Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Wine Road

The wine road is an organization of Sonoma County wineries, mostly in the Russian River area.

When Alaska was owned by Russia, Russian settlers as well as Alaskans were living in Northern California with the purpose of growing food to be shipped to Alaska. However, the food growing experiment failed, because the settlers didn't know how to deal with the climate and with the wild-life, especially the gophers that destroyed their crops. Fort Ross, at the Sonoma coast, is a  state historical park of one of the old settlements. In the early 1840s, the properties of the Russian American Company were sold to a rancher from Sacramento, and most of the Russian settlers left the area. What remains of them is the name of the river: the Russian River.

Once a year, the wine road organizes a barrel tasting event. About 100 wineries participate. For one small fee, one can drive from winery to winery and taste their wines. Even the designated driver gets something out of it: sometimes a gift, sometimes a juice, a lot of times gorgeous views and food. The lucky ones see some wild-life can bee seen on the side of the road (Turkey on the left).

Many wineries bring out the barrels from their not-yet-released wines. We got our tastings from a huge pipette directly from these barrels. 

Here are a few pictures from some of the wineries:
Russian Hill Estate had wonderful Pinots. They are located on a hill (surprisingly), with great views of the area.

One winery was growing bell beans, a variation of fava beans, on a field in preparation for planting Chardonnay grapes. Legumes enrich the nitrogen content of the soil.

Hop Kiln Winery sells a lot of food items additionally to their wines: mustards, vinegar, salami, dips and chips, and you can borrow plates and knives for a picknick on the beautiful grounds.
As the name indicates, the winery used to be a hop kiln. It looks like the area evolved from beer to wine (also, a hop kiln is seen in the picture above from Russian Hill).

Chalk Hill is an upscale winery with a huge estate and wonderful Chardonnays. You see their stainless vats on the left.

Graton Ridge Cellars was our first and last stop on the wine road. They had the best Petite Syrah, and one of us had to buy a bottle. They also had a bunch of chickens running around in their vineyard that ran away as soon as I got my camera out. Oh well, the truck is pretty, too!

I was lucky that I was able to make these pictures, since I hadn't charged my camera. Every picture I took was threatening to be the last. I didn't get anything from Twomey, one of our favorite wineries in the Napa Valley, that also has an estate close to Healdsburg. Twomey is the best deal in town in Napa Valley (close to Calistoga). They are the sister winery to the high-profile Silver Oak, and originally specialized on Merlot (made in Calistoga). Now, they also make great Pinots and Sauvignon Blancs at the Russian River. In Calistoga, they used to charge $5 for a tasting and we'd get the glass (a very nice Schott/Zwiesel glass) to take home. Now, tastings are free. Not to be missed!

The other wineries that were our favorites on this trip where Pellegrini (great deal on half bottles Sauvignon Blanc) and Russian River Vineyards (wonderful desert wine, not yet bottled).

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