somewhere between Jacuzzi with a strong selection of Italian wines and other more traditional California wineries with selections such as Cab, Chardonnay, and Zin this winery can have something for most. It also offers great views looking out over part of Sonoma valley. If stopping here try to do it earlier in the day as being one of the first places you encounter its likely to be crowded as the day progresses.

  • Tasting from $10
  • Bottles range from $20 to $60

Gloria Ferrer

One of the few places with a focus on champagne in Sonoma it also offers great views. While many of their champagnes you can find in local markets, the ones sold here are far less available. Their champages are sold by the glass, not the traditional wine tasting method of a sampling of several, this makes the experience a bit easier to enjoy the view from their patio looking out over part of Sonoma Valley.

  • Glasses from $5-$15
  • Bottles from $15-$60


Enkidu is a hidden spot in much of Sonoma as its a smaller tasting room that doesn’t draw much attention to itself. The people behind the bar will be 1 of a small handful that are very involved with the winery. Their wines can be enjoyed by many, but for more experienced wine drinkers that enjoy more body they have a great selection of Petite Syrah.

  • Tasting $10
  • Bottles from $20-$50

St. Francis

St. Francis has a more common selection of California wines including a special focus Zin’s and Cab’s, offering a great quality of both. In addition to a standard tasting they have some options to do food and wine pairings as well to allow for a bit more of a special experience. The winery itself is reminiscent of a European Castle to a much smaller scale, a winery that while a bit isolated by itself feels like its been pulled right out of Napa.

  • Tasting $10-$30
  • Bottles $20-$80

Chateau St. Jean

Chateau St. Jean is also a more traditional winery though they offer a long list and broad selection. As a winery where you can find many of theirs in stores they go well beyond that at the Winery. With a large grounds area its a great spot for photos and to relax for a bit.

  • Tasting $5-$20
  • Bottles $20-$80


Kenwood winery also commonly found in stores has a much broader selection as well. While most of theirs are distributed at stores with about 30 wines on their tasting menu it offers a great chance to try a large variety of theirs. In particular their Reserve and Jack London series offer a variety of Cabs and Merlots at a price much more approachable than many Napa wineries.

  • Tasting $5
  • Bottles $10-$60

Mayo Family

A smaller family winery with its tasting room separate from the vineyard its a nice spot for a variety of wines. Its one of a few places serving champagne and also has a couple of choices for dessert wines for those that prefer it.

  • Tasting $5
  • Bottles $15-$50


Audelessa offers a more limited list typically only pouring 5 wines on a given day, though those 5 can be be well worth the trip. For Pinot or Cab lovers this is a great stop though they do venture beyond those as well. Additionally if you’re tired from standing at the counter all day they have some comfy seats assuming they’re not all full.

  • Tasting $10
  • Bottles $25-$60

Highway 12

Located right on the downtown square and sharing space with a store this one thats easy to miss, though its a shame to have that happen. They have a range of wines but focus mostly on their Cab and Bordeaux blends. They have a large range from approachable table wines up to their reserve Bordeaux. In particular their regular Bordeaux blend and Cab are an amazing bang for the buck that make you not feel bad opening one on a weeknight.

  • Tasting complimentary to $5
  • Bottles $10 to $80

Adobe Road

Located on the square with a range from beginner to some big cabs it has something thats pretty approachable for everyone. They can often get crowded so getting their earlier is advisable.

  • Tasting $10 to $20
  • Bottles $10 to $80


Just off the square this is slightly more hidden than some, but more discoverable than others. With a short list at a given point in time they have a strong focus on Cabs and is a great spot if you want to enjoy 2-3 within a tasting.

  • Tasting $10
  • Bottles $20-$80

Conn Creek

Hidden off the main road of Napa this place has a more approachable feel than most Napa wineries. Despite not having an ornate entrance they deliver the same quality Cabs that so many other Napa wineries do at a fraction of the price. If you’re in Napa strictly for the quality of wines and want a place where you can relax this is a great stop.

  • Tasting $5-$10
  • Bottles $20-$60

Flora Springs

Flora Springs is a pretty typical Napa experience with high ceilings and beautifully decorated their wines match what you’d expect. With a great selection of Cabs and other quality wines its a place to come if you want the stereotypical Napa experience. You’ll hear a bit more about the region and vineyard than the taste of the wine, but it doesn’t mean the wines are lacking.

  • Tasting $10-$20
  • Bottles $25-$100

Frogs Leap

Frogs Leaps is a pretty common Napa winery, though a bit more laid back than many. With a variety of great wines they’ll rotate through what they’re pouring pretty frequently. This can range from Rose to Zin to a common Napa Cab. Most wines are great quality and you have the ability to enjoy them in a variety of ways from at a sit down tasting to outdoors while playing Cornhole.

  • Tasting $10-$30
  • Bottles $20-$100


Pina is what you expect in quality when it comes to great Napa cabs, but without so much of the pomp and circumstance. You taste in what is essentially a large warehouse that has a bit of a Kaz feel to it. The people behind the counter are usually older and simply there to pour and let you enjoy. Colors of their cab go from dark ink, to dark ink died with dark ink. Selection is mostly cabs, though they have a Chardonnay and late harvest as well.

  • Tasting ~ $15
  • Bottles $50 - $100


For sometime I’d passed VJB up as it seemed very touristy, though sad it took so long to visit. They have several italian varietals, but of the ones on my list doing that style very possibly the best. They don’t have anything quite in the range of Super Tuscan or Brunellos, more on the softer side of Italian wines but they do them very well. Also a great area for ordering a pizza or from their cafe and enjoying the area

  • Tasting ~ $10
  • Bottles $20 - $50

Iron Horse

Website - Yelp

Among Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, and Chandon Iron Horse is hands down my favorite. They do both still and sparkling wines, though I can only comment about their sparkling. In getting there you feel as if you’re entirely off the beaten path. The tasting area is outside and overlooks the valley with gorgeous views. Their champagnes are great quality and many that may be harder to find in stores, including one commissioned especially by Disney for distribution in their parks which is quite great.

  • Tasting ~ $10
  • Bottles $30 - $80


Website | Yelp

This is the most impressive wine experience I’ve ever had, and at the same time an extremely relaxed one. Their tasting is by appointment only and you should plan a few weeks out. The wine maker is a 4th generation wine maker and grower from France. He’s the wine maker for several other great quality wineries in the area as well. Easily some of the best wine I’ve tasted in my life, though it also comes with a price to match. Some wines of particular note include his White Bordeaux, his Syrah which smells just like fresh craked black pepper, and every single one of his cabs. A final note, the wine tasting is always conducted by him or his wife, both of whom are a wonderful experience and very different from each other.

  • Tasting ~ $100
  • Bottles $65-$300


Website | Yelp

This was an impromptu visit for us, they generally encourage a reservation though it seems easy enough to just stop in. Their environment was very relaxed as nice break from so much of Napa. Their lower end wines were definitely the ones that seemed to excel. The higher end into cab and estate wines were of good quality but didn’t quite hold up to some of the outstanding others in the Napa area. The great thing was their lower end ones stood out as great compared to so many surrounding wineries.

  • Tasting ~ $20
  • Bottles $25-$100


Website | Yelp

If you love anything about Disney or Pixar whats not to love about a winery by John Lasseter himself. In truth the winery is actually mostly a labor of love by his wife, or as he describes it “her movie”. Appointment only here definitely holds true, but as with most places that require an appointment it’s worth the coordination. Their tasting experience includes a quick walk through the grounds and barrel room, followed by a great tasting experience paired with cheeses and chocolates. They focus exclusively on Rhone style blends, all of which are quite excellent.

  • Tasting ~ $25
  • Bottles $25-$60