Medlock Ames turns out some terrific dark reds, highly drinkable on an outdoor table next to its gorgeous tasting room in a quiet part of the Alexander Valley. But come 5 p.m., the tasting room’s back door opens onto the world of a dark-wood saloon. Herbs picked from the garden are muddled and slapped to concoct some original cocktails at Alexander Valley Bar. A brilliant transition to the evening—aka winetailing. medlockames.com; Tasting from $15; 13414 Chalk Hill Rd., Healdsburg; 707/431-8845.
Not strictly a tasting room or a visitor center, you might call this the seat of an empire. Wineries as diverse as Sonoma’s Arrowood, Napa’s Cardinale, and Santa Maria’s Byron Vineyard now live in the portfolio of Jackson Family Wines. But in the landmark château that is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, you can taste the core brand's offerings with pairings from the executive chef, wander through the winemaking exhibits and extensive gardens, and picnic under fabulous old oaks. kj.com; 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton; 707/571-8100.
If you’re looking for champagne, J Vineyard & Winery’s Bubble Room is an experience not to be missed. The luxury tasting pairs both sparkling and still wines with a multi-course menu from local ingredients, all on the backdrop of a full-service salon and the winery’s gardens. The winery also offers a variety of other tastings at their Healdsburg location. jwine.com; 11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg; 888/594-6326.
A proper visitor center has replaced the original champagne-tank tasting room at Simi, which spans much of California’s winemaking history. Isabelle, daughter of one of the two Simi brothers who dug Simi’s first stone cellar in 1880, continued to make (and cellar) wine through Prohibition, and worked in the winery even after she sold it in 1970. Today, Simi’s Alexander Valley Cabernets do well by the region. simiwinery.com; 16275 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; 800/746-4880.
Visiting Jordan Vineyard & Winery for an Estate Tour & Tasting ($120) feels a little like having free run of a French-style Downton Abbey, especially when staffers wearing brass nametags welcome you into the foyer with fresh-cut roses and spa water. A full-time chef prepares tasty fixings for the 90-minute tour that ushers you from breakfast by the fountain to bento-box pairings near a lake, culminating in 360° valley views. About 80 employees are needed to maintain the apiaries, orchards, gardens, olive trees, animals (donkeys and cows), and the grapes. jordanwinery.com; 1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg; 800/654-1213; Tasting from $30.
Hanna’s light-filled, Mediterranean-style tasting room is a wonderful Alexander Valley destination. Christine Hanna, daughter of founder Dr. Elias Hanna, is president. The Sauvignon Blanc here is one of the region’s great ones; you can taste it at the regular bar, but make an appointment in the sit-down reserve area for a chance to try some stellar bottlings from the winery’s high-elevation Bismark Ranch Vineyard. hannawinery.com; 9280 Highway 128, Healdsburg; 707/431-4310.
On the original homestead of Cyrus Alexander, the valley’s namesake settler, the Wetzel Family’s Alexander Valley Vineyards led the way when this region began to be resettled by wineries three decades ago. The grounds and gardens around Cyrus’s restored adobe house make a beautiful setting for a picnic, and the red blend named Cyrus shows what this warm valley can produce. avvwine.com; 8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg; 800/888-7209.
The tasting room is enclosed on three sides by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, offering views down into the barrel room, the fermentation area, and the crush pad―not to mention a dramatic swath of the Alexander Valley and the Mayacamas Range. foleysonoma.com; 5110 Highway 128, Geyserville; 800/433-1944.
Produced at elevations nearing 2,500 feet up the flanks of the Mayacamas Mountains, Stonestreet produces wines with a lot of character, even for this boldly flavored part of the world. Specialties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re pressed for time, you can enjoy a quick flight at a downtown Healdsburg location. But best to make an afternoon of it at the vineyard tasting room. Enjoy a flight, a picnic lunch with wine, or a private 3-hour driving tour of the estate. stonestreetwines.com; 7111 Highway 128, Healdsburg; 800/355-8008.
What’s in a name? A lot, which is why it took the director a year of pondering to come up with the right moniker for his newest project, finally revealed to be called the Virginia Dare Winery. He’s purchased the former Chateau Souverain (which appears to have been built by Louis XIV but dates from the 1970s) and is using it to produce his Francis Coppola Presents, Francis Coppola Diamond Collection, and FC Reserve wines. www.virginiadarewinery.com; 22281 Chianti Road, Geyserville; 707/735-3500.
deLorimier ventures a little outside of the typical Sonoma County Pinot Noir/Chardonnay comfort zone. Stop by the tasting room (the valley view alone is worth the trip) and sample varietals that are less common in these parts, like Meritage and Malbec. Buy a gourmet box lunch and eat it on the patio while tasting. Or reserve a 4-course pairing meal. If you’re really feeling decadent, book a Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Pairing package, which is exactly as adventurous as it sounds. delorimierwinery.com; 2001 Highway 128, Geyserville; 800/546-7718.
Legendary Silver Oak is usually identified with Napa, but much of its prized Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Alexander Valley, and it’s more fun to taste it here. silveroak.com; 24625 Chianti Road, Geyserville; 800/273-8809.
One of the best spots for a picnic with a vineyard view is at Field Stone Winery, an underground winery built into an oak tree-covered knoll. www.fieldstonewinery.com; 10075 State 128, Healdsburg; 707/433-7266.