Benchmark Wineries

Bacigalupi 

Founding matriarch Helen Bacigalupi continues to be involved in farming at this Westside Road legacy, a sought-after grower of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was Bacigalupi Chardonnay, in fact, that comprised 40% of the winning Chateau Montelena wine of the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting fame. Now in its third generation, it continues to sell grapes to an array of high-end wineries, in addition to producing a small amount of its own-label wines.

Buena Vista Winery

Established in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, this is among Sonoma County’s earliest and most important wineries. Run by Frank Bartholomew after Prohibition, it went through a period of ups and downs before being bought and entirely refurbished by Jean-Charles Boisset in 2011. A wonderful place to visit and delve deeper into the region’s historic roots.

Dry Creek Vineyard 

When Dave Stare founded his winery in 1973, it was the first new undertaking in the appellation since the end of Prohibition. Starting with Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel, wines to which it remains devoted, Dry Creek Vineyard offers great quality and value. Under the second generation of leadership, in the person of Dave Stare’s daughter Kim Stare-Wallace, Dry Creek Vineyards is a popular destination for visitors.

Gundlach-Bundschu

Dating back to 1868 and still run by members of the Bundschu family, this historic site remains true to its estate-grown ethos of making a range of wonderful wines, from Gewurztraminer to Zinfandel. It is also a strong supporter of the arts, sponsoring live concerts and theater events on property.

Hanzell Vineyards

Founded in 1953 outside of the town of Sonoma, Hanzell has some of the oldest plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in California and was among the first wineries in the state to use French oak barrels and stainless-steel tanks. It remains a world-class monopole devoted to regenerative agriculture and the highest levels of winemaking.

Iron Horse Vineyards

In 1976, Barry and Audry Sterling bought a half-planted, cool-climate site in what is now Green Valley, turning it into one of the premier producers of estate-grown sparkling wine, many of which have been served at White House state functions, including the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings. It continues to make both sparkling and still wines from its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, many of the bottlings benefiting social causes.

Jordan Winery 

One of the largest winery estates in the Alexander Valley, Jordan was founded in the 1970s with an eye to Bordeaux, and since the inaugural 1976 vintage makes only two wines every year, a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both classic in style and approach. The property produces much else besides wine, providing much to the in-house kitchen team, including olive oil, honey and an abundance of fruits and vegetables.

Joseph Swan 

Joseph Swan started planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Russian River Valley in the late 1960s, following it with old-vine Zinfandel found on his property. With an eye to Burgundy, Swan was a pioneer who inspired many others to think about these varieties in an invigorated way, including son-in-law Rod Berglund, the longtime winemaker, co-owner and historian of the site.

Kistler 

Beginning with a mountain site above Glen Ellen in the late 1970s, Steve Kistler and late partner Mark Bixler helped put Sonoma Chardonnay on the worldwide map, establishing both its own vineyards and sourcing from other notable cool-climate, historic sites. The one constant is the same heritage Chardonnay clone planted in all 15 sites including Durell, Hudson and Hyde, all vineyard-designated wines. Based in the Russian River Valley, Kistler also makes Pinot Noir. 

Laurel Glen Winery

On the hills of Sonoma Mountain, this site was first planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1968. In 1977 winemaker Patrick Campbell bought it and began to earn international acclaim for his elegant, structured wines and vineyard practices. It has been organically certified since 2014 and under the ownership of Bettina Sichel continues to produce timeless wines of distinction. It maintains a tasting room in Glen Ellen.

Littorai 

Winemaker Ted Lemon studied winemaking in France and worked at many prestigious estates in Burgundy before returning to the Sebastopol Hills of Russian River Valley to found Littorai in 1993. He makes lovely, delicate wines from top vineyard sites within Sonoma and Mendocino counties, many of which he helped to make famous, often employing organic and biodynamic farming practices.

Mauritson 

The Mauritson family have farmed in Rockpile, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley since 1868, first planting grapevines in 1884. Not until the sixth generation did the family begin to make its own wines as well, with a focus on estate-grown Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. The family maintains a tasting room in Dry Creek Valley.

Peter Michael 

Englishman Peter Michael came across a 630-acre, high-elevation piece of land in the wilds of Knights Valley in 1982, and decided it would be perfect for growing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Bordeaux-inspired reds. The vineyard itself sprawls across a range of elevations, exposures and soil types. Helen Turley made some of the first wines from the property.

Robert Young Estate 

Six generations of the Young family have lived and farmed on this Alexander Valley property since 1858. In 1963, Robert Young was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, and later became famous for his Chardonnay. The estate continues to make wonderful wines of its own from estate-grown grapes.

Rochioli

This family-owned property in the heart of the Russian River Valley was established in 1938. In 1968, Joe Rochioli Jr. introduced plantings of Pinot Noir on the property, adding Chardonnay soon after. Sauvignon Blanc vines dating back to 1959 still remain in place at the estate. A seller of grapes to many top names in the region, the Rochiolis also make their own excellent wines.

Rodney Strong 

Near Healdsburg, at the crux of the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys, Rodney Strong has long been dedicated to making Sonoma-grown wines, beginning with Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley. Still family-run and sustainably minded, the winery produces a wide array of wines at all price points and is a popular place to visit for tours, picnics and outdoor concerts.

The Donum Estate

Donum is a stunning estate-driven property in the windswept hills of Los Carneros that makes exquisite, high-end Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In recent years it has installed more than 40 large-scale, open-air sculptures and works of art from world-renowned artists, including Keith Haring, Ai Weiwei and Louise Bourgeois, incorporating them seamlessly into the land and making them accessible to visitors.

Vérité

The spirit and vision of the late Jess Jackson and French-born winemaker Pierre Seillan, who together imagined a world where Sonoma County could produce some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, lives on at Vérité. The winery focuses on 50 micro-cru sites across four Sonoma County appellations, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Chalk Hill and Bennett Valley, which are planted to the five predominant Bordeaux red varieties. The grapes go into only three distinct wines, considered among the finest in the world: La Muse is centered around Merlot, La Joie is Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant, and Le Désir celebrates Cabernet Franc.

Williams Selyem 

This Russian River Valley winery, founded in 1990, results from the shared vision of pioneering winemakers Burt Williams and Ed Selyem. Sourcing from neighbors like Rochioli and Allen, Messrs. Williams and Selyem developed a cult following for their single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, later adding Chardonnay and Zinfandel to the portfolio. Many of the wines are from estate-grown sites.