A good winery is like a good wine - it takes time and care. Too much time and care can make a winery stuffy and snobbish; too little, and it tries to be what it's not. Having celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011, J Vineyards and Winery is the perfect blend of serious winemakers who don't take themselves too seriously.
J Vineyards Barrel Room
Sixty miles north of San Francisco, right off the Old Redwood Highway and nestled between the charming towns of Windsor and Healdsburg in Sonoma County, J Vineyards is known for its sparkling wines and its Pinot Noir, especially its award-winning 2008 vintage. The cool air of the Pacific and the loamy sandstone of the prized "Goldridge" soil of Sonoma's Russian River valley produces some of the finest pinots in the world.
The best way to experience J Vineyards is to make reservations at the Bubble Room ($65/person). During this three-course, 90-minute wine and food pairing, a wine specialist will explain how your sparkling or varietal wine was made and why it's being paired with the food being served. For example, on a recent menu, the 2009 Chardonnay was paired with Cream of Baby Leek and Celery Root Soup. And Executive Chef Mark Caldwell only uses local and seasonal Sonoma county ingredients. It's the foodie trifecta: engaging conversation, sensational wines, and a locally grown meal.
This a fairly popular winery, so don't expect small crowds. If you need some space and quiet after your tasting, Sonoma County offers endless natural beauty, such as the hikes through nearby Riverfront Regional Park. And J Vineyards offers excellent tours of their wineries so you can see and feel the grapes you just enjoyed as wine. If your tasting has fired you up for a night out, sleepy Healdsburg has a surprisingly stimulating nightlife.