Story by: Sonoma Magazine
Once upon a time in Sonoma, tasting rooms poured samples of their wines for free. Complimentary. Gratis.That was a quarter-century or so ago, when “wine tasting” was not yet a thing here and wine consumption wasn’t common throughout the U.S. A running joke among winemakers was that perhaps they should pay people to try their wines. It had little to do with quality and almost everything to do Americans’ hesitancy to drink wine, let alone understand it.
Over the years, tastings went from free to $5, with a free glass with a logo; then to $10, with a finer piece of stemware to take home and perhaps a basket of French bread and a plate of cheese. Today, $20-$25 tastings, without food (nor freebie glass) are so prevalent they don’t raise eyebrows with guests. Napa Valley remains king when it comes to expensive tastings — rather, experiences — yet Sonoma wineries are catching up, with small bites, box lunches, full meals, private cabanas, vineyard hikes and tastings of library wines sending per-person fees into the $100-and-up stratosphere.
But what about the rest of us? What’s a budget-minded wine taster to do? Thank goodness, there still are a handful of Sonoma wineries whose basic tastings are complimentary, and many more that charge reasonable fees ($20 or less). Some even waive the cost if you buy a full bottle or two.
Here are 10 tasting venues with affordable fees or freebies. Keep in mind that pandemic protocols remain in place. These wineries explain their COVID-19 regulations on their websites, which include making appointments, masking and whether tastings are conducted indoors or out.
(The Sonoma County Vintners trade group has partnered with Visa Signature and Visa Infinite to offer buy-one, get-one tasting deals at approximately 50 wineries, if you use one of those credit cards. Visit sonomawine.com/visa-signature for the list of participating tasting rooms and other perks, among them $1 ground shipping through December.)
Fred and Nancy Cline started Cline Family Cellars in 1982, in Oakley in northeastern Contra Costa County. There, on the banks of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, grow ancient zinfandel, mourvedre and carignane grapevines in soils so sandy it’s hard to believe they can support green growth.
The Clines tapped these vines for their wines and 1989 moved their business to southern Sonoma Valley/Carneros, where they planted chardonnay, viognier, pinot noir and syrah and opened a tasting room in a 1850s farmhouse. Tastings are only outside for now, with five-wine flights priced at $15. Ponds and a sea of rose bushes add color to the tranquil grounds.
24737 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 800-546-2070, clinecellars.com