Exploring the Russian River Wine Country
Planning a trip to wine country? One advantage of living in the San Francisco Bay area is that you can go in any direction and discover some of the best wines in the world. Try driving northwest to the friendly farming community of Sebastopol and the lush Russian River Valley. Typical of the weather in this region, you can be in fog and mist in the morning and warm, sunny skies by afternoon.
The Russian River Valley was first settled in 1812 by Russian explorers (hence, the name) who planted Gravenstein apples. Now you’ll discover award-winning wines, great chefs using artisanal products, a beautiful landscape, and a vibrant local scene. Sustainable farming practices have prevailed for more than 150 years.
Deep in the separate Green Valley AVA and among its rolling hillsides, find the Spanish-influenced Marimar Estate. Sample homemade tapas (from Marimar Torres’ Catalan cookbook) paired with recent releases. From the rustic country dining room, you’ll have the perfect view of the budding Don Miguel Vineyard (named for Marimar’s father). Favorites among her cool-climate wines are the 2006 “Cristina” Pinot Noir (named for her daughter) and the 2007 “La Masia” Chardonnay. Before you leave, pick up a bottle of their El Silencio extra virgin olive oil.
Back on Highway 116, head north a bit to the Dutton Estate tasting room. The owners are from long-time Russian River families with rich farming histories. The current generation, including young great-grandchildren, is involved in every aspect of the family businesses. The Pinots are hot, but don’t miss the 2008s – My Father’s Syrah and Kyndall’s Reserve Chardonnay.
Next up visit Quail Hill and Lynmar Estate. Enjoy their luscious 2008 estate Quail Hill Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the comfort of the modern tasting room. And when you think it’s time to leave – don’t! Stay at Bliss House overlooking the Lynmar vineyards. This stunning three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath treasure is just as the name implies – blissful! It’s the ideal place to unwind, enjoy the wine, and take in the view of the Laguna de Santa Rosa and acres of vines from the privacy of your own house.
You can decline the allure of the beautifully appointed kitchen and your own cooking, instead opting for dinner at Peter Lowell’s. Just on the edge of downtown Sebastopol. This local hot spot is a food lover’s dream. The cuisine is traditional Italian and showcases organic produce from their own farm (just two miles away) and from farmers who incorporate organic and biodynamic farming practices. The wines are chosen for these same reasons. Whether you decide on the antipasti, a sizzling pizza, or one of the many nightly specials, you’ll savor every bite of the creative food. Save room for one of the yummy desserts.
The next morning, linger over coffee and maybe you’ll catch a spectacular sunrise over the lagoon and vineyards. Before you go to your first winery, cruise through the center of Sebastopol. Just a few blocks long, the main street is classic – full of locally owned antique stores, restaurants, boutiques, and a book and music store. Drive down Florence Avenue and see the whimsical junk-art sculptures from artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent.
From here, head back to the Green Valley area and Iron Horse Vineyards. Taste through delicious sparkling and still wines and enjoy knock-out views and the most casual, fun atmosphere around. There is lots to choose from, but don’t leave without the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir and from the 2006 vintage: Brut X (only available at the winery), and the Russian Cuvée.
After a beautiful winding drive across the Russian River countryside, arrive at Thomas George Estates. They specialize in small-lot estate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The tasting room is a converted 1920’s hops kiln. The delicious 2009 Russian River – both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – are each rich blends of three estate vineyards.
Continuing on your big loop through the valley, circle towards Healdsburg and J Vineyards. Try both sparkling and still wines in their hip tasting room and lounge, especially the J Brut Rosé NV and the 2007 J Vineyards Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Before heading back to San Francisco, make your final stop at local favorite K & L Bistro in downtown Sebastopol. They serve great food in a casual setting. Seats at the cozy bar gave you a bird’s eye view of the dining and kitchen action. Choose the grilled calamari salad with white beans, red onion, arugula and a mint olive vinaigrette and the “paella” risotto loaded with chorizo, shrimp, clams, squid and mussels. The perfect accompaniment is Sonoma wine. Save room for the decadent butterscotch custard – you won’t be disappointed.
Sebastopol and the Russian River Valley area are made for foodies and wine lovers. It’s an easy getaway from the day-to-day routine. Kick back and take the time to explore – this is a rich region well worth the trip.
Getting There: Sebastopol, CA: About 60 miles from San Francisco.
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