More of our trip to California Wine Country – Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek, along with Napa and Sonoma Valleys! Cheers!
We got to northern California about a week after the fires had broken out and headed up towards our vacation rental near Guerneville, which is a small town to the west of Santa Rosa along the Russian River. Guerneville was west of the areas of Sonoma County that had burned, tucked away in the Russian River valley among huge California Redwoods, a quiet town that feels like a cross between a small mountain town and an artistic enclave.
Guerneville is a little off the beaten path when it comes to Napa Valley wine tasting, but it is just minutes away from some fantastic vineyards in the Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley which are a little less famous than their more well known cousins in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, but no less accomplished when it comes to great tasting wines.
We had planned our trip to explore a couple of the different valleys, all of which are known as American Viticultural Areas (more commonly known as appellations or wine growing regions) where different styles of grapes and wines are made. If you have hung around any wine folks, one thing you will hear them talk about is the terrior, or the way the surrounding land and environment impart characteristics to the grapes, and those factors also wind up designating some AVAs! With the chance to experience a couple of days in wine country and a couple of different AVA’s! Day one was a limo tour through the Russian River Valley and the Dry Creek AVAs, while day two would be a trip through over the mountain and down into Napa to visit a couple of Napa vineyards.
On our first day of wine tasting, we started out with tour of a vineyard you may have heard of, Korbel. Korbel has been around since 1882, and while rightly famous for their California Champagne, the tasting room offers a whole lot more! Korbel’s tasting room lets you try a whole array of wines that are only offered for sale at the winery, from some of their great bubbles (including a red champagne!) delicious reds, plus you can try a sherry and a port wine! As a bonus, right next to the tasting room is a great little market and delicatessen where you can grab a snack or a full picnic lunch! Oh and to top this whole experience off, there is no tasting fee!
Our next stop was at Thomas George Estates, where we had the chance to experience some of the amazing wines made from single block vineyards of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The wines at Thomas George were absolutely sublime, with well crafted reds (check out their Pinot Noir!) and some amazing whites. Thomas George is one hidden gem in the Russian River Valley that should be on your list to visit. Not only is the main tasting room beautiful, but the grounds are immaculately kept, with beautiful gardens next to the entrance of their wine cave where you can have a picnic!
Speaking of the wine cave, we had the chance to take a tour of the awesome wine caves, used to store their barrels at the perfect temperature for aging, but they also feature an exclusive wine club member tasting room and a large dining area where they hold winery dinners. If you schedule a tour and tasting, you get to check out the crush pad and production facilities and end up your tour with a tasting in that wine cave! The entire property feels luxurious and should be a definite visit (we have already made plans to return next year!)
For our third stop, we headed over a ridge and down into the Dry Creek Valley, home of the wineries of the Dry Creek AVA and their coveted Zinfandel vines that have been around since before Prohibition! The Deer Creek AVA straddles Deer Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, which carried a rough gravelly soil to the valley floor, which is perfect for growing Zinfandel grapes that produce award winning wines.
At the heart of this valley is Armida Winery, who are known for their famous Zinfandel PoiZin aka “The Wine to Die For” and expansive view of the Dry Creek Valley. Before we drank more wine, we ate lunch on their beautiful deck that overlooks their bocce court and Dry Creek Valley then headed in for some great wines like the delicious PoiZin and Antidote (Pinot Gris)! Oh and be sure to try their delicious wine filled chocolates, which are definitely a treat not to be missed!
Our last winery of the day was a complete change of pace from the estates as we ended up catching a little bit of the beach life by rolling into Healdsburg and the tasting room of Longboard Vineyards. Longboard is a cool place, decorated with surf boards, some of which are the the collection of Longboard owner Oded Shakked, an Israeli by birth but a Californian in heart, with his love of winemaking and surfing! Oded stopped in to chat with us before heading back out to the crush pad to finish processing some wine, and regaled us with some surf stories, a bit about wine making, plus a whole bunch of laughter!
Located in the heart of Healdsburg, Longboard’s tasting room has a relaxed feeling of a surf hangout (they call their tasting room the Surflounge!) but with a backdrop of wine aging in oak barrels. In those wine barrels? How about some really great nuanced whites and some eye opening reds, like their unique cool region Merlot, a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon and a really delicious Malbec which are grown on Oded’s small vineyard!
Of course a whole day of drinking wine should be handled responsibly, so be sure to find yourself a driver! With a big group like we had, getting a limo for the day is a great (and safe!) way to go try lots of great wineries, especially when you have a driver that knows lots of small boutique wineries and can help customize a tour to fit your tastes. We were lucky and had a great driver named Hector from Mr. Napa Limo for both of our wine tasting days who has been driving in Wine Country for over 10 years!
We would be remiss if we didn’t take a second to comment about the big wildfires that swept through Northern California and Wine Country, which is a huge tragedy and will require lots of help to rebuild. You might be nervous about heading out to Wine Country for a vacation, but lay those fears aside and make your plans to visit! Not only will your visit provide the valuable tourist dollars that drive the economy of this region, but there is tones of areas which were not in any way impacted, especially the Russian River Valley and Dry Creek areas! Head on out to wine country because Napa is Open!
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