California is the capital of progress. Even before the time of the gold rush, our state has been synonymous with discovery and innovation. Agricultural lands clash brilliantly with the Pacific shore to form a cutting edge of pioneer ingenuity. And the gays are also no strangers to progress. Harvey Milk transformed a humble campaign for city commissioner into a global invitation for queer folks to live and love openly in San Francisco.
So, what happens when you combine the tastes of Northern California with the tastemakers who define LGBTQ+ aesthetics? The perfect pairing, naturally.
The most vibrant varietals on the planet flourish in Sonoma County, and LGBTQ+ connected wineries are harvesting the most robust flavors for your sipping pleasure. Imagine scouring the globe for the ideal grapes, cultivating acres of vines for years, formulating a delicate balance of fermentation and aging, and arriving at the optimal square foot of real estate in the wine-loving world….
Well, there’s no need to imagine it. We’re taking you on a whirlwind trip to the hip sips of Sonoma, so pack your Prada and join us!
TOUR OF BEAUTY
Let’s start with a superlative, shall we? Sonoma Plaza’s Corner 103 (corner103.com) earned its distinction as the best tasting room in America, according to none other than USA Today. But rather than striking an exclusionary note, this welcoming winery empowers its guests to dictate their own experience. Founder Lloyd Davis fondly refers to his visitors as “wine experts” and argues that only you can determine what pleases your palate. What an apt metaphor for gay life!
Particularly pleasing is the NV Sparkline Rose. Corner 103 has a history of producing Gold Medal winning Sparkling Wine, and their current release will not disappoint. It was crafted from Pinot Noir (70%), Chardonnay (25%) and Pinot Meunier (5%). This beautiful salmon-colored wine is refreshing and opens with inviting aromas of strawberry and peach. Flavors of freshly picked strawberry and raspberry dance upon the palate, with a satisfying full finish. It received a Silver Medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. So, corner the market on satisfaction with a stop at Corner 103.
Blending a hearty Hungarian robustness with the laid-back vibes of California, En Garde Winery (engardewinery.com) is your passport to transcendence. Known for their luxe tasting room in Kenwood, California, En Garde is sharing their award-winning Cabs and Pinots with the grateful travelers along Route 12. One standout selection is the 2021 Pinot Noir “Passion de la Reine” Russian River Valley Reserve, which received 95 points from Steve Heimoff. The velvety texture of this Pinot Noir is a true Reserve. This lush offering has a spicy finish and is delicious now and for years to come. Also not to be missed, is the winner of San Francisco Magazine’s Award for Best Red Dessert Wine in 2021, En Garde’s Grand Vin de Dessert Port. A port style Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Zinfandel. This port is silky and seductive.
As you venture west into the swirling depths of Sonoma County, you will encounter a charmingly rustic rural berg called Sebastopol. Once there, be sure to trot over to Iron Horse Vineyards (ironhorsevineyards.com) home to libations as bubbly as you are. This gay-friendly enclave is renowned for its sparkling wines, like the 2018 Wedding Cuvée. Receiving 94 points from Wine Spectator, the Wedding Cuvée is perfect for any wedding (gay or straight), this fruity mélange drizzles through your senses like spun gold, beckoning you to indulge further. The Iron Horse 2019 Rainbow Cuvée toasts to diversity. And you may even see a rainbow as Iron Horse Estate is a prime location for rainbow sightings when the sun meets the fog.
The yummy brick road unfurls further to the humble hamlet of Graton, where you will find Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery (marimarestate.com). The playful hills give birth to the perfect conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes to flourish with one of the richest, smoothest products in Sonoma County. Marimar has the perfect summertime wines for a warm summer evening spent with good friends and scrumptious snacks! Unwind after a day of activities in the sunshine with the 2021 Albariño – this aromatic white variety comes from northwest Spain and has engaging aromas of honeysuckle and gardenia, crisp and zesty on the palate with a note of sunshine from California; and a classic Russian River Valley Pinot Noir in the 2018 La Masía Pinot Noir from Green Valley which is the coolest region of the Russian River. The firm tannins, balance, and elegance of this pinot pairs perfectly with any dish.
Due north, you’re due for a splash of expertise minus the pretention that often accompanies true mastery. Winemaker Theresa Heredia is a verified vino visionary, and she brings a breadth of knowledge as vast as the Healdsburg hills to her work at Gary Farrell Winery (garyfarrellwinery.com). Her 2019 Bacigalupi Chardonnay is a triumph of refinement and complexity balancing notes of raw honey with lighter flourishes of chamomile and citrus. “I strongly believe in the Russian River Valley’s capacity to consistently produce world class wines,” declares Heredia, a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. “The key is cool breezes and fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean blanket.”
Going through Guerneville, the mecca of gay in the Russian River, you’ll find Equality Vines (equalityvines.com). No Pride period would be complete without a healthy splash of social consciousness, and Equality Vines is fiercely committed to the causes that pulse through our collective hearts and souls. The co-founders of Equality are Matt Grove and Jim Obergefell. If that second name ring-a-ding-dings a bell, that’s because Obergefell was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that ultimately made same-sex marriage legal in America, but that was just an appetizer.
Now, Obergefell and Grove are serving up justice, one sip at a time. Proceeds from the sales of their wines go to such organizations as Lambda Legal, Equal Rights Advocates and the LGBTQ Connection. The Love Wins Sparkling Rosé celebrates the landmark Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision, with its crisp, light notes of strawberries, and dry finish. But our fave label? That has got to be Rosé the Riveter, a light, lemony, luscious vintage dedicated to empowering women and counteracting racism. So, sip your worries away knowing that you’re making a difference.
Inclusion is the quilt that stitches together these triumphant tasting rooms. Just down the road from Guerneville, we arrive at a small township called Duncans Mills. It is an unincorporated village with unbelievable treasures. Guests flock to Sophie’s Cellars (sophiescellars.com) a wine bar that raises the bar. Set against a pastoral outcropping, patrons gather to gaze and graze; the views offer rural serenity while the noshes ignite one’s cosmopolitan sophistication.
Run by local wine expert Alice Hunter, Sophie’s curates vintages from throughout Sonoma County. Their menu features everything from the fragrant acidity of the 2019 Halleck Dry Gewurztraminer to the raspberry-and-cherry note 2016 Cazadero Cabernet. This cellar gets you in on the ground floor of gourmet tasting with down home hospitality.
Continuing to our northernmost point in Geyserville is Rancho Maria Wines (ranchomaria.com) tasting room, where it’s “Rosé all Day” and we’ll drink to that! Co-founded by Sebastian Juarez, in the Fall of 2011, Rancho Maria Wines is a family owned and operated vineyard located in the heart of the Dry Creek Valley, known for their old vine Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Their 2019 Full Monte is a wine packed with dark fruit and tannin comprised of 47% Zinfandel, 38% Grenache, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Down the 101 to Healdsburg we go, with a stop on the picturesque Healdsburg Square and Roadhouse Winery (roadhousewinery.com) showcasing a selection of small batch wines with huge flavors. Created in 2010, Roadhouse Winery is heralded for their Pinot Noirs, and considers the full spectrum of how wine interacts with our gastronomic and olfactory systems. For example, the 2016 Platinum Label dances on your nose in an eternal waltz between its cherry earthiness and lavender caress. Their tasting room on the square pampers you with one-on-one attention and customizable wine experiences. You can even browse the curated collection of vinyl records for sale while you sip. Roadhouse is gloriously gay-owned, and founder Eric Hall is capital-P Proud to feature his handmade offerings to the SoCal community.
Feeling peckish? Just two blocks from Roadhouse sits Healsdburg’s hottest new eatery, Lo & Behold Bar + Kitchen. In their first year, owners Tara, Laura and Sean have received numerous accolades for their modern take on mouth-watering comfort food, cheerful hospitality, hand crafted cocktails and inviting canopy-covered garden patio. Insider-tip: try their kicky “almost famous” chicken tenders served with homemade ranch dressing and Mason’s pickles or their crispy egg rolls with black mushroom, hot mustard and truffle sauce. You’ll see what all the buzz is about.
If you are traveling to Sonoma via San Francisco, and want to celebrate with some festive fermentations right in ‘The City’, be sure to hit up the new Eco Terreno Tasting Room (ecoterreno.com) on Columbus Avenue, serving up their Pride Rosé which embodies the spirit of the season with its bright and airy mouth feel and refreshing finish. Mark Lyon, the former winemaker at Sebastiani, where he was revered as the catalyst to elevating their reputation for world-renowned wines and vineyard sites, is the founder of Eco Terreno and brings nearly four decades of vintner prowess to each glass that sprouts from his fertile imagination.
Lyon has perfected the art of biodynamic farming. He embraces the natural rhythms of the Russian River and, in turn, the landscape hugs him back. It is a love story that only an LGBTQ+ winemaker could craft. Another favorite, the 2018 Sansara Sauvignon Blanc, is a brilliant, light, greenish-gold in your glass – silky smooth with flavors of pear and melon – presents a delightful aperitif or pairing with some Somona County goat cheese.
GAY WINE WEEKEND
Friday, July 14 – Sunday, July 16
Enjoy three days of LGBTQ+ celebration in Sonoma Wine Country.
Gay Wine Weekend takes place this year in the Russian River Valley & Healdsburg wine region of Sonoma County, with all-new venues, wineries, restaurants, and more! Participants can partake in winemaker dinners, winery tours, Twighlight T-Dance, drag brunch and even a pool party. Join in a weekend of wine and celebration. Tickets available at www.outinthevineyard.com
EQUALITY WINE & FOOD FEST
And if you happen to be visiting Southern California this season – we have news that will perk up your taste buds like a quirky Cabernet. Some of these amazing vintners from Sonoma County are coming to Palm Springs for EQUALITY WINE FEST. This first-of-its-kind event, is featuring some of the best LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and Women produced wines in the state of California and beyond. Visit equalitywinefest.com for all the details and to purchase tickets for this festival highlighting diversity on July 1st in Palm Springs at the Margaritaville Resort Grand Ballroom. Tickets are available at EQUALITYWINEFEST.COM
You can keep your proverbial glass full of Sonoma knowhow when you join the ranks of the LGBT Wine Society (LGBTwinesociety.com). A Sonoma Wine Map, events, resources, and camaraderie are just a click (or clink) away when you celebrate the finer things our extended gay family has to offer.
If you’re visiting Sonoma and have a spirit of adventure, try one of these unique lodging experiences:
- AutoCamp Russian River – Stay in your own Airstream trailer or fully outfitted tent. Glamping at its finest. com
- Duncan House – Why rent a room when you can have an entire 1880’s luxury 4-bedroom farmhouse with jacuzzi? Bring the gang. com
- The Woods Cottages & Cabins – Walking distance to all the Guerneville hot spots. Newly renovated rooms and is now clothing optional. com
- The Astro Motel – A cool mid-century experience in downtown Santa Rosa. theastro.com
Last modified: June 22, 2023