Sonoma Napa Low-Alcohol Wine Tasting Map
Best Wineries to Visit in Sonoma and Napa If You Like Elegant, Lower-Alcohol Wines
Wine country has its share of wine tasting road maps. Each is organized by geographic region, offering tourists a convenient, vinous travel guide. Some include details on amenities, such as food pairings, picnic grounds and wifi, but very little information about the wines produced. Enter the first official Sonoma Napa Low-Alcohol Wine Tasting Map. Because Jordan has been making balanced wines for 40 years, we’ve watched many wineries come and go—and the trend of high-alcohol wines rise—so we’ve put together a map showcasing the best wineries to visit if you like elegant, lower-alcohol wines. Why take on such a project? We’ve never seen a tours and tastings map for visitors based on wine style, and interest in lighter wines is becoming more prevalent in wine country, as savvy visitors grow to appreciate the food-friendly charms of elegant wines that emphasize fruit and acidity over tannin and alcohol.
The traditional wine country tasting-route map format has been retooled to pinpoint wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties that produce wines with moderate alcohol levels (14% and under), keen balance, elegance and host guests to tastings, typically by appointment. In Europe where wine regions are mostly in cooler climates, lower alcohol is considered 13% or below, but in Northern California’s sun-drenched inland appellations, making red wines with those alcohol levels has become less common in the last three decades (though there are newcomer low-alcohol advocates), so we set the cut-off at under 14 abv. Of the 39 wineries included, 26 are located in Sonoma and only 13 in Napa–the latter of which includes four sparkling wine producers. The results are not surprising, considering the ocean influences of cooler-climate Sonoma, where myriad grape varieties thrive, and Napa’s warmer inland locale, where powerhouse cabernets remain the focus.
In some cases, we’ve included wineries that produce primarily lower-alcohol wines but also make one or two bottlings at or just above 14%—those that make wines from notoriously ripe grapes, such as zinfandel, barbera, sangiovese or petite sirah, for example. You’ll also find some vintners known for balance excluded, such as Benziger (several single-vineyard wines above 14%), Dutton-Goldfield (five of 18 wines are above 14%), Inman Family and Horse & Plow (both with three pinots above 14%) and Ridge (eight zinfandels above the cut-off). Sparkling wine producers whose bubblies are well below 14% alcohol also made the list, but some of their still wines are slightly above the 14 mark. Those with tasting rooms are open to the public without an appointment but many only accept guests on specific days of the week; wineries with food pairings almost exclusively require appointments for those experiences, so please make reservations far in advance. (Food pairings included range from a cheese plate to hors d’oeuvres.) Alcohol percentages shown on labels and winery websites were used to compile this listing.
If we’ve missed any of your favorites, let us know in the comments. The map will be updated each summer; any additions are noted by date in the list below; publish date of the latest version is noted in the lower-right-hand corner of the map.
Best Wineries to Visit in Sonoma and Napa If You Like Elegant, Lower-Alcohol Wines
Founded by childhood friends Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, this boutique producer focuses on small-lot, single-vineyard pinot noirs, syrahs, cabernets and chardonnay, as well as uncommon varieties like gamay and trousseau. Wines are sold through a mailing list, and tasting appointments are reserved for list members. (Added 7/11/17)
33 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, 707-433-2400, arnotroberts.com
Three Faust sisters—Sharon, Rebecca and Cynthia—joined winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster in this bubbly brand. Their wines are produced with classic Champagne methods, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. 12.5% alcohol is the norm for all their sparklers.
499 Moore Lane, Healdsburg, 707-395-7300, breathlesswines.com
Proprietor-winemaker Alan Baker hits the 13.5% alcohol target with his restrained yet fruity-driven riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot noirs, sourced from Sonoma and Mendocino vineyards. An Upton Vineyard Sangiovese is 14.3%, though it’s available only to wine club members.
340 Center Street, Healdsburg, 707-433-8270, cartographwines.com
Ross Cobb and his family committed to cold-climate viticulture by planting the Coastlands Vineyard near Occidental, a stone’s throw from the chilling Pacific Ocean. The pinot noirs are bracing, nuanced and under 13% abv. The stunner, though difficult to acquire: Coastlands Vineyard Diane’s Block.
18100 Fitzpatrick Lane, Occidental, 707-799-1073, cobbwines.com
Founder and winemaker Wells Guthrie eschews fat, alcoholic wines for those with precision and elegance. He sold Copain to Jackson Family Wines in 2016, yet remains behind the winemaking wheel for chardonnays and pinot noirs from Mendocino and Sonoma counties.
7800 Eastside Road, Healdsburg, 707-836-8822, copainwine.com
Proprietor Brice Jones and winemaker Nicolas Cantacuzene achieve rich, juicy flavor in their 14-and-under-alcohol pinot noirs and pinot rosé. The estate vineyards, including Hallberg and Pinot Hill, are dry-farmed and planted to a variety of clones.
2500 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, 707-823-9463, emeritusvineyards.com
Low-alcohol levels run throughout the sparkling wine lineup of this Spanish-owned winery in Carneros. The still chardonnays and pinot noirs tend to be over 14%, but the finest bottlings are the bubblies, sold at very fair prices for the quality level.
23555 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-933-1917, gloriaferrer.com
The Hafner family has made wine from its Alexander Valley grapes for five decades. Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, a Malbec-based “Next Red” blend and a malbec rosé range in alcohol from 13.5% to 13.9%. Just down the road from Jordan Winery.
4280 Pine Flat Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-0646, hafnervineyard.com
Grower-winemaker Randy Pitts practices what he calls on-time harvesting at Harvest Moon–picking of the wine grapes earlier rather than later—to achieve brighter fruit, higher acidity and lower alcohols. Located in the Russian River Valley, not far from Santa Rosa. Reservations required for groups of six or more. (Added 6/29/17)
2192 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa, 707-573-8711, harvestmoonwinery.com
David Hirsch’s mountaintop vineyard on the far-western Sonoma Coast is chilly, wind-swept and just barely suitable for growing wine grapes. From there, he coaxes small yields of fruit that becomes delicate, precise pinot noirs and chardonnays with verve. A Healdsburg tasting room will open by appointment beginning in August 2017.
57 Front Street, Healdsburg, 707-847-3600, hirschvineyards.com
Owner Sam Bilbro grew up at his family’s Marietta Cellars, but struck out on his own with this small label that produces Piedmontese varietals grown in the elevated hills of Mendocino County. His by-appointment tasting room opened earlier this year in Healdsburg. (Added 7/11/17)
132 Plaza Street, Healdsburg, 707-385-9410, idlewildwines.com
The Sterling family founded Iron Horse in the 1970s, in the cool, foggy Green Valley subset of the Russian River Valley. Their sparkling wines, crafted by David Munksgard, are sublime, made with Champagne methods. Still chardonnays and pinot noirs are also made, some at higher alcohol levels, yet but the bubbles take center stage. Occasional availability for walk-ins, space permitting.
9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, 707-887-1505, ironhorsevineyards,com
Since 1976, Rob Davis has made every bottle of Jordan wine, staying the course in composing elegant, age-worthy wines that never shout yet talk above a whisper. One of the few to focus on just two wines, Davis makes a silky cabernet and crisp chardonnay each vintage, the wines considered more French in style than Californian, with intense fruit and an acid structure that makes both wines popular on restaurant wine lists.
1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-5250, jordanwinery.com
In the early 2000s, stock trader Jamie Kutch left Wall Street for the Sonoma Coast, to produce pinot noirs that are remarkably well-stuffed and intense for their 12.5% average alcohol levels. Top vineyard designates include MacDougall and Falstaff.
21660 8th St E, Sonoma, 917-270-8180, kutchwines.com
Katy Wilson works with Ross Cobb as a consultant to several Sonoma wineries. LaRue is her personal brand, named for her great grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell. Wilson’s Sonoma Coast chardonnays and pinot noirs, from such vineyards as Rice-Spivak and Thorn Ridge, are elegant and energetic.
6761 Sebastopol Ave., Suite 500, Sebastopol, 707-933-8355, laruewines.com
Leo Steen Hansen left his sommelier job in Denmark to make wine in many regions, eventually settling in Healdsburg, where he is the winemaker for Stuhlmuller Vineyards. Under his own label, he makes chenin blancs, chardonnays, grenaches and syrahs that are under 13.8% alcohol, yet burst with fresh fruitiness and vitality. Contact the winery for appointments and location.
Healdsburg, 707-433-2925, leosteenwines.com
Former wine importer Matt Licklider and ex-sommelier Kevin O’Conner are LIOCO, and their chardonnays, pinot noirs and carignans come from chilly climes and are naturally low in alcohol. Naturally fermented, too. Vineyards in Sonoma, Mendocino and the Santa Cruz Mountains are their grape sources.
1160 Hopper Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-331-3582, liocowine.com
Owner/winemaker Ted Lemon is renowned for his measured, meticulous, bracing chardonnays and pinot noirs from the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. His world-class wines are difficult to acquire, yet worth the search. It’s remarkable how much flavor can come from 13.5% alcohol wines.
788 Gold Ridge Road, Sebastopol, 707-823-9586, littorai.com
This small, family winery specializes in cool-climate syrah, but also makes small quantities of sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and a rosé. MacLaren only makes about 1,000 cases of wine–mostly single-vineyard-bottlings–and recently opened a tasting lounge just off the Sonoma square. (Added 6/29/17)
27 East Napa Street, Suite E, Sonoma, maclarenwine.com
Founders Doug and Lee Nalle, and now their son, Andrew, refuse to follow stylistic trends in zinfandel. No matter the fashion of the moment, they have eschewed jammy, potent zinfandels for those with poise, grace, and maximum 14% alcohols.
2383 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-1040, nallewinery.com
Ryan and Megan Glaab fell in love while working for Australia’s Torbreck Winery and created this passion project at Wind Gap, where Ryan served as assistant winemaker. A dedicated home for their stable of mostly Italian varietal wines opens in western Sonoma County in August 2017. (Added 7/11/17)
6450 First Street, Forestville, 707-490-2264, rymecellars.com
Brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani are the scribes at this laid-back winery, where they produce the usual suspects, Chardonnay and pinot noir, plus exotics such as silvaner and riesling. One cabernet sauvignon is 14% abv, though all other wines are 13.5% and lower.
2100 Denmark Street, Sonoma, 707-939-1858, scribewinery.com
Cabernet sauvignon in pinot noir country? Indeed. At their small vineyard and winery in the Russian River Valley (off Olivet Lane), Kevin and Wendy Morrow produce two cabs, Reserve and Clone 4, each at approximately 13.5% abv.
3701 Viking Road, Santa Rosa, 707-544-9049, tarabellawinery.com
William Allen is the chief shepherd of this brand, which focuses on Rhone varieties, including grenache blanc, viognier, grenache, syrah and mourvedre. All wines are under 14% alcohol, production is small, and the rewards are large for those who appreciate less-is-more wines.
7763 Bell Road, Windsor, 415-613-5731, twoshepherds.com
With the exception of the 14.5% Annadel Gap Vineyard Syrah, this winery’s white Rhone-style blend, Rhone red blend and pinot noirs–made by Ben Cane from Annadel Gap Estate grapes–are labeled as 13.9% alcohol or lower. Recent vintages have been rich and plush.
11 East Napa Street, #3, Sonoma, 707-933-7837, westwoodwine.com
Owner/winemaker Pax Mahle looks to chilly Sonoma growing regions for his chardonnays, pinot noirs, grenaches and syrahs, and the quirky yet hip white trousseau gris, at exceptionally low alcohol levels (think 12.5% and lower).
780 McKinley Street, Suite 170, Sebastopol, 707-331-1393, windgapwines.com
Cathy Corison’s St. Helena Napa Valley Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons have always been approximately 13.8% alcohol or lower, no matter the stylistic pendulum swings in California. “My goal is to make cabernet sauvignon that speaks of place, is both powerful and elegant, graces the table and enjoys a long, interesting life. Low alcohol is key,” she says. The cabs are known for aging beautifully.
987 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, 707-963-0826, corison.com
Eileen Crane is the grande dame of this sparkling wine powerhouse, owned by Champagne Taittinger. Her traditionally made bubblies—blanc de blancs, brut and brut rose are the mainstays—are around 12.5% alcohol. In recent years, the winery has upped production of still wines. Chardonnays tend to be 14% and less, pinot noirs a bit above 14%.
1240 Duhig Road, Napa, 707-257-0101, domainecarneros.com
Moet & Chandon was the first Champagne house to stake a claim in California, in 1973. Today its produces huge volumes of traditionally (and competently) made sparkling wine, from the basic Brut Classic to the high-end étoile line. Still chardonnays, pinot noirs and pinot meuniers are also bottled, at varying alcohol levels, but 12.5% bubbly is the bread and butter here.
1 California Drive, Yountville, 888-242-6366, chandon.com
Randy and Lori Dunn have been championing lower-alcohol cabernet sauvignon since the 1970s with a focus on mountain-grown fruit. Dunn and his son make just two bottlings–a Howell Mountain and a Napa Valley cabernet–and believe that 14 percent is “the threshold beyond which cabernet tastes hot and unbalanced,” according to a recent interview in Town & Country. (Added 7/7/17)
805 White Cottage Road North, Angwin, 707-965-3642, dunnvineyards.com
John Williams’ sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, zinfandels, merlots and cabernet sauvignons have always clocked in at 14% alcohol or less, yet deliver plenty of flavor to balance the mouthwatering acidity. The sauvignon blancs and Heritage Red, a light-bodied charbono blend, are typically in the 12.5% range. Williams and winemaker Paula Moschetti farm the vineyards organically.
8815 Conn Creek Road, Rutherford, 707-963-4704, frogsleap.com
Cathy Corison, a former winemaking consultant for this Rutherford producer, set it on the path of restraint and finesse. The Hall family’s two flagship wines, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, can be counted on to give pleasure at 13%-13.8% abv. Small amounts of sangiovese (13.5%) and cabernet franc (14.5%) are also produced.
738 Main Street, St. Helena, 707-963-4555, longmeadowranch.com
Moderate alcohol levels are always top of mind for Steve and Jill Matthiasson. They source grapes from the North Coast, including the unusual ribolla gialla, refosco and schiopettino, along with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. The cab is the most “alcoholic,” at 13.4%; a crisp rosé is 11.3%, and there are no wimps in the lineup. Contact the winery for appointments and location.
Napa, 707-265-9349, matthiasson.com
One of the Champagne invaders to Napa Valley in the 1970s, Mumm has had ownership changes and quality dips, yet Champagne-born winemaker Ludovic Dervin has righted the ship, and the bubbles have never been better. From the widely available Brut Prestige to the high-end DVX, the sparklers are all 12.5% abv. Small-lot pinot gris, pinot blanc, pinot meunier and pinot noir still wines are under 14%.
8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford, 707-967-7700, mummnapa.com
British-born Philip Togni arrived in Napa Valley in 1959, made memorable wines for Chappellet and Cuvaison, and started his own label on Spring Mountain. Two cabernet sauvignons—Tanbark Hill from younger vines and the hallmark estate bottling—are tight and tannic on release, and reward with a decade of cellaring. Labeled as “Table Wine,” they don’t disclose alcohol content; whatever it is, Togni’s wines are focused and without fat. Hard to find. Call ahead.
3780 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena, 707-963-3731, philiptognivineyard.com
Inspired by the wines of Champagne and Burgundy, Samantha Sheehan founded POE in 2009. Her base is Napa, yet her vineyard reach includes Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Low-alcohol and low-intervention are her winemaking guideposts. Most unusual: A Pinot Nouveau, fermented and bottled when very young, a la Beaujolais Nouveau. Located in the Outland Wines cooperative tasting room.
920 Franklin Street, Napa, 707-227-1277, poewines.com
Rob and Maria Helm Sinskey, and their longtime winemaker, Jeff Virnig, are famed for turning out wines that make food taste better. Period. Organics and biodynamics are central to their winegrowing philosophy. Balanced, moderate-alcohol Carneros chardonnays, pinot noirs, merlots, cabernet sauvignons and various exotic blends are their raison d’etre.
6320 Silverado Trail, Napa, 707-944-9090, robertsinskey.com
The Davies family has been at the methode traditionelle sparkling wine game since 1965, perfecting grapegrowing and winemaking practices to produce elegant and complex bubblies that are less than 13% abv. The non-vintage blanc de blancs is a classic starting point.
1400 Schramsberg Road, Calistoga, 707-942-4558, schramsberg.com
This Spring Mountain treasure began in 1952, when Fred and Eleanor McCrea harvested their first Chardonnay grapes for an age-worthy, Chablis-style wine. Two succeeding generations have maintained the estate-only, moderate-alcohol mantra, with riesling, gewurztraminer and cabernet sauvignon joining the lineup. In some vintages, the cab exceeds 14%, but not by much. Contact the winery for appointments and location.
Calistoga, 707-963-2636, stonyhillvineyard.com