Everyone loves a “Top 10” list, so here are my recommendations, in alphabetical order as they’e all prime picks in that special wine region called Russian River Valley. Besides the fabulous wines, it’s the people and stories behind the vines that make a visit to RRV so memorable and will keep you returning for more!
In the middle reach of the Russian River Valley lies Arista Winery, a family-owned artisanal winery. Specializing in handcrafted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Arista is a true gem. Brothers Mark and Ben run the day-to-day winery operations, and oversee the mini-farm and organic gardens.
The journey from Westside Road is magical and meanders through spectacular Pinot Noir vineyards. At the end of the long gated driveway, you will find a zen-like Japanese inspired facade with manicured gardens, ponds and walking paths. Perfect for a wine-inspired picnic lunch.
By appointment only, the staff is super friendly and extremely knowledgeable and the wines speak volumes. The only downside here is the one-year waiting list to join the McWilliams’ family wine club.
One of the most memorable experiences last year was discovering DRNK Wines, another family-owned winery off Frei Road in rural Sebastopol aka Laguna Ridge growing area. Cleverly named, the initials D.R.N.K. represent inlaws Dale and Nancy Dougherty and Ryan and Katie Kunde who all share a love of family and good wine!
Ryan hails from five generations of vineyard management in Sonoma County and definitely knows how to select the top vineyards and grape varietals, utilizing drone technology. One thing is certain, Ryan’s charismatic nature is endearing and his depth of enology is as impressive as the array of wines.
If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ll be invited to taste some amazing vintage wines in the naturally cooled wine cave. Current bottlings include Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Grenache Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel. Also by appointment, so call ahead and be prepared to be wow’d.
Calling all Pinotphiles… Off the Gravenstein Highway in Sebastopol, you’ll find the highly touted Emeritus Vineyards, another precious jewel along the wine road. Found quite by happenstance, historically speaking, Emeritus‘ Hallberg Ranch is one of the area’s finest producing Pinot Noir vineyards.
An apple orchard in days gone by, the 110-acre Hallberg Ranch is truly a sight to behold. Estate Pinot Noir grapes are also sourced from Annapolis’ Sonoma Coast (Welsly Vineyard) and Sebastopol Hills’ Northern Wind Gap (Pinot Hill). Nothing but heavenly Pinot Noir at Emeritus, but who’s complaining?
A few of the best things about Emeritus, other than the stellar Pinot Noir tasting lineup is the one-on-one seated tasting experience, endless gorgeous vineyard views and the personal interaction with the highly trained staff. Customized vineyard tours are offered throughout the year, with Spring and Summer being especially memorable.
4. Flanagan Winery
One of my newfound favorites is Flanagan Winery, located off Dry Creek Road, five minutes from Healdsburg. By appointment only, this little slice of heaven is sure to impress. You’ll be instantly awed with the sweeping views of Dry Creek Valley and warmly welcomed by the gracious crew
Flanagan is definitely a family affair, with Eric Flanagan at the helm and 20 year old daughter Riley following in his footsteps with her own label, Riley’s Rows. Meeting Riley was awe-inspiring. Her bubbly personality and talent for winemaking is inherent and will serve her well in years to come.
Grapes are sourced from both estate and top vineyards in Bennet Valley, Bodega Bay, Russian River Valley, Petaluma Gap and Alexander Valley. Whether your preference is Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, Flanagan has something for everyone and is sure to delight.
After much anticipation and a mega-million dollar tasting room and property renovation, The House of Flowers opened their doors this Summer. Flowers Winery is situated off Westside Road, minutes from Healdsburg, on the old VML site. While the vibe is more Napa-esque than the laid-back Sonoma style, Flowers has been well-received and is touted as the ultimate wine and food pairing offering in the Russian River Vall
The artfully prepared food pairings change with the season and compliment the four Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Definitely a must visit on a warm sunny afternoon! [Read more…]