Some of Wine Country's most interesting destinations are hidden away from the typical tourist routes. It’s worth tackling twisting, winding back roads, and in a few cases, peering past industrial settings, to explore these gems in Sonoma County.
Wattle Creek, Cloverdale
It feels like you drive forever on a skinny road through Alexander Valley to get to Wattle Creek, and the gracious home at the very end of the trail seems like a mirage, complete with a swimming pool overlooking endless vineyards. The Williams family leads tastings in the posh pool house, visitors tour the entire property down to the tank rooms, and everyone can play a Jenga-style game with a precarious pile of plastic wine glasses. To drink: Viognier, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. 25510 River Road , Cloverdale
Winery dog Cabernet at BobDog Wines
BobDog Wines, Cloverdale
It takes a sturdy vehicle to handle the partly gravel roads accessing Sonoma County's highest winery, soaring 2,000 feet above Alexander Valley. But winemaker Tim Ward and his wife Kandy Ward welcome adventurers with a hiking tour through the vines, and introductions to their miniature horses, mini-mule and winery dog Cabernet. To drink: Old Vine Zinfandel, Mountain Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon made from CabSau vines grafted onto Merlot trunks. 31955 Pine Mountain Road, Cloverdale
Claypool Cellars, Sebastopol
Les Claypool is the lead vocalist and bassist for the band Primus. He’s also owner and winemaker at his eponymous winery, with a tasting room housed in old Southern Pacific caboose parked at Sebastopol's Gravenstein Station retail center. Claypool himself can be found manning the 10 by 40 foot space, wearing a railroad-style cap, and showing off displays of vintage toy train sets. To drink: Russian River Valley Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir, and Pink Platypus Pinot Noir rosé. 6761 Sebastopol Ave, Suite 500, Sebastopol
Halleck Vineyards, Sebastopol
This is actually owner Ross Halleck’s home, so appointments are a must. Keep driving, drive a little more, and you’ll finally find the graceful, giant window-clad home on a remote hillside 900 feet up. Taste on the back deck overlooking the vines and neighboring horses, and if you’re lucky, Ross might share his stash of boutique Sonoma County cheeses. To drink: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Dry Gewurztraminer. 3785 Burnside Road, Sebastopol
It’s appropriate that walls made of floor-to-ceiling cubbyholes are stocked with wine bottles interspersed with jars of jam and pickled vegetables – this teeny town is in the heart of farm country, after all. Turntables spin vinyl, and a red table wine comes in a 500-ml jug, sealed with a laboratory bottle cap. To drink: Bordeaux red blends, Pinot Noirs, and golden orange skin-fermented Chardonnay. 21015 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville
It’s completely off-the-radar but just a few minutes from downtown across the Russian River Bridge. Winemaker Luke Bass hand bottles and corks all his wine in a groovy little cave surrounded by biodynamic vineyards, pigs, chickens, dogs, veggie plots and orchards. By-appointment tastings are held under a walnut tree at a wood plank bar balanced on two wine barrels. To drink: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. 11750 Mays Canyon Rd.
D'Argenzio tasting room
D’Argenzio Winery, Santa Rosa
Venture into the unassuming looking little strip mall, tucked off a side street in an industrial area next to Highway 101, and discover a mini Italy. Two bars merge into the barrel room, patio, and cafe for an Italian villa mood, and on Thursday nights, the place rocks with live music, food trucks, and wine discounts. To drink: Rossato di Loiodice, Pinot Noirs, and Sangiovese. 1301 Cleveland Avenue, Suite A., Santa Rosa