The Most Beautiful Wine Castles of Sonoma County
Just one hour north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, you will find yourself in California's charming Sonoma County.
Over the years, inspired wine lovers have made good on their passion for Sonoma County wines that rival the classics of Europe. They marked their triumph by building European-style wine country idylls, grand chateaux, villas, and even castles that are a pleasure to see and visit.
Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood
Nestled among acres of vineyard, and beneath the dramatic volcanic cones of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in the Sonoma Valley, Chateau St. Jean might easily be mistaken for a monastery in the French Alps. The buff-colored walls and red tile roof of Chateau St. Jean evoke the monastic tradition of winemaking.
Built in the 1970s, the Chateau is named after a woman named Jean. Dwarf orange trees and roses grace the Mediterranean-style courtyard garden, a nice place to stroll or sit.
Savor wines in the main tasting room; or sip limited releases in the reserve wines room in the adjacent chateau, which is actually a 1920s vacation home that preceded the winery. Stroll the Mediterranean-styled gardens, which are considered some of the most beautiful in Sonoma County. Enjoy a flight of wines paired with delicious local cheeses, served on the romantic chateau patio.
Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery, Healdsburg
For wine castle Italian-style, visit Ferrari-Carano's Villa Fiore amid the winery's Dry Creek Valley home.
Tea gardens invite strolling on the grounds, while downstairs, the Villa's atmospherically-illuminated barrel room is one of the most evocative of Europe.
The best wine tasting is in the adjacent Enoteca wine-tasting bar in a dramatic underground cellar.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville
This Second French Empire-styled chateau is set among low woodland hills in the Alexander Valley.
There's a bit of Denmark here, too, in that director Francis Ford Coppola's renovation of the former Chateau Souverain called for an amusement park theme that echoes Copenhagen's famed Tivoli Gardens.
Under its mansard roof and towers, modified with glass pyramid peaks by Coppola, the winery houses the director's movie memorabilia, including movie mobster Vito Corleone's desk, "heads" from "Apocalypse Now", and the fully-rigged model warship from Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette."
The restaurant and terrace sport a terrific Alexander Valley view, and the poolside reservation system ensures that everyone is treated to their own chaise lounge and umbrella.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Sonoma
This winery, set in the rolling hills of the Carneros region in southern Sonoma County, was designed to evoke both the historical California missions and the heritage of its Catalonian family, owners of the Freixenet cava brand.
Gloria Ferrer makes some of Sonoma County's most popular, 'go-to' sparkling wines. Take the sparkling wine discovery tour and then settle on the terrace or by the hearth to enjoy sparkling wine flights and light snacks.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Healdsburg
Dressed in lush, green ivy and fringed with perfectly trimmed privets, Jordan very much appears like the Bordeaux chateau that Tom Jordan aimed to purchase before settling in the Alexander Valley. It was a good move. Jordan's Cabernet Sauvignon often ranks among American restaurateurs' favorite brands.
Take in the view from the upstairs library, then enter a dimly-lit parlor for a tasting seminar, with wine paired with gourmet bites from the chef.
Thoroughly modern in their outlook, Jordan is now solar-powered, manages sustainable gardens, and offers the Estate Tour & Tasting, which includes a luxury bus tour of the property and al fresco tastings (three hours, $125 per person).
Ledson Winery & Vineyards, Kenwood
Ledson gets top billing among Sonoma County's wine castles because of its perfect pairing of gothic spires and archways with the rugged, mountainous backdrop of this particularly scenic stretch of the Sonoma Valley.
The style is French Normandy and it was originally built as a family residence. So many would-be wine tasters drove up to check it out, however, that the owner took the hint and opened his winery's tasting room here.
Inside, it's handsomely furnished, has private rooms, a second-floor seating area, and a full deli. Picnic grounds are under the oaks.
Find more details on these wineries at sonomacounty.com. Want to explore all of the wineries in Sonoma County? Get the free Wineries Map. And check out 7 tips for Sonoma wine tasting, so that you'll be a pro when your time comes to visit them.
Want to fly directly into Sonoma Wine Country? The STS - Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa offers non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco and more.