Story and photos by Frank DiMarco
You’re a wine lover. You have arrived in a wine-growing region full of hundreds of wineries, big and small. What do you do? How do you choose which ones to visit in the time you have? Sure, research is great and fun, but for many of us more casual winery aficionados, it would be wonderful to have some help creating a stress-free itinerary. And guidance is most welcome when visiting The Sonoma County of Northern California.
With so many wineries in the region (including the Alexander, Dry Creek, Green and Russian River valleys and the Chalk Hill and Rockpile districts), someone had to come along to help manage the experience for visitors who might otherwise find visiting 150 wineries a bit overwhelming. Not only that, but vetting through the countless lodgings can be arduous as well. Thankfully, The Wine Road folks are here to help!
When we had the opportunity to let The Wine Road set up an itinerary for us, what followed was one of the best and varied three days of wine education and tasting we’d experienced.
Some of the highlights:
There was Dr. Stew Lauterbach up on a ladder in his unpretentious tasting room in the Windsor, CA countryside. As he took a plug out of the top of a barrel and siphoned out a sample of his delicious 2010 Pinot Noir, it was clear that this smiling ER doctor was having a lot of fun with his winemaking passion.
The same was true as the charismatic Bill Myers grilled some fresh salmon and expounded on his love of wine making in the Alexander Valley, home of his beautiful Mediterranean-style White Oak Winery and Tasting Room. The White Oak Chardonnay is remarkable. These folks are having too much fun!
And while all this fun is going on, they are making world-class wine. In fact, along the Sonoma Wine Road, there seem to be a huge number of winemakers, in facilities large and small, enjoying a robust relationship with the earth, the vines, and sharing their passionate interests with their visitors.
A tip of the hat to Virginia Morgan and David Cooper at their quaint Yoakim Bridge Vineyards and Winery, near Healdsburg, for serving up their “Hearts and Minds” meatballs while we tasted their 2008 Dry Creek Cabernet and 2009 Dry Creek Zinfandel. This outgoing, charming couple met at a cooking school and took the big leap and founded a winery because, well, the passion is there for them as well.
Some of the wineries have huge production, but some, like Lauterbach, produce less than 500 cases a year and the Yoakim Bridge folks, a relatively modest 2500 cases.
We visited B&B’s such as The Honor Mansion, run for 18 years by Steve and Cathi Fowler, complete with croquet, putting green, and inviting bocce ball courts beyond the huge pool. Honor House is the only 4-Diamond property in Healdsburg and the Fowlers work hard to make sure their guests really understand and feel the value of their stays.
Another gem to visit in Healdsburg is Richard and Kae Rosenburg’s Grape Leaf Inn, complete with a cozy “speakeasy” wine tasting room downstairs and, like The Honor Mansion, very good value and excellent customer service standards.
Space does not permit a full-blown list of the wineries on our Wine Road itinerary, but one more stop deserving mention is Everett Ridge Vineyards and Winery, sited on a lovely slope above Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. Three generations of the remarkable Sterling family run this engaging operation, producing about 15,000 cases of superb wines annually. The family story is epic. When you visit, be sure to ask how the “Diablita” label got its name.
Let’s face it, you need two or three days to cover the Sonoma County wineries in a quality, memory-making way. You’ll learn a lot about wine and the personalities of the winemakers. The tasting room staffs are throwbacks to an age of courtesy; they are well informed, sharing their knowledge with pride and generosity. The commitment to sustainable agriculture here is notable, and the desire to preserve the region in agrarian and viticulture endeavors is strong and pervasive throughout the valley.
With the Santa Rosa Airport offering service to major cities and SFO just a little over an hour south, the Sonoma County is a convenient destination and The Wine Road is a best bet to make your visit memorable.
Filed Under: Food & Wine