Monday, November 12, 2012

Winetasting on Sonoma Plaza

The number of tasting rooms on Sonoma's historic plaza keeps growing.  There are now 22 tasting rooms located on the plaza or within a short walk of the plaza.  Yesterday, I had a chance to check out some of them, both new and old.

For some good Syrah and a taste of New Orleans, visit Eric K. James Vineyards' tasting room.  You'll have to look hard to find this friendly tasting room.  While the address is 452 First Street East, Suite G, look for a walkaway off the east side of the plaza that is home to La Salette restaurant.  Walk down the alley and turn right before you get to La Salette.  You'll then see the sign for Eric K James.  We were first struck by the large number of olive oils and vinegars sitting outside of the tasting room and available for free tasting.  When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by Andrew Jaeger, one of the owners.  Andrew, a native of New Orleans, walked us through four delicious Syrahs.  Other wines were available to taste - both whites and reds - but we needed to save ourselves for other tasting rooms.  On Fridays and Saturdays, the tasting room stays open into the evenings.  If you are staying the night in Sonoma, stop on by and you'll get to taste some good wine and hear some New Orleans music.

We then headed to the south side of the plaza, to "Vine Alley," home to five tasting rooms. There's something here for just about everybody.  Being Zinfandel (red, not pink) fans, we were immediately attracted to Haywood Winery.  Here we tasted four Zinfandels, a Primitivo (Zinfandel's Italian cousin), and a Cabernet Franc.  Nancy, our friendly hostess, walked us through the wines and told us the history of this small vineyard, founded by Peter Haywood in 1976 and located in the Sonoma hills.

I told Nancy how hard it is to find wineries that have enough wines to satisfy guests who only enjoy white wines.  She suggested that I stop by the tasting room for Two Amigos Wines and GlenLyon Vineyards and Winery.  When we entered the tasting room we were warmly greeted by Guido Vino, one of the partners in the winery, who was wearing a brightly colored bow tie.  We immediately noticed photos of various people wearing Groucho Marx glasses as well as a video playing of folks similarly attired.  Guido told us that Two Amigos' tasting room is all about having fun. Given that Guido's partner, Vito Vino, once played Ronald McDonald, we should not have been surprised.  To get a sense of the Vino Brothers' sense of humor, visit Two Amigos' website.  The tasting room offers a variety of whites and reds offered by both labels.

We then visited Sigh, a tasting room for Champagne and sparkling wine.  The owner, Jayme Powers - "Bubble Boss" - explained to us that Sigh is not a traditional tasting room.  Rather it offers tastes of sparkling wine from California, Champagne, and other wine regions from around the world.  If you like bubbles, Sigh is a must stop.

Both Andrew and Nancy highly recommended that we visit Bryter Estates but the tasting room was closed for a private event.  I'll have to stop by on my next visit.

Two tasting rooms that sit beside each other on East Napa Street were also recommended to us.  Kamen Estate Wines specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon.  Not being Cab fans we didn't taste, but I  recommend a stop if you like this type of wine.  Next door is Spann Vineyards.  The tasting, which is housed in Saret Gallery, was not open when we stopped by.  However, we enjoyed the beautiful photographs in the gallery.

The last stop for the day was Walt, just north of the plaza on West First Street.  This Pinot Noir specialist is owned by Kathryn and Craig Hall, who also own Hall Wines in the Napa Valley.  If you love Pinot, this could be the stop for you as the winery makes Pinot from grapes grown in Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, Santa Rita Hills, and Willamette Valley.  If you want to taste the impact of terroir (geology, topography, and climate) on wine, Walt is the place for you.

There's no way to visit all of Sonoma Plaza's tasting rooms in one day and remain sober.  So I'll have to return to taste wine from other wineries.  If you would like to take a private, wine country tour that includes a stop on Sonoma Plaza, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

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