The rolling hills of the Carneros that link Sonoma and Napa counties along the San Pablo Bay not only host fantastic vineyards for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they also offer several great tasting experiences outside the crowded Napa Valley.
Champagne lovers will enjoy Domaine Carneros. Cuvaison and Etude both have tasting rooms here and Artesa is just across Highway 12 to the north. Of all these spots, Saintsbury Winery has a special feel. An old school vibe, set under big, shady California Oaks. It's comfortable, unhurried and you sense the Carneros all around you.
We cycled out from Sonoma, a short ride going south and east from the Plaza and down through the Carneros vineyards. We were seated in the garden, with tables comfortably spaced so that we could enjoy both our wines and our conversation.
The tasting experience included five wines, beginning with a Vin Gris of Pinot Noir from 2021. Everyone enjoyed this Rosé, it was a pretty pink with strawberry and cherry notes. Crisp and dry, it will be a perfect summer Rosé. We also tasted a Carneros Chardonnay and three Pinot Noir wines.
They highlight Pinot Noir from the Carneros AVA and also Pinot from Sonoma Coast AVAs. Of the wines we tasted, I enjoyed the Pratt Vineyard the most. It was a nicely balanced wine with dark cherry and red plum fruit aromas and a hint of earthiness. Bright acidity typical of Sonoma Coast Pinot and light, round tannin.
The service is friendly and pretty simple. They brought out breadsticks, no other food was available for order. But they did bring us each an exquisite chocolate almond turtle at the end of the tasting. Yum. It was a nice touch, and a happy way to finish off a really enjoyable garden experience in the Carneros.
The tasting fee was $45 per person, and reservations are required. It was easy to book online through their web site at www.saintsbury.com
I cycle through this area regularly, avoiding the traffic on Highway 12, it's a beautiful ride through the vines on the way over to Napa Valley. And for those who want to combine a little activity with their wine tasting, it's just 15 miles out to Saintsbury. From Sonoma, make your way to Denmark St., cross the highway and follow Burndale Rd south. Cross Highway 12 and Ramal Rd will take you across the southern end of the Carneros vineyards. This is a common cycling route with little traffic, but it does get windy in the afternoon. I suggest riding out and having a designated driver waiting. Load the bikes and do a couple tastings while you're out there. Cheers!