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WINE 101

Artboard 1 Wine 101 Artboard 1 Tasting Tips Artboard 1 Is That a Grape? Artboard 1 Glossary Artboard 1 Labels Artboard 1 FAQ's

Introduction

Wine Road, located in northern Sonoma County, is one of the world-renowned wine regions. We have over 200 of the world’s best wineries all within a 30-mile radius!

Wineries are open year-round and the weather is always perfect for a wine adventure. Tempered by the Pacific Coast’s maritime influence, the winters are mild and the summers long and warm.

To help you get the most out of your visit to the Wine Road, we are offering additional information to help you plan your adventure and enjoy your stay.

Topics covered in Wine 101 include:

Visitor FAQ

Find out how to get the most out of wine tasting, information on touring wineries or vineyards, the value of joining a wine club, how to ship wine home, getting to Sonoma County via air travel, ground transportation options once you arrive, lodgings, dining and nightlife options, and more.

Wine Tasting Tips

Let’s take the intimidation out of wine tasting with some basic tasting tips. Besides general tasting tips, we offer some guidelines on tasting etiquette and also best practices for planning ahead. Planning head will ensure you to get the most from your wine tasting adventures. After all, wine tasting is all about experiencing wine country at its finest and having fun!

Is This A Grape?

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are well-known varietals grown and produced along the Wine Road. But do you know about Dolcetto, Tempranillo or Marsanne? Is this a grape? will guide you through a long list of grapes and the wines made from them.

Glossary of Terms

Every industry has its own jargon, and the wine industry has plenty. The glossary of terms will help you when you hear folks talk about “brix” or “lees.” Sometimes it is easier to look it up a term than to ask what it means.

Understanding a Wine Label

Wine labels are delicate balance between marketing and legality. Learn what each part of the label is for, and why it is there.

Wine Tasting Tips

Determine Your Tasting Path

Most of the wineries along the Wine Road are open daily.

For those open by appointment only, you can schedule a visit in advance through the winery’s website. Or, call when you are in the area, and if they can, the winery will usually accommodate your schedule.

Most wineries charge a tasting fee. However, that fee is often applied to a wine purchase. Fees vary from winery to winery, and there are still a few wineries that don’t charge a tasting fee. On the Wineries page, you can use the Search by Amenity feature, selecting Tasting FeeTasting Fee Complimentary or Tasting Fee Refundable With Purchase from the drop down list to find out each winery’s policy.

If you don’t want to worry about paying a tasting fee at every stop, consider purchasing a one-day Wine Road Tasting Pass. Be sure to review the list of wineries that participate in the Tasting Pass program.

Plan ahead. Although many wineries have limited hours, appointments for tasting and tours are very easy to set up, and in many cases can be quite impromptu, so don’t hesitate to call ahead even if it is last minute!

For assistance in planning your tasting path, the Wine Road offers a few options to help you make the most out of your wine tasting adventure:

 

General Wine Tasting Tips

Ask questions. The person pouring wine for you is a knowledgeable professional, so this is your opportunity not only to educate your palate, but to learn more about the wine making process. Engage with the people at the winery to learn as much as you can about the wines being poured and what makes their wines different from the wineries around them.

Buy what you enjoy.
Many of the wines you’ll taste along the Wine Road are limited-production wines, and only available directly from the winery’s tasting room or from their online shopping cart. If you find wines you love, we encourage you to purchase a bottle or even a case of it. Wine isn’t like a pair of slippers or other products that remain unchanged year after year. A wine generally sells out in under a year, and each vintage will have subtle changes in the aromas and flavors. So, be sure to buy what you enjoy so you won’t be disappointed when you can’t obtain it at a later date.

Stay hydrated. Having water with you allows you to re-hydrate after every tasting stop. Also, tasting rooms have water available to sip, so take advantage of it. Water not only helps you stay hydrated, but it also helps keep your palate fresh and allows you to avoid palate fatigue—something that naturally happens when you are tasting a lot of wines.

Have a designated driver. This is a prudent decision for a carefree day of tasting. There are also many local tour services available that are fun and especially affordable for groups. Go to Transportation to view options. You’ll find everything from green options to traditional limos, tour buses and rental cars, as well as companies that will drive your vehicle for you.

Have fun! And remember, a smile goes a long way and will be returned.

 

Tasting Etiquette

Our member wineries invite you into their tasting rooms year round to sample their wines. However, please be aware that it is illegal for a tasting room employee to serve wine to anyone that appears intoxicated, even if they have a designated driver.

We ask that you taste responsibly.

  • Feel free to use the dump buckets set out on the tasting bar for excess wine. No one is offended if you don’t finish your tastes.
  • A best practice is to limit yourself to 3 or 4 wine tastes per winery.
  • When possible, have a designated driver.
  • Ask before you picnic at a winery, and never bring other alcoholic beverages to drink at a winery. If you want wine with your picnic, the winery can sell you a bottle to share, or may also sell their wine by the glass, just ask.
  • Children are welcome during non-event weekends, but please keep an eye on them. Most wineries have heavy equipment running, and therefore it is not safe for unsupervised children.
  • Remember, no one under the age of 21 may sample wine, not even your children.
  • Dogs are allowed at some wineries, but check before you bring your pet. For a full list of pet-friendly wineries, go to Wineries and use the Search By Amenity feature, selecting Pets Allowed from the drop down list.
  • If you bring your dog along, please keep them on a leash and pick up after them as well.

Taste in the suggested order.
Tasting wine in the winery’s recommended order means you’ll get the most out of your tasting experience. Tasting out of the recommended order can change how your palate perceives the flavors and can provide you with a disappointing tasting experience. Why? Here is an example of what can happen. You decide to taste a peppery Zinfandel and then you ask to try a delicate flavored Chardonnay even though this isn’t the recommended tasting order. The subtleties of the Chardonnay will now be masked by the residue Zin flavors on your palate, leaving you unable to appreciate the delicious flavors of the Chardonnay.

Please, make room at the tasting bar for others.
Don’t crowd the bar, especially if the tasting room is busy. After you receive your taste, step away from the bar and give others a chance to continue with their tasting as well. Trying to fight your way to a tasting bar lessens the enjoyment for everyone.

Remember, don’t wear scents.
Please never wear perfume, cologne, after shave, lotions, or use any scented products before going wine tasting. These scented products will affect your ability to pick up the aromas of the wine, which will alter your perception in its taste, not to mention, ruin the experience for other tasters as well.

 

Getting The Most Out of Wine Tasting

Sip, enjoy, listen, learn, repeat.
Wine tasting isn’t a one-time experience. We hope you’ll enjoy it so much you’ll come back to the Wine Road again and again.

Our Wine 101 section provides some basic information to help you get started. There are also many guides, blogs and books about how to taste wine. Rather than repeat the wisdom of others, we’re providing you with a link to a PDF from the Wine Spectator School that gives a few simple tips or best practices.

Go forth and enjoy the journey into wine.

What is that grape?

Along the Russian River Wine Road we grow more varieties than any other wine region in the world. The wineries of the Wine Road, with their coastal and inland growing regions and distinct microclimates and soils, have the immense good fortune to be able to produce spectacular harvests from many different grape varieties.

The grapes that are grown along the Russian River Wine Road are used to produce world-renowned wines. Small lots of grapes are still being grown on plots of land that have held grapes for over 140 years.

What is the difference between a variety and a varietal?The term variety is used to describe a type of grape.  A wine made from that grape is referred to as a varietal (e.g. Pinot Noir).

What is the difference between a single varietal and a blend?Referring to a single varietal means the name of the wine listed on the wine label. Although that wine may have up to 25% of another varietal or varietals, it is still considered a single varietal.  A blend is a mixture of two or more wines blended together; generally no varietal is more than 74%, keeping the winery from using the varietal name on the bottle.

Here are some of the varieties grown along the Wine Road, “click” on variety for descriptions:

REDS

 

WHITES

Glossary

Confused about wine-related terms? Read our glossary to be in the know!
Click on the word to read the definition.

What's in a label?

When you pick up a bottle of wine and look at the label, have you ever wondered exactly what you’re reading means? Wine labels are delicate balance between marketing and legality. The winery wants the label to look enticing and appropriately convey what’s in the bottle, and the government wants to make sure that the facts are stated accurately. In the example above, there are 7 pieces of information shown. Here’s how they break down:

  1. Brand identification: This is generally the winery name. Any name is acceptable, as long is it’s not misleading about the age, origin, or characteristics of the wine.
  2. Varietal: What type of wine is in the bottle. It can be as broad as Red Table Wine, or as specific as Pinot Noir. If a specific varietal is shown, that must be the predominate type of grape used in the wine—at least 75%.
  3. Vineyard of Origin: Wineries sometimes display the vineyard where the grapes are from, especially if it’s a unique or special spot. If they do list a vineyard, the wine must be 95% from grapes grown in the vineyard named.
  4. Estate Bottled: When you see Estate Bottled on a label, it means that 100% of the wine came from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery, which must be located in a viticultural area. The winery must crush and ferment the grapes, finish, age, process and bottle the wine on their premises
  5. Appellation: An appellation is the state, county or region where the grapes were grown. If a wine is labeled with the vintage year, the appellation is required. If the area is California, 100% of the grapes must be from there; if a specific American Viticultural Area (AVA) is listed, 85% of the grapes must come from within the named region; if a county, 75% of the wine is produced from grapes grown in that county.
  6. Vintage: Believe it or not, vintage is not required on a label. However, if it is included, in the U.S. it means that 95% or more must be harvested in that year. As mentioned above, if a vintage is included, then the appellation of origin, smaller than a country, must also be shown.
  7. Alcohol Content: This is the percentage of alcohol by volume. Most labels include this, although if a wine is between 7% and 14% alcohol, it can legally just say “Table Wine” or “Light Wine.” If the alcohol is under 14%, the number stated on the label can differ as much as 1.5% from reality (but it can’t be over 14%); if the wine is labeled over 14%, a 1% variance is allowed.

Other information is usually found on the back label:

  1.  Location where bottled: Not necessarily the same place as where the grapes were grown (with the exception of wines marked Estate Bottled, as mentioned above), this is the place you see mentioned after “Produced and Bottled by”. This is where the winery is located, or where the winery that bottled the wine is located.  Some wineries use custom crush facilities and this will be the location printed on the label.
  2.  Net Volume: The net contents of the wine is stated in the metric system of measure and is the amount of wine in the bottle; some common sizes for wines are 1.5L (a magnum), 750ml, and 375ml (half bottle). You’ll often find this molded into the glass rather than printed on the label.
  3. Those Government Warnings: In addition to stating that the wine contains sulfites (if it does in fact have more than 10 parts per million sulfur dioxide), labels must also include the government health warnings that women should not drink during pregnancy and that consumption impairs your ability to drive a car, operate machinery, and may cause health problems.
  4. Descriptive Marketing Copy: Most wineries like to include some information about how the wine was made or tastes on the back label. Any copy is allowed, as long as it’s not inaccurate, offensive, or misleading.

Wine Tasting

How many wineries can I visit per day?
Visiting 3 to 5 wineries per day is a leisurely, relaxed pace that allows you time to talk with folks at each winery and enjoy your surroundings. It’s possible to visit 6 to 8 wineries in a day if you keep a fast pace through the tastings, or if the wineries are really close together.
If you are going to wineries that require an appointment, or if you’ve booked an Experience, don’t book your appointments too close together. These tasting can take longer, so allow a minimum of 60-90 minutes between your appointments, and don’t forget to factor in travel time.

Do the wineries charge for tasting?
Yes, expect to pay a tasting fee at most of the wineries along the Wine Road. Some wineries refund the tasting fee with a minimum purchase, others do not. On the Wineries page, you can use the Search by Amenity feature, selecting Tasting Fee, Tasting Fee Complimentary or Tasting Fee Refundable With Purchase from the drop down list to find out each winery’s policy.

Is there a wine tasting etiquette I should know about?
Courteous behavior is always a good policy no matter where you go. For specific information on tasting etiquette, we recommend reviewing Tasting Tips.

I only like white wines and my spouse only likes reds. Where can we taste wines where we’ll both be happy?
Most of our wineries produce both red and white wines, but you can double check on our website or the Wine Road map before visiting. Under Wineries, you’ll find a list of all our members. You can search by varietal name using the Search By Wine Type feature or each winery page lists the wines they produce. Just click on the winery name to go to the winery page or visit the winery’s website.

What hours can I go wine tasting?
Many tasting rooms are open from about 10 am – 5 pm, but others might only be open from 11 am – 4 pm. Some tasting rooms in towns stay open until 7 or 8 pm on weekends. Be sure to check the Wine Road website or map when planning your tasting day to check on tasting room hours.

I am bringing a group of eight for wine tasting. Do I need reservations?
It’s always good to call ahead with a group. Several wineries require advanced reservations for any group of tasters.

Why do some wineries charge a group tasting fee?
Many wineries charge $10-25 per person for groups of eight or more, and may require a reservation and payment in advance. They often need to bring in extra staff for larger groups, get extra glassware and stage a separate area to make room for a group.

Can I bring my baby and children along?
Minors are allowed in tasting rooms on non-event days. During Wine Road events, no one under 21 is allowed, no exceptions.

Can I bring my dog to wineries?
Dogs are allowed at some wineries, but check before you bring your pet. For a full list of pet-friendly wineries, go to Wineries and use the Search By Amenity feature, selecting Pets Allowed from the drop down list.

Where can I have a picnic?
Our website can help you find wineries with picnic facilities. You can find picnic grounds by going to Wineries and use the Search By Amenity feature, selecting Picnic Facilities from the drop down list.

Are there wineries with beautiful gardens?
We are lucky that many of our wineries have beautiful gardens and grounds. You can find Wine Road gardens either by going to Wineries and use the Search By Amenity feature, selecting Gardens from the drop down list. For extensive garden tours, check out Experiences to see the wineries that offer garden tours.

Who are the smallest and best wineries?
As for the best, they are all great! Many of our winery members produce fewer than 5000 cases a year, with some producing less than 500 cases annually. We also have members that produce more than 100,000 cases or over a million cases a year. Here is a list of a few of our smaller wineries. It is not a comprehensive list, but it gives you a place to start:

ACORN Winery
Battaglini Estate Winery
Bowman Cellars
Colagrossi Wines
Frick Winery
Hart’s Desire Wines
Joseph Swan Vineyards
Lauterbach Cellars
Malm Cellars
Martorana Family Winery
Nalle Winery
Paul Mathew
Square Peg Winery
Talty Vineyards & Winery
Tara Bella Winery & Vineyards
West Wines
Viszlay Vineyards

Are there famous wineries on the Wine Road?
We think all of our wineries should be famous, but these are names you might recognize due to their size and national distribution of their wines.

Clos du Bois
Dry Creek Vineyard
Geyser Peak
Ferrari-Carano
Francis Ford Coppola
Kendall-Jackson
Korbel
La Crema
Merry Edwards
Pedroncelli
Rodney Strong
Seghesio
Siduri
Silver Oak
Simi
Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards

What are the best wineries to visit?
Wine is a personal choice. The Wine Road has so many options to select from and all of them offer wonderful wines. Explore a few each visit, and in no time you’ll have your own favorites. If you want help narrowing it down, using the Wine Road’s concierge service is always an option.

I like to buy wines that have high scores or gold medals. How do I find them?
High scores and gold medals are a guide, but we believe it is better for each person to taste the wine and be their own judge. Each palate is different and perceives what tastes “good” differently. All our wineries are winners, but if you still want to find out about our wineries’ accolades, you can search the individual winery’s websites and look for their accolades or critical acclaim page.

 

Wine Tasting Plus More

We like to be active—is bike riding or walking a practical way to visit wineries?
A car is the most practical way to visit the Wine Road wineries. There are some bike rental companies who will help you map out a route, and the wineries can arrange to ship your wines for you or possibly get them to your lodging. In Healdsburg, there are more than 20 tasting rooms within walking distance in the downtown areas, but out in the valleys, the wineries are spread out so if you plan to bike from winery to winery, plan ahead.

What wineries offer food & wine pairings?
There are two options to look for food & wine pairings. Visit the Experiences page for a list of in-depth food & wine pairings. For a more casual pairing list go to Wine & Food Pairings .

 

Wine Clubs

What is the value of belonging to a wine club?
Most wineries offer a variety of VIP benefits for their wine club members.

  • You’ll get wine shipped directly to you a few times a year, plus most wineries offer discounts on wines to their club members.
  • Some limited-production wines are only available to club members.
  • Tasting fees are generally waived for club members.
  • The winery may host wine club-only events, or allow members to attend events at a discounted rate.
  • Some wineries have guesthouses that club members can rent at reduced rates.
  • Each winery offers a slightly different set of benefits to their wine club members.

Some wine lovers belong to multiple clubs, which allows them to keep their cellars stocked with all their favorite wines.

 

Shipping Wine

Can I ship wine home?
Each state and country has different laws regarding shipping wine. Most states now allow direct shipping, but unfortunately not all. Check with the winery or the shipping company you decide to use. You might also check the Wine Institute’s site to view current shipping regulations by state.

How do I ship wine home?
When you buy wine through a winery, they can also ship it for you if your state allows interstate wine shipments. Just ask about shipping options when purchasing wine.

 

Travel & Transportation

How far is Wine Road from San Francisco airport (SFO)?
The Wine Road region begins about 70 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the north end of San Francisco. You’ll need to drive through San Francisco when going to or from the airport. Allow plenty of extra time to or from SFO—traffic flow is unpredictable. Without traffic, the drive can be 2 hours, but don’t count on that, especially if you need to catch a plane.

How far is Wine Road from Oakland airport (OAK)?
The start of the Wine Road region is about 60 miles from the Oakland Airport. Take Interstate 880 to 580 across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Hwy 101, then head north. Although this route completely avoids San Francisco, there can still be plenty of traffic so depending upon the time of day, it can take over an hour to more than 2.5 hours. Always give yourself extra time if you need to catch a flight.

Can I fly into Santa Rosa Airport?
We now have multiple airlines flying directly into Santa Rosa’s Airport (STS) from Denver, Las Vegas (seasonal), Los Angeles, Minneapolis (seasonal), Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. Check this link for a list of current flights in and out of Santa Rosa.

How far is the Pacific Ocean from the Wine Road?
From Healdsburg, heart of the Wine Road, it takes just under one hour to get to the Pacific Ocean. From Occidental, which is the western edge of the county, it is about 20 minutes.

What kind of transportation options are available?
Go to Transportation to view options. You’ll find everything from green options to traditional limos, tour buses and rental cars, as well as companies that will drive your vehicle for you.

How can I tell how far it is between places?
We recommend using the Wine Road map when planning your Wine Road travels. It is true to scale and can help you quickly see how far it is between your preferred destinations. The distance between Cloverdale (north end) and Occidental (southwest end) is 42 miles, and might take an hour or longer. When planning your day, look at the map so you have a smooth-flowing adventure as you meander through the Wine Road.

How close is Napa to Wine Road?
Napa can refer to the town of Napa, which is 56 miles from Healdsburg. Calistoga, at the top of the Napa Valley, is 26 miles from Healdsburg. The Napa Valley is just that, a valley that has mountains on both sides and runs the length of the county of Napa. So when using the term Napa, you can mean a town, a valley or a county.

How close is Sonoma to Wine Road?
Just like Napa, Sonoma can also mean a town, a valley or a county. The town of Sonoma is 36 miles from Healdsburg. Wine Road is in the county of Sonoma. The Sonoma Valley, also know as the Valley of the Moon, lies between Santa Rosa and the town of Sonoma, and is in Sonoma County as well.

 

Lodgings

What is the price range for lodging along the Wine Road?
We have lodgings that start around $100 and go up from there. You can also book an ultra-luxury room for $700+ per night. There is something for everyone. We even have a KOA for campers! Be sure to check out our Lodgings page for options.

Can I stay right in the vineyards?
Here are a few of the Wine Road lodgings that are nestled among the vineyards—Geyserville Inn, Vintners Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Sonoma West Inn & Spa and The Raford Inn. Or, check out our complete list of Lodging members for more details and options.

What is the most convenient base camp location?
Healdsburg is at the heart of the Wine Road, but Santa Rosa, Windsor, Guerneville, Sebastopol and Cloverdale can all provide a good starting point. Our 175 wineries and 49 lodgings are all within a 30-mile radius, so no matter where you stay along the Wine Road, wineries are all close by.

What lodging is the best?
The answer would be similar to what are the best wineries. Each person looks for something different when selecting a place to stay. If you are unsure or want more information, we encourage you to contact our Wine Road concierge, by filling out our Wine Road Concierge Service request form.

I want a vacation rental, but can’t find that information on the website. Can you help me?
Our Wine Road lodging members are inns, hotels, bed and breakfast inns and motels.
Lodgings page.

 

Dining & Nightlife

Do any wineries or lodgings have a restaurant onsite?
A few wineries have restaurants onsite, and others are located very close to restaurants or delis.

Do I need dinner reservations?
Dinner reservations are always a good idea, especially on the weekends or during holidays. Go to Restaurants for a list of some local restaurants with great wine lists.

What is the dinner dress code along the Wine Road?
Most restaurants are Wine Country casual. If you are concerned that you might be underdressed, we recommend you check out the restaurant’s website and take your clues from there.

Is there nightlife along the Wine Road?
Santa Rosa has traditional nightlife with dancing, bars and movies. Healdsburg, Geyserville, Cloverdale and Sebastopol do too, though on a smaller scale.

I am planning a romantic getaway. Where should we stay and what should we do?
Romance abounds along Wine Road! We can help you plan a romantic getaway. You can fill out out the Wine Road Concierge Service request form, and we’ll get back to you asap.

 

General Information

I am overwhelmed! There are so many options to choose from. Can you help me with an itinerary?
Check out our Wine Road concierge form—we’re happy to help you plan as much or as little as you want. Just fill out our Wine Road Concierge Service request form, and we’ll help you plan your Wine Road adventure.

I do not know very much about wine. Can I figure it out on my own or do I need a guide?
With the Wine Road map and website you will be an expert before you know it! Also check out Wine 101, and you can also contact the Wine Road concierge with questions.

What sort of clothes should I bring for touring the wineries?
We recommend wearing sensible shoes and layers. Winery cellars can be cool, and smaller wineries may have their tasting rooms in the cellar. Our mornings and evenings can be foggy and cool. In the summer months, we can have a 40° difference during the course of a day. Layers are the best solution.

What is the absolute best time to visit?
The Wine Road is open year round, so anytime you visit you’ll enjoy unique opportunities. You might visit during one of our annual events, or you might prefer the winter months when the tasting rooms are quieter and you can spend more time tasting and talking with the winery staff. No matter the time of year, the Wine Road is always beautiful!

When can I see all the action around harvesting grapes?
Typically, harvest and crush begins as early as late August and usually continues on until early November. The busiest time tends to be from mid-September until mid-October.

Why is the Russian River so important to this area?
The Russian River runs through our three appellations—Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys—that comprise the Wine Road. The Russian River flows from above Cloverdale in the north and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner-by-the-Sea. It unifies, cools and provides recreation and water for our area. The fog, a maritime influence, rolls up the Russian River, providing natural air conditioning during the growing season—a key factor in the region’s reputation for growing superb grapes.

Are there other things to do besides wine tasting?
Yes! On our Concierge Section, we’ve listed just some of the activities the area has to offer.

Does it snow along the Wine Road?
Very rarely, though sometimes snow dusts the outlying mountaintops during our coldest winter months.

Does it rain throughout year?
We get most of our rain from late November through April. We might have a few showers in May and June, but generally, we don’t have rain from May through mid-October or later.

Why visit the Wine Road wineries rather than the famous Napa Valley wineries?
Wine Road is the road less traveled. You will have a better chance of an intimate, friendly experience along our roads, and more personal interaction with winery owners and principals.

I’m looking for a venue for my wedding. Can you help me find some options?
Many of our Wine Road members have wedding facilities. For a list of these locations, visit our Wineries page and use the Search By Amenity feature, selecting Wedding Facilities from the drop down list.