Toasty summer weather nurtures superbly soft cabernets and merlots. Some of California’s biggest wine names ― Gallo, Clos du Bois ― are found here
ALEXANDER VALLEY WINERIES
1 | Kendall-Jackson Wine Center
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 Center, you can taste the core brand with pairings from the executive chef, wander through the winemaking exhibits and extensive gardens, and picnic under fabulous old oaks.
5007 Fulton Road, Fulton; 707/571-8100;
2 | Chalk Hill Estate
Rich in history and natural beauty, Chalk Hill is the primary winery in the tiny AVA of the same name, in the warmer, easternmost part of the Russian River Valley. Winegrowing dates back to the 1860s on the rolling hills surrounding the stone-and-wood estate. You can talk terrain and trellising on a viticulture tour, or do more than talk on a culinary tour that ends with small plates the chef creates from the winery’s organic garden.
10300 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg; 800/838-4306 (call for appointment); c
3 | Rosenblum Cellars
Rosenblum is based in Alameda, but it has a tasting room just off the plaza in Healdsburg, which is a great place to compare a range of its Zin bottlings from different appellations, very close to where many of them are grown.
250 Center Street, Healdsburg; 707/431-1169;
4 | Gallo Family Vineyards
Gallo is a punching bag, a publicity machine, and―from its Modesto headquarters―responsible for an awful lot of swill in the world. But the Gallo of Sonoma division has focused on better quality, and offers great wines for the money. At its tasting room on the square in Healdsburg, you can choose from a whole menu of flights. Here you can also make reservations to tour one of its vineyards in the Alexander Valley.
320 Center Street, Healdsburg; 707/433-2458;
5 | Souverain
Despite some confusing ownership changes, this large winery has consistently produced good-value Merlots and Cabs with all the great characteristics of Alexander Valley fruit, as well as a Chardonnay that shows off the Russian River. While you can’t visit the property itself anymore, you can taste the wines in town.
Cellar 360, 308 B Center Street, Healdsburg; 707/433-2822;
6 | Simi
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.
16275 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; 800/746-4880;
7 | Jordan Vineyard & Winery
Jordan Cabernets reign over Alexander Valley from their grand French château with sweeping, wraparound views. One winemaker, Rob Davis, has stayed the course from the early days, when he worked with legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff, for a wine that’s always short-listed among California’s most respected.
1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg; 800/654-1213 (call for appointment);
8 | Hanna Winery Alexander Valley
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.
9280 Highway 128, Healdsburg; 707/431-4310;
9 | Alexander Valley Vineyards
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.
8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg; 800/888-7209;
10 | Sausal Winery
There are some very old vines behind Sausal’s Zinfandels, and a lot of winemaking history in the story of the Demostene family, which founded and still owns Sausal. Before Prohibition, the grandfather of the current generation of Demostenes, Abele Ferrari, invented the Healdsburg Crusher. In 1956, Ferrari’s daughter and son-in-law, Leo Demostene, bought Sausal Ranch, where Leo always wanted to convert an old prune dehydrator into a winemaking facility. His four children accomplished it.
7370 Highway 128, Healdsburg; 800/500-2285;
11 | Stryker Sonoma
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.
5110 Highway 128, Geyserville; 800/433-1944;
12 | Murphy-Goode Estate Winery
A lot of lively wines are poured at Murphy-Goode’s marble bar, including a “Liar’s Dice” Zinfandel made from grapes grown by late cofounder Tim Murphy’s regular liar’s dice buddies at Mickey’s Café in nearby Geyserville. The winery’s Fumé Blanc is a favorite.
4001 Highway 128, Geyserville; 707/431-7644;
13 | Francis Ford Coppola Presents
What’s in a name? A lot, which is why at our press time Francis Ford Coppola was still pondering the right moniker for his newest project. 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. Don’t let the name issue deter you from visiting right now.
400 Souverain Road, Geyserville; 707/433-8282;
14 | Clos du Bois
Winemaker Erik Olsen oversees this gargantuan operation in hands-on fashion, with the result that Clos du Bois wines are great values and fine examples of their respective sources, especially those from Alexander Valley. Don’t miss Marlstone, Olsen’s top Bordeaux blend, and Briarstone, which is 100 percent Cab.
19411 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville; 800/222-3189;
15 | Geyser Peak Winery
Nothing short of an institution, Geyser Peak has had its ups and downs through more than a century’s worth of winemaking. But its wines are better than ever and great values―the Sauvignon Blanc makes a fine house white.
22281 Chianti Road, Geyserville; 800/255-9463;
16 | Silver Oak Cellars
Legendary Silver Oak is usually identified with Napa, but much of its prized Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Alexander Valley, and it’s more fun to taste it here.
24625 Chianti Road, Geyserville; 800/273-8809;
17 | Martin Ray Winery
Expand your tasting range on a scenic drive to Martin Ray Winery, 2 miles east of Graton.
2191 Laguna Rd., Santa Rosa; 707/823-2404
18 | Field Stone Winery and Vineyard
One of the best spots for a picnic with a vineyard view is at Field Stone Winery and Vineyard, an underground winery built into an oak tree-covered knoll.
10075 State 128, Healdsburg; 707/433-7266;