Wine and Walnuts

A blog about eating, drinking, cooking and reading in the not so Deep South

In the Valleys: A First-Timer’s Look at California Wineries

Iron Horse Vineyards, pic by Ronda Bumgardner

Iron Horse Vineyards, pic by Ronda Bumgardner

(This guest post is Part One of a two-part series by wine lover and PR pro, and my best friend, Ronda Bumgardner. Who I managed to talk into writing a couple of posts on her recent Cali wine tasting trip. Enjoy!)

Part I: Sonoma

I spent a weekend in May visiting wineries in California for the first time.

My plan was to visit wineries in Sonoma, but I actually ended up visiting Napa, too. In the world of wine, it’s like visiting two countries. 


From my starting point of Sausalito, just outside San Francisco, my companion Jeff and I decided that Iron Horse in Forestville was a good first stop. As we entered Sonoma County, the view reminded me of northwest North Carolina. We passed vineyards and pastures, many bordered by rose bushes with blooms the size of two fists. As we followed the signs to the Iron Horse winery, the two-lane paved road turned to a gravel path hardly wide enough for one car.

The landscape really DID look like rural North Carolina now. I was envisioning that the tasting room for champagnes would be in a chalet-style mansion overlooking rolling hills of vineyard. Instead, the tasting room was little more than a shed with a dirt and gravel parking lot. I didn’t expect others to be drinking champagne at 10:30 in the morning, but Jeff and I took the last two spaces in the outside tasting room.

The way tastings work, if you’ve never been to one, is this: You choose a flight from a menu, and the cost is $10-$15 for tastes of four or five wines. Depending on the pour, you could get a glass of wine total, or a glass and a half. The tasting fee is waived if you purchase a bottle.

Even if you don’t feel like packing bottles in your suitcase, you can taste for free if you buy a bottle to drink later on your trip. Or you can have bottles shipped to you. There is no one rushing you to finish, but you can’t help but want to keep moving, because there are plenty more wineries to check out. And yet, the atmosphere, even in the shed, made each drop worth savoring.

The shed experience was one I’d do again.


Hartford Family Winery has vineyards throughout the Sonoma region, but its tasting room is in Forestville.  In contrast to Iron Horse, the tasting building was more like a wealthy person’s house, surrounded by a yard-size garden area. My favorite wine, Velvet Sisters Pinot Noir, is from Hartford and though there was none available, the Hailey’s Block 2008 Pinot Noir was pretty awesome and the bottle I bought did not make it home to New York.

Hartford Family Winery, pic by Ronda Bumgardner

Hartford Family Winery, pic by Ronda Bumgardner

The last Sonoma stop was simply a winery that looked interesting as we drove past on the way to our hotel in Healdsburg. Twomey Cellars definitely had the look of a winery that was doing OK financially. The tasting room had soaring ceilings and was housed in a modern style building with a stone slab fountain in front. It could have been a corporate headquarters for a business, which I suppose it is. Twomey makes four Pinot Noirs, and a bottle of the Anderson Valley 2009 found its way into the trunk of my car.

Twomey Cellars, pic from Twomey Cellars website

Twomey Cellars, pic from Twomey Cellars website

In my next dispatch, I’ll tell you all about my Napa adventure.

(Ronda is a PR and communications wiz, livin’ the dream in New York City.  To find out more about Ronda, please visit her at Control Freak Public Relations.)

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About The Author

Kimberly Houston


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