In no particular order, I’ve made a list of the top six most eclectic Russian River Valley wineries, which is no easy feat. With over 100 wineries in the Russian River Valley AVA, there are a lot of choices. These are off the beaten path wineries with stellar wines, avant-garde winemakers, friendly down-to-earth folk and inviting and fun tasting rooms.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are highly revered here, and comprise over 70% of the vineyard plantings. Cool climate varietals such as Syrah and Zinfandel make a good showing, along with Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Sirah.
#1 Moshin Winery – Tucked off River Road, it’s easy to miss the entrance. Look for the giant iron butterfly hovering above the road. Moshin pours several amazing Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay, a Sparkling Blanc de Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and a late harvest Zinfandel dessert wine. The tasting room is adorned with local artwork and features a small gift shop. Super fun way to spend an afternoon! www.moshinvineyards.com
#2 Porter Creek Vineyards – Stay on Westside Road a mile or so and you’ll arrive at Porter Creek. The long dirt driveway leads to a vintage outbuilding-style tasting room next to the exotic chicken house. Large enough for about 10 people, the view from the tasting room rivals the best view in the valley. The tasting lineup is sure to please every palate. Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Old Vine Carignane and Old Vine Zinfandel. Plus, super friendly hosts! www.portercreekvineyards.com
#3 Matrix Winery – Keep going down Westside Road, toward Healdsburg to find Matrix Winery, which is one of my latest finds in Russian River Valley. Winemaker Victoria Wilson, of the infamous Wilson wine family, is a hoot. She’s young, flamboyant, creative and knows her way around the 777, 667 and 118 Pinot Noir clones. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Petit Sirah are equally exciting. The tasting room is under construction until Spring but looks to be nothing short of first class. www.matrixwinery.com
#4 Harvest Moon Winery – Head down Olivet Lane, which is as charming as the name implies. No trip to Russian River Valley is complete without a visit to Harvest Moon. Spicy Zinfandel rules the roost here, along with bubbles! Dare to try the dry Sparkling or late harvest Gewurtztraminer or the delicate Pinot Noir Rosé. On occasion, winemaker Randy Pitts is known to bring out the saber sword and shear off a cork samurai-style! Can’t say enough about Harvest Moon ~ It’s literally over-the-moon! www.harvestmoonwinery.com
#5 Hook & Ladder Winery – It’s impossible to miss Hook & Ladder Winery, just look for the vintage red fire engine parked out front on Olivet Lane. Probably one of the most storied families in Russian River, Cecil and Christine DeLoach are at the helm. The themed tasting room is modeled after Cecil’s previous life as a San Francisco fire captain. Estate wines include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. www.hookandladderwinery.com
#6 Woodenhead – Circle back to River Road and look for Woodenhead, seated high on the hill. Don’t let the exterior fool you, for amazing flights of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel await. Belly up to the lodge-like bar to taste Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, Mendocino and Humboldt or Zinfandel from Mendocino. For an alternative, there’s a sparkling Rosé Brut, French Colombard, Charbono and Syrah. A little funky setting with commanding views and spectacular wines. www.woodenheadwine.com