I had the pleasure to take a quick jaunt to Russian River Valley in North Sonoma County over the long Labor Day weekend with my lovely daughter Tara. Perhaps, not the most ideal time to visit due to the smoldering wildfires, extreme heat and the pandemic. But, it felt really good to travel again and to visit my favorite wineries and see familiar faces. We were well-received all weekend and experienced some of the grandest tastings with super personal service.
Our first tasting adventure started at Dutton Estate for a Dusk Wine Tasting. We were greeted by friendly faces with Dutton’s estate Hard Cider in hand and led to our table amidst the summer blooms surrounded by the vineyards and towering pines. Dutton’s Estate Sauvignon Blanc and gourmet charcuterie plate was most fitting for the glorious sundowner.
Our wine trip itinerary was focused primarily on Westside Road, where days before, all of the residents and wineries had been evacuated from the raging Wallbridge Fire, still semi-active over the crest of the hill. A major arterial roadway, Westside Road had been closed in both directions for several weeks and was used by the fire crews to travel from Jenner to Dry Creek during the initial fire outbreak.
What was on everyone’s mind, but rarely spoken, was the topic of possible smoke taint in the vineyards. Harvest was already mid-way in RRV with fruit still on the vines in many vineyards
Smoke taint would be the bane of many large and small growers and winemakers alike. There was great uncertainty hanging in the smoky air with many wondering if there would be an actual 2020 wine production.
Our top reservation tastings included MacRostie Vineyards, Arista Vineyards and Flowers Vineyards, all off Westside Road. As is elsewhere in California wine country, wine tastings are permitted outside only, by appointment, with social distancing and face masks required when not seated. Other than that, it was business as usual, albeit, without the crowds. Winery staff were very gracious everywhere we went and happy to have visitors once again.
One of the most fun tasting experiences was at Freeman Winery, located in the redwoods near Sebastopol. The wine cave was closed for tours, however, the double doors were opened wide to let the natural cool air rush over us. Our hostess Jessica Gengler was a hoot and poured some extra special Freeman Pinot Noir vintages for us.
Another favorite winery, Emeritus Vineyards, also in Sebastopol, provided a lovely backdrop for our Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir. And, no visit is complete without a stop at Harvest Moon and Hook and Ladder wineries off Olivet Road. Despite the soaring temperatures, we found refuge under the misters and enjoyed tasty farm-to-table nibbles and great Zin!
All said, it was a wonderful little getaway. Here’s hoping there IS a 2020 vintage to toast to in a few years.