Cars are by far the best means of getting around Sonoma - you can arrange rental vehicle by the usual operators, Hertz, Avis, Enterprise and Budget. If chauffered limos are more your bag, or you don't have a designated driver for your vineyard visits, both California Wine Tours (www.californiawinetours.com) and Beau Wine Tours (www.beauwinetours.com) rent cars and chauffeurs by the hour, and arrange county tours.
You can fly into San Francisco International Airport on British Airways, Lufthansa, and a wide assortment of US internal carriers. From here, Sonoma County is about 45 minutes' drive to the north, (just over an hour to Healdsburg). Santa Rosa's tiny Charles M Schultz Airport (named in homage to Peanuts' creator) is visited by Horizon air flights to/from San Francisco, Seattle, LA, and Las Vegas. Sacramento and Oakland airports are also viable options.
Sonoma's not well served by rail, although there is a bus network that covers the region quite comprehensively.
+ 1 for the United States; 707 for Sonoma County.
A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine is a compendium of Jay McInerney's humorous anecdotal wine columns for House and Garden magazine. Glen Ellen resident Jack London's novel Valley of the Moon provides a snapshot of the Northern Californian wine region 100 years ago.
Do go / Don't Go
Mid-November to April can be rainy, but April is not too crowded, and if you're lucky, you'll get cool and crisp mornings and warm sunshine in the day. The hot Augusts can be stifling, with no cooling sea breeze and a crush of tourists.
It's often easier to get the hotel to call you a cab as flagging one down can be tricky, but if you need to book a taxi yourself try the Healdsburg cab Company on +1 707 433 7088, or A-C Taxi (www.a-ctaxi.com) if you're in or around Santa RosaIt's often easier to get the hotel to call you a cab as flagging one down can be tricky, but if you need to book a taxi yourself try the Healdsburg cab Company on +1 707 433 7088, or A-C Taxi (www.a-ctaxi.com) if you're in or around Santa Rosa.
Tip what you can when you can. Anything less than 15 per cent risks being interpreted as a sign that there was some horrific service disaster and may require justifying to your waiter.
Be sure to include one or two hangover cures in your baggage - somehow it's just too hard to spit at wine tastings.
Most of the culture in Sonoma's of the viti- variety - it's even home to the world's largest art gallery devoted exclusively to wine labels (www.imagerywinery.com). Dating back to 1858, Gundlach-Bundschu (www.gunbun.com) is one of the oldest wineries in California, and provides an involving overview of the history of winemaking in the state. Family-owned and friendly, it holds open-air summer evening events in its amphitheatre, including barbecues, dusk cinema, musical recitals and theatrical performances.
The shops around the square on Sonoma Plaza are worth a mooch: clothes-wise, the Loop (+1 707 939 8400), sells unusual women's fashion that would not look out of place in Primrose Hill. Summer Vine(+1 707 933 8810) has tasteful homewares. Every Friday brings a farmer's market (+1 707 538 7023) to Depot Park at First Street West from 9am to noon, and one on Tuesday evenings during April to October in Sonoma Plaza. Healdsburg's market (+1 707 431 1956) is held on Saturday on North and Vine Streets.
Follow the Dry Creek Road through the hills, pull over by the Rockpile bridge, and stroll across the walkway, camera at the ready. The view across Lake Sonoma to the dam and hills beyond is a show-stopper of a spectacle.
At least two of Sonoma's Sonoma best wineries offer free tastings: Valley of the Moon winery (www.valleyofthemoonwinery.com) in Glen Ellen, and the Dry Creek Vineyard (www.drycreekvineyard.com) in Healdsburg.
March Book ahead for Savor Sonoma (www.heartofsonomavalley.com), the weekend when the valley's vintners open up their casks for the tasting. Buy an empty wine glass and then wander between participating wineries, sampling the youngest wines at the pre- bottling stage. April The Annual Sonoma Film Festival (www.sonomafilmfest.org) showcases top-drawer indie celluloid. May Sonoma Jazz Festival (www.sonomajazz.org). July The Salute to the Arts Festival highlights the food, art, and, yes, wine of Sonoma, Raising money for the Sonoma Valley non-profit arts and cultural organisations (www.sonomavalley.com). September The Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival (www.sonomavinfest.com) features wine stomping, tasting, food, live music, art and an all-American parade. December-February Finally the grape takes second stage - it's the Sonoma Valley Olive Festival (www.olivefestival.com).