Vineyards were originally planted here in the early 1800's making it the birthplace of the California wine industry. Napa didn't start planting until the 1860's by comparison. Additionally there are 12 appellations each one known for a particular style of wine.
Many of the 250 wineries in the region are small mom and pop setups, exactly what I like, so deciding which one's to visit was really hard. Luckily we have friend's who have similar tastes in wine as we do and were nice enough to share some ideas (thanks Dino & Paul!). I was looking for wines that are hard to come by outside of the area and that is exactly what we found!
There is no way we were going to be able to explore each of the distinctly unique areas so we focused on just part of Russian River and the Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg and the Sonoma Valley.
Stationing ourselves in Santa Rosa, about halfway between our 2 chosen areas, we set out on our first day to Arista Winery. Driving around the area outside of Healdsburg was awesome. It is hilly and green, the landscape spotted with huge oak trees, horse farms and vineyards. Beautiful, really really beautiful. I love being in wine countries and this is now one of my favorites for sure.
Many of you know that I have a bit of a passion for North Willamette Pinot Noir so I wasn't really expecting to be blown away by any Sonoma Pinot's. WRONG. Arista makes really gorgeous wines and their gardens are amazing! The buying started early...
Rochioli was next and just down the street. This winery only produces 3 wines- Chardonnay, Sauvingnon Blanc and Pinot Noir. They were pouring the Sauv Blanc and Pinot when we were there, both were delicious.
Right in Healdsburg is Seghesio, beautifully made Zinfandel at really good prices. We were so impressed with all the tastes we had that we joined their wine club. JOINERS!
As we left Seghesio to find some lunch we realized that the temperature had continued to climb and was now around 102F. Our car had stayed cool but it wouldn't be able to for much longer so we stopped in a drugstore and picked up a few coolers and ice so the wine would be safe and sound. I didn't want to come home with bottles of wine reduction!
After a delicious lunch at Dry Creek Kitchen, which was a recommendation from a few locals, we went to our only appointment of the day at A. Rafanelli Winery.
A. Rafanelli produces big, hearty Zin, Cab & Merlot and you can only buy their wines in local restaurants or at the winery. It's by appointment only and really a family affair. One of the daughters, who was a practicing attorney until last year when she came to work in the family business, poured for us and filled us in on the wines available. Once she realized that we were primarily looking for hard to find wines she called George at Unti Winery and got us a tasting at his small production winery also.George Unti is from Italy and makes very European style wines- Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre, etc. He is passionate about his vineyards and the wines they produce and we had a really good time talking to him about the difference in wine regions terroir around the world.
Day 2 we headed south past the town of Sonoma and out to Gloria Ferrer. The scenery out here is a bit different as the rolling hills are browner than the lush area up north. This particular winery doesn't do traditionally tasting, instead they just sell glasses of their sparkling. Since they so some vintage sparkling it was nice to have a glass and relax out on their patio enjoying the views.
website is named!) They are also one of the oldest in the area and offer some really fantastic wines. We chose to try just the reds and split the tastings so we were able to try all of them. The woman who poured for us gave us a few extra tastes of some of their reserve wines and also recommended another old winery up the road. She even wrote us a free pass to taste there since she knew the staff.
So after lunch in the gorgeous square in Sonoma at Maya, a few tastes of really good tequila, a bit of antique browsing and shopping for Rancho Gordo beans at Bram we were off to our last taste of the day at Bartholomew Park. Small, old winery staffed with wonderful people who celebrate all the winemakers of the area with an amazing photo wall. Oh and they make some amazing Merlot!
We used Wine Country Shipping to send all our bottles home, they repacked all the wine in secure shipping cases and had it in Seattle 2 days later. I'm looking forward to enjoying these!