One of the great aspects of Sonoma County, California is its diversity. With 13 separate appellations stretching from the Pacific Ocean east to the Ma
One of the great aspects of Sonoma County, California is its diversity. With 13 separate appellations stretching from the Pacific Ocean east to the Mayacamas mountains and from San Francisco north to Mendocino County, Sonoma has a wine country feel that will suit just about anyone. If you are new to Sonoma County, the Alexander Valley appellation is loaded with shops, restaurants, hotels, and wineries and is perfect for wine tourism.
The Alexander Valley runs from Mendocino County in the north down almost to Healdsburg. Your first decision to make is which town to choose for a base of operations and Healdsburg, whose geographic location makes it the hub of the Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander Valleys, is a good choice. A small town of 11,000 people, it has most of the area’s hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores. It is also a cute town that has enough to offer travelers without yet being too pretentious or “discovered”.
The other town worth visiting – and perhaps considering making your base of touring – is the tiny village of Geyserville. However, it is easy to reach (just off Highway 101), has the excellent Geyserville Inn offering upscale yet reasonably-priced accommodations, and a couple different options for dinner. Plus, it is right in the middle of the wine country. Your best bet: choose Geyserville for a romantic getaway and Healdsburg if you enjoy shopping or nightlife.
Once you have your base town selected, you can proceed to check out some of the wineries. Most of the wineries in the Alexander Valley are along Highway 128 south from Geyserville. If you are staying in either Geyserville or Healdsburg, you can make a nice loop that includes Geyserville, Healdsburg, Highway 128, and the major wine areas. Make sure to take the side loop down Red Winery Road, which is among the most scenic in the area.
This section of wine country is still a bit more hospitable to wine tourists than is Napa and most wineries either have a low $5 tasting fee or don’t charge anything at all. Some of the best wineries and friendliest people are along Highway 128 where it is also called Alexander Valley Road. Make sure to visit Alexander Valley Vineyards and Sausal Winery, located only about a kilometer apart from each other.
Wine grown in the Alexander Valley differs depending on whether it is from the valley floor, a rich farming area, or from the hillsides to the east. The valley floor produces Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. It is on the hillsides, however, the most intriguing Alexander Valley Wines are now being grown. The rockier, harsher conditions on the hills produce a lower yield than the valley floor and thus more flavor per grape. Make sure you ask for these special wines when you visit the area.
While driving is a good way to see the area, never forget that being active in wine country makes for a much more personal experience. You can easily bike the backroads of Alexander Valley, perhaps stopping at the Jim Town Store for picnic supplies. The Russian River, which runs along the valley’s western border, is a great place for canoeing and rentals can be had in Healdsburg. Finally, nearby Lake Sonoma State Recreation area has a number of good hiking options and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park has a nice two-mile roundtrip hike to the summit of Mount St. Helena.
Take Highway 101 north from San Francisco to get to the Alexander Valley. Try finding flights directly into the Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, served by Horizon Airlines from Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Las Vegas.