By Virginie Boone

Alex Kanzler was just a kid when his family moved to the outskirts of Sebastopol to grow wine grapes. Now, he and his wife Breauna run Kanzler Vineyards, have a successful wine brand and a child of their own. While the couple lived briefly on the property, they’ve since turned the four-bedroom, four-bath vineyard house into a guest home, surrounded by Kanzler’s vineyards, one of the few agricultural spots in Sonoma County where one can stay.

Steve and Lynda Kanzler bought 20 acres of an old apple orchard on Sanders Road in the 1990s, after living in Berkeley and up in the Northwest, where Steve worked for Microsoft. The couple wanted a more laid-back lifestyle in a great community to raise their kids, Alex and his sister, Melissa. Sebastopol ticked all the boxes for the family – good schools, smalltown, rural setting but not far too far from the Bay Area. At the time, they enjoyed wine but “wine country hardly registered on our radar.”

They found housing prices to be high, so they opted to build a house. In 1993 they bought the land and broke ground on that apple orchard, the trees diseased and overcome by brambles of blackberry and crumbling drainage culverts. A year later, the Kanzlers moved in, and it soon became clear that they’d need to farm the land around them somehow to offset the costs of maintaining it.

They tried raspberries first, a difficult and costly crop they attempted for two years. The Kanzler’s true future would be helped along by their neighbors, the Kozlowski family, multi-generational farmers of apples, berries and other fruit.

When asked what he should grow, Perry Kozlowski told Kanzler, “Steve, you can grow apples in 48 states. You can grow premium winegrapes in about three places in the world. You are living in one of them. If I was you, I’d plant grapes.”

Viticulture classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and UC Davis, along with a lot of conversations with local growers such as Steve Dutton, Tom Dehlinger and Dan Goldfield, helped the Kanzlers learn what they could about grapegrowing, as did the Pinot Noir wisdom of Saintsbury’s David Graves, who was particularly vital when it came to choosing clones and rootstocks.

Rhonda Smith, the viticultural advisor for UC Davis extension, was also key, a woman the Kanzlers call the “patron saint of West County wine growers.” Through Smith, Kanzler met Eric Neil, who planted the property to Pinot Noir in 1996 and remains the family’s vineyard manager.

For many years the grapes went to Sonoma County producers like Kosta Browne (who has made a vineyard-designate since 2002), Lynmar Estate, Flowers, Rhys, Gary Farrell, Landmark and Rivers-Marie. Greg Stach from Landmark helped the Kanzlers make a little wine of their own in 2001.

In 2004 they launched Kanzler Vineyards wine, and Alex came on as winemaker in 2011 after working in wineries across the world. They now make several estate Pinot Noirs as well as a Chardonnay from Walker Station Vineyard and Rosé of Pinot Noir.

The Kanzler Vineyard House sits eight miles from the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the vineyard rows, since it was built before grapes were even a thought. It’s a pretty special spot to be surrounded by vines and the beauty of Sonoma County.

Here are a few other locations in Sonoma County to stay close to the vines:

Beltane Ranch
A working vineyard and inn set along the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains in Glen Ellen, the multigenerational family-run business calls its 105 acres an agricultural preserve, with orchards and grazing animals in addition to the Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc grapes it grows. The views over Sonoma Valley are spectacular.

Dutton Ranch Orchard Estate
Set on 50 acres of orchard and vineyard in the Russian River Valley, this Dutton property can sleep 12 between its well-appointed main house and detached pool house, designed for quiet relaxation amidst the vines.

Dutton Winery House
With room for 10 guests, this is a separate Dutton property situated between Graton and Sebastopol, with stunning vineyard views and plenty of privacy and quiet.

Farmhouse Inn
Set in the heart of the Russian River Valley along River Road, you don’t get much closer to Wine Country than here, a world-class inn and restaurant run by the Bartolomei family, who have been farming in Sonoma County for five generations. In addition to the exquisite Farmhouse Restaurant, the Farmstand on-site is an all-day dining option featuring the best regional ingredients. This summer the Inn will feature Sundays at the Cinema, a chance to watch movies and enjoy menu specials in the courtyard.

Fat Dragon
On a knoll in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, both overlooking and surrounded by working vineyards, Fat Dragon has two farm stay cottages on its 30-acre property in the midst of its own Syrah vines. Owners Dani and Mike Price launched the first of their wines this year.

The Madrona
Surrounded by eight acres of culinary and flower gardens with views of the Dry Creek Valley, what was originally called Madrona Manor, went through a major renovation during the pandemic only to emerge as luxurious and beautiful as ever, with both rooms in the historic mansion and private bungalows throughout. All-day dining makes it an inviting spot for a glass of wine or cocktail, too, with Wednesdays devoted to fried chicken.

Reeve Wines Villa
Next door to Fat Dragon, Reeve has a luxury villa for rent through the usual services, with gorgeous views of the valley up the hill from its tasting room. It houses eight guests with four king bedrooms and three baths and is quite private, with a pool, hot tub and outdoor patio. It’s also possible to arrange a farm stay experience that involves feeding the chickens and other animals that keep the property going.

The Residence at Skipstone
Overlooking Skipstone’s 200-acre Alexander Valley estate, which includes 27 acres of wine grapes, a culinary garden, fruit and olive orchards and a chicken coop, The Residence offers five bedrooms and six-and-a-half baths and can sleep 10 people, kept warm by six indoor fireplaces. The outdoor setting includes a pool, fire pits and an outdoor kitchen, including a Mugnaini wood-fired pizza oven.

Vintners Resort
On 92 acres in the Russian River Valley, this 78-room resort is also the home of John Ash & Co., one of Sonoma County’s most important dining destinations for farm-to-table cuisine. An onsite culinary gardener and landscape manager is happy to lead tours through the gardens and vineyards on property, but guests may also sign up for winery tours throughout the region. Jackson Family Wines bought the beautiful spot from another local winemaking family, the Caranos, in 2023.

Do you have a vacation stay in the vineyards to offer? Let us know!