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There was a time not so long ago when wine tasting was free in Napa Valley. But those days are long gone, replaced with $10, $15, $25 and even $50 tastings. What's a wine lover to do? Go West Young Man and head over to Sonoma, the "other" wine country and one that has stayed true to its agricultural roots.
Unlike Napa where many of the wineries look more like retail stores or museums, it's not unusual to find the winemaker himself pouring the wines and talking with the guests at the smaller Sonoma wineries. Many of these smaller wineries offer free complimentary tastings and even some of the larger ones offer two for one coupons. One of the best complete lists of free tastings and free two-for-one coupons in Sonoma Valley can be found here.
As you continue your search for free wine, know that the further north you go towards Healdsberg and the Russion River area, the easier the free tastings are to find.Now remember your manners when someone gives you something for free and say "thank you". Better yet, buy a bottle or two if you like what you taste to help these small wineries out.
Here are a few that should make your short list:
Loxton: Chris Loxton is a transplanted Australian who might remind you of an older Hugh Grant just a bit, maybe more after a few glasses of wine. He's passionate about his Syrahs and Zin's.
Homewood: Nearly a one man operation, Dave Homewood does everything from working the vineyard to pressing the grapes to bottling the wine.
Roche Winery: Their tasting room is right in the Sonoma Plaza and they offer 3 tastes for free. Better yet, they have a nice picnic area and allow you to bring in your own food, or purchase it there. And while not free, they also offer horseback riding through the vineyards, a unique experience and one that should not be missed!
Free wine, great hospitality, what more can you ask for? So next time you want to go winetasting without stopping at the ATM first, go Sonoma and visit some of the smaller wineries. You may never go back to Napa!