While we’re all for elaborate wine pairings, we’ll never say no to the simple pleasures of a wine and cheese pairing, especially when both are locally-made. It’s no secret that Sonoma County is a renowned wine region, home to over 400 wineries, but what you may not realize is that Sonoma County, and nearby Marin County, are home to numerous artisan creameries.
There are over a dozen producers making creamy, sticky, stinky, and oh-so-delicious cheeses in the same region where world-class grapes are grown – how convenient! Since one of the golden rules of wine pairing is to match the wine with food of the same region, Sonoma has it covered in spades. Sayonara, Wisconsin cheddar (no offense, Cheeseheads), it’s time to eat and drink local with these Sonoma wine and cheese pairings worth seeking out.
Buttery, triple-cream cheeses are the classic pairing for sparkling wine, thanks to the wine’s refreshing, acidic effervescence that helps cut through the richness of the cheese to leave your palate cleansed. When it comes to sparkling wine and cheese, usually the higher the fat content in the cheese, the better. However, since sparkling wine loves salty foods, we also like our bubbly paired with salty parmesan and asiago.
For mouthwatering triple-creams, check out the popular Cowgirl Creamery, specializing in artisan, organic cow’s milk cheese. A visit to their Point Reyes Station shop is a cheese-lover’s dream, where you can taste favorites like their triple-cream Mt. Tam and other ooey-gooey, cheesy delights. Be sure to also pay a visit to Achadinha Cheese Company, a family-owned ranch near Petaluma making farmstead cheeses from their 250 goats and 60 cows. Book a tour and you’ll likely get to observe one of the twice-daily milkings, while checking out the pigs, horses, chickens, and other animals on the ranch. Don’t miss their Capricious, an award-winning goat cheese that’s nutty and almost crystalline in texture, much like an aged parmesan.
When looking for sparkling wine in Sonoma, a must-visit destination is J Vineyards, the stylish tasting room and winery known for its large selection of sparkling and still wines. Located just south of Healdsburg in the heart of the Russian River Valley, J Vineyards offers a variety of intimate tasting experiences, including a five-course food and wine pairing in their classy Bubble Room. Or head to the Healdsburg Plaza to visit the luxurious JCB Tasting Salon, offering several sparkling wines from the Boisset Collection within a plush, jewel-toned interior.
Because chardonnay is a fuller bodied, often buttery wine, it makes sense that a creamy, high-fat cheese like brie or camembert is an ideal pairing. At Marin French Cheese Company, you’ll find plenty of options when it comes to rich, soft cheeses. As the longest continually operating cheese company in the United States, founded in 1865, this beautiful creamery in West Marin welcomes visitors daily to sample cheese and picnic by the pond.
When you’re ready to sip on chardonnay, head to Sonoma’s Patz & Hall, known for small-lot, single-vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir sourced from quality vineyards throughout the region. While Patz & Hall offers formal seated tastings, visit their Sonoma House for a more casual experience, where walk-ins are welcome seven days a week. Further north, near Kenwood, is St. Francis Winery, a Sonoma staple offering limited-production chardonnay from their 22 acres of chardonnay vines, in addition to many other varietals. If wine and cheese is what you’re after, try their special tasting featuring estate wine and local cheese, enjoyed from the intimate terrace setting overlooking the vineyards.
Stilton blue cheese, or any pungent cheese of this particular category, is certainly not for everyone, nor is it the easiest to pair with wine. However, with its faint sweetness and buttery texture, Stilton tends to pair well with the complex, fruit-forward notes of Dry Creek Valley zinfandel – especially if that zin comes port-style as a dessert wine.
Though Dry Creek Valley grows more than 30 different types of grapes, this small area is home to one of the densest plantings of old vine zinfandel in the world. Founded in 1972, the family-owned Dry Creek Vineyard produces numerous styles of zinfandel, including an old vine zin and a dessert-style zinfandel, available from their charming tasting room modeled after a French chateau. And don’t miss making an appointment at A. Rafanelli, a fourth generation family-owned winery that has been growing grapes and making wine in the Dry Creek Valley since the early 1900s. Specializing in high quality wines like zinfandel and cabernet, their noteworthy wines stand the test of time.
It may be a bit of trek from the Dry Creek Valley, but for exceptional Stilton-style cheese, check out Wm. Cofield Cheesemakers, a newer venture started by two college friends in Sebastopol, focused solely on British-style aged cheddar and Stilton-style blue.
With its light-to-medium body and array of earth and fruit characteristics, pinot noir is one of the most food-friendly wines around. When it comes to cheese, that statement is mostly true, too. From aged goat cheese to mild, soft cheeses like Gruyere, pinot noir doesn’t discriminate.
At Nicasio Valley Cheese in Marin County, fresh cheese is made by Swiss-born Fredolino Lafranchi, who makes a Gruyere-style version with luxuriously rich flavor. A visit here will get you a peek into the production facility, as well as a complimentary tasting. And at Bohemian Creamery near Petaluma, take a tour of the facility to learn about the cheesemaking process, then be sure to sample their wide variety of artisanal offerings. For pinot, try their Capriago, an asiago-style cheese made from goat milk, aged 8-10 weeks.
Founded in 1989, Moshin Vineyards in the Russian River Valley crafts single-vineyard, estate-grown wine using sustainable farming practices. Moshin makes a variety of Russian River pinot noirs; in fact, the majority of their 28 acres of grapes are dedicated to it. Less than ten minutes away and located on a picturesque hilltop, MacRostie Vineyards stuns with its acclaimed pinot noir and chardonnay offerings, available from the beautifully designed tasting room overlooking the surrounding vineyards.
While sauvignon blanc from Sonoma tends to have less grassy, green notes than those from New Zealand, regardless where from, sauvignon blanc is a refreshing wine with bright acidity. When it comes to cheese pairing, find one with a lot acidic and/or herbal notes. Goat cheese, which is notoriously tangy, has high acid levels that brilliantly match the acidic structure of sauvignon blanc, so they act like equals instead of opponents in your mouth.
Located at the eastern edge of the Russian River is Chalk Hill Estate, a 1,300-acre property where a variety of tasting options and tours are offered from their hospitality center. Sample their crisp and refreshing sauvignon blanc as you admire the estate’s grounds, which boasts a culinary garden, wilderness areas, and an equestrian pavilion. Connoisseurs will also enjoy a stop at Merry Edwards Winery, where acclaimed sauvignon blanc and pinot noir can be tasted from their state-of-the-art facility near Sebastopol.
At Petaluma’s Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese, as the name implies, goat cheese is the specialty. You’ll find young and aged goat cheese, and even a goat brie, all available for sale from their farm. Schedule a tour and you’ll get to meet the “kids” while checking out the cheesemaking facility, too.
Wines with a lot of tannins (like cabernet) tend to clash with some cheeses, but a strong, semi-hard cheddar with a bit of age is the perfect match. The wine’s tannins bind to the high protein and fat levels of the cheese, acting as a palate cleanser rather than destroying the flavors of the wine.
For cabernet sauvignon in Sonoma, head to Alexander Valley to check out Medlock Ames‘ century-old Alexander Valley Store & Bar. Grab a spot outside at this rustic tasting room surrounded by beautiful gardens, then try the Artisan Cheese & Wine Pairing, featuring four wines served alongside small-batch cheese from local creameries. Nearby at deLorimier, award-winning cabernet and other Bordeaux varieties are best enjoyed from the spacious patio, offering stunning views of the surrounding valley.
Though not the closest in proximity to Alexander Valley, the 102-year-old Petaluma Creamery is a worthy stop for their wide variety of organic cheddars. In Sonoma, check out Vella Cheese Company, which has been producing handmade, gourmet cheeses for over 87 years, including a tasty selection of cheddar cheeses aged around 2 years.
Where to Taste:
J Vineyards: 11447 Old Redwood Hwy, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (888) 594-6326
JCB Tasting Salon: 320 Center Street, Healdsburg, CA, 95448, (707) 934-8237
Cowgirl Creamery: 80 4th Street, Point Reyes CA 94956, (415) 663-9335
Achadinha Cheese Company: 750 Chileno Valley Drive, Petaluma, CA 94952, (707) 762-1411
Where to Taste:
Patz & Hall: 21200 8th Street E, Sonoma, CA 95476, (707) 265-7700
St. Francis Winery: 100 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95409, (707) 833-0242
Marin French Cheese Company: 7500 Red Hill Road, Petaluma, CA 94592, (707) 762-6001
Where to Taste:
Dry Creek Vineyard: 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 433-1000
A. Rafanelli: 4685 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 433-1385
Wm. Cofield Cheesemakers: 6780 McKinley Street #110, Sebastopol, CA 95472, (707) 755-0130
Where to Taste:
Nicasio Valley Cheese: 5300 Nicasio Valley Road, Nicasio, CA 94946, (707) 662-6200
Bohemian Creamery: 7380 Occidental Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472
Moshin Vineyards: 10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 433-5499
MacRostie Vineyards: 4605 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 473-9303
Where to Taste:
Chalk Hill Estate: 10300 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 657-4837
Merry Edwards Winery: 2959 Gravenstein Highway N, Sebastopol, CA 95472, (707) 823-7466
Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese: 7955 Valley Ford Rd, Petaluma, CA 94952, (707) 762-6182
Where to Taste:
Alexander Valley Store & Bar: 13414 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 431-8845
deLorimier: 2001 Highway 128, Geyserville, CA 95441, (707) 857-2000
Petaluma Creamery: 621 Western Avenue, Petaluma, CA 94952, (707) 762-3446
Vella Cheese Company: 315 2nd Street E, Sonoma, CA 95476, (800) 848-0505
Cover image courtesy of Petaluma Creamery