Lately, we’ve been hearing many of our guests and neighbors talking about the Sonoma Plaza or “Sonoma Square.” It’s not a new place. As the historic center of town, the Sonoma Plaza has long been a popular location for local gatherings, farmer’s markets, boutique hotels and some of Sonoma’s most loved restaurants.
Recently though, we’ve been hearing more about new tasting rooms opening on Sonoma Square. In 2010, there were 6 tasting rooms on the square, in 2012 there were 16 and at last count, there were 26! Needless to say, the popularity surrounding wine tasting and tourism in Sonoma is growing. Rapidly.
This of course, is great news for those of us who craft Sonoma wines. We love hosting visitors from all over the world, and we appreciate how much attention has been paid to the quality and diversity of Sonoma wines and wine regions in recent years. However, the fast expansion and popularity of the Sonoma Square, (and the Healdsburg Plaza, which has seen similar tasting room growth) has us wondering, are people coming from miles around only to experiences “wine city?”
Sure, the plaza is pretty, and it’s home to the world’s most delicious breakfast sandwich spot, the Sunflower Caffé, and you can get great desserts, people-watch at The Swiss Hotel, savor a memorable French-inspired meal while sipping Rhone wines at The Girl and the Fig and yes, you can even go wine tasting at any of the plaza’s 26 tasting rooms. It’s convenient, and it helps that all of this happens within a few steps without the need to drive a car.
But is this really a wine experience?
There is something about driving by miles of vineyards, anticipating that turn into the driveway of one of your favorite wineries, or a new winery you’ve never been to. It’s exciting. Each winery and story is unique. The vineyards, the tasting rooms, the barrel rooms (or caves) and the people who spend each day growing, crafting and serving the wines culminate in an experience that make sipping the fruits of their labor so much more memorable. If you are interested in learning more about wine, there is no better way to do so than to visit wineries. Have you ever been to a tasting room and not learned at least one new thing about wine, or at least about those specific wines? Neither have we.
And one of the best things about visiting wineries is that you can go back and never have the same experience twice. One benefit of being surrounded by grapevines is that nature gives us constant and obvious reminders that the seasons are changing, or that it’s been a wet year or a dry year or a cold or hot one. The vineyards look different from week to week and the wine is always changing too. Sometimes you’ll be disappointed that your favorite wine has run out, but if you ask nicely you might be able to get a sample of the next vintage right out of the barrel. That’s not likely to happen in a tasting room on the Sonoma Square.
Just here at Benziger Winery, guests can take a tour and learn about Biodynamic Farming. They can see our cows and sheep at work, taste wine in our caves or from the barrel, sip wine in the historic ranch house where the Benzigers lived when they first moved to Sonoma Mountain, try several Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs and meet winemakers, family members and droves of people who have worked on the ranch for years and who have incredible passion and knowledge about wine. And we aren’t alone! Try mountaintop tasting at Kunde Family Estate, check out the brand new tasting room at Madrone Vineyards (formerly Valley of the Moon) or taste wine in a historic chateau at Chateau St. Jean.
The point is, it pays to get out of town, and it’s the only way to truly experience Wine Country and rub elbows with the people who craft your favorite wines year after year. Wine City? Well that can be nice. But if you are coming all the way to Sonoma, we urge you to think outside the square. Grab a wine country map and go exploring. You never know what hidden gems you’ll find.