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by Erika Lenkert

Sonoma's Spectacular Springtime Wineries

This month is one of my favorites. Not because it's my birthday (my 40th this year—all well wishes are welcome!) or because of Easter brunch and Passover parties (although I love those), and certainly not because of the dreaded taxman. April is a most welcome month because the dogwood and wisteria are in bloom, the bulbs planted last winter have pushed up from the earth, and the wine valleys are visual riots of colorful flora.

It also marks the beginning of what I call pool season—when afternoons can easily be spent soaking up the magical Wine Country light and sipping cool wines on a patio, or on unusually hot occasions, such as those we've had lately, taking dips in the nearest swimming pool. But the best perk for the Northern California wine county visitor is that many wineries celebrate this glorious change of seasons with spectacular garden displays. Whether you are a garden variety junkie or just want a beautiful backdrop for your wine-tasting buzz, a visit to any of the following Sonoma wineries promises a taste of Wine Country flower power.

At the northern end of Sonoma Valley is the wine country oasis of Chateau St. Jean, a beautiful 1920s chateau surrounded by 250 acres of European-style formal estate gardens and vineyards. Its landscaped grounds, vast grassy expanses, and umbrella-shaded café tables surrounding a fountain are prime picnicking territory and gardens beg to be strolled. (8555 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood, 800-543-7572,

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center - Pull off Highway 101 north of Santa Rosa in Fulton and you'll find K-J's 2-1/2 acre organic garden, which is divided into "sensory sections" with edible plants that pair with white wine in one area and those that pairs with red wine in another. Surrounding the site is a profusion of flowers, a walnut orchard, and picnic spots nestled within an experimental vineyard, where you can meander and get a firsthand view of the difference between various types of grapes. (5007 Fulton Rd., Fulton, 707-571-8100,

Korbel Champagne Cellars - A stop at this inexpensive bubbly maker, which marks the gateway to the laid-back downtown area of Guerneville, is a great place to drink in the beautiful redwood grove surroundings, toast with a glass or two of sparkling wine, and browse the historic estate's 250 varieties of antique roses. But don't just drop in. The garden can be viewed only during tours, which are held Tuesday through Sunday at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. (13250 River Rd., Guerneville, 707-824-7000,

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery - The mother of all springtime destinations, the gardens at Ferrari-Carano are staggeringly beautiful, from the abundant wisteria at the entrance to the hundreds of tulips to the formal Asian garden complete with Japanese arched bridges, boxwood, maples, magnolia, and roses. The gardens are a worthy site anytime, but tulips are your thing, visit within the next week as they are on their way out. (8761 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg. 707-433-6700,

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