The 21st Annual Winter WINEland was a perfect opportunity to meet winemakers, taste limited production wines, new releases and library wines. Designed by the Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, WINEland is the smallest (in terms of crowds) of the three major events held annually by the Wine Road. As is typically the case, some wineries offered food pairings and other enticements for visitors to stay, enjoy themselves, establish an emotional connection, join wine clubs and, ultimately, buy wine. Of course, this year, many of the wineries had large screen televisions in their tasting rooms to satisfy the many fervent Niner's and (a few less vocal) Raven's fans (Yes….on to the Super Bowl for both!!).
136 wineries of the Wine Road's 190 member wineries participated in this winter themed event and more than 5,000 visitors from 47 states enjoyed the gorgeous weather and the beautiful wineries despite the distractions of 49ers football. The cost of admission included wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the 2 day weekend, with hours 11am - 4pm daily.
A particular pleasure with events on the Wine Road is the beauty of northern Sonoma County vineyards and wineries. Spread over hundreds of square miles, the rolling hills, bench lands and valley floors just ooze idyllic tranquility. What's not to love.
Despite the fact that the wineries often offer small bites, your planning should include a lunch break if for no other reason to give your palate a break. Picnics were possible at many of the wineries but the weather is not guaranteed. Some options included the Oakville Grocery Co., or Dry Creek General Store to eat or purchase picnic supplies. Alternatively, Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar, Campo Fina, Costeaux or the Bear Republic Brewing Company offered a casual quick bite in Healdsburg (perhaps the geographic hub of the Wine Road).
Planning your route can be a challenge if you are trying to maximize your visitations, again, because of the vast geography. The well advised brought designated drivers, hired drivers and or hired limos or buses to handle the driving chores. This approach is clearly much safer (no DUIs) and also offers an opportunity to visit more wineries with parking and departing facilitated by the non-drinking driver. Visiting more than 10 wineries in the 2 days is not likely and also not advisable.
Siduri and Novy Family wineries: Adam and Dianna Lee have created a winning combination of excellent grapes purchased from award winning vineyards and their own winemaking skills. Their first Pinot Noir release came in 1994 and they continue to produce wines of distinction at a reasonable price. Siduri is a Pinot House while Novy (Dianna's maiden name) Family Winery is a second label or varietals other than Pinot Noir. They are only open by appointment: 10:00 am - 3:00 pm, 7 days/week. Call: 707-578-3882 or email email@example.com
Paradise Ridge is located within the original 2,000 acres of the Fountain Grove estate established and owned by Thomas Lake Harris, the leader of a mid-19th century utopian cult which moved to Santa Rosa from New York in 1875. The setting is stupendous and offers unmatchable sunset views from the eastern ridge across the Russian River Valley (RRV) toward the coastal hills and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. Paradise Ridge featured their 2007 Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon , Rockpile vineyard, with an Albondigas Mexican Meatball Soup prepared by Preferred Sonoma Caterers. Perfect pairing! They were also pouring their 2011 Chardonnay (Nagasawa Vineyard), 2009 Barrel Select Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon (Rockpile Vineyard) and 2009 Ode to Joy, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. This is a do not miss winery set in a virtual residential area of southeast Santa Rosa.
Simi Winery was established by brothers Giuseppe and Pietro Simi who emigrated from the hilltop town of Montepulciano in Tuscany in the 1850’s. Arriving a little late for the Gold Rush, they settled in San Francisco and began making wine and selling fruits and vegetables to hotels and restaurants in the city. In the 1880’s they moved their wine making operations to Healdsburg and completed their first stone cellars built into the hillside at their current location along Healdsburg Ave. They called their winery the Montepulciano Winery. Now owned by Constellation Brands, Simi continues to make and offer their premium wines at their original location. Featuring Hitchcock films and gourmet popcorn the featured wines included Sonoma County Merlot, 2010 Alexander Valley Chardonnay and a 2009 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley.
Bella Winery and Caves is located at the northern end of West Dry Creek Road in the pastoral Dry Creek Valley. Scott and Lynn Adams have created the quintessential winery and wine caves over the past 18 years. First becoming farmers and vineyard managers, they have created a winemaking team that is focused on small lot premium wines mostly from their vineyards in the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. Their first vintage was 1999 and they have received accolades from the Wine Spectator and other credible industry publications. They completed their beautiful and extensive caves in 2003. The grounds are perfect for a picnic with easterly views of both Geyser Peak and Mt. Saint Helena. At this years WINEland Bella served a nice array of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir x2, Zinfandel and a late harvest Zinfandel. All very approachable and excellent for pairing. This year the pairing was paella beautifully prepared and presented by Gerard's Paella.
John Hawley, owner and winemaker at Hawley Winery, has a winemaking pedigree that sets him apart. Ten years as founding winemaker at Clos du Bois and six years as chief winemaker at Kendall-Jackson add to his 25 years of winemaking maturation in northern Sonoma County. John's vineyards and winery (built in 1996) are on Bradford Mountain, overlooking the Dry Creek Valley where John's two sons, Paul and Austin, are learning the trade as apprentice winemakers. The tasting room is at 36 North Street in Healdsburg. This past weekend, Hawley offered 4 wines: 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 2011 Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel, 2006 Hawley Vineyard Merlot and 2011 Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah. All quite lovely.
Two surprises surfaced during this Wine Road event. The first was Portalupi which was established in 2002 by Tim Borges and wife, Jane Portalupi. The recently opened tasting room is also on North Street, next door to the Raven Theater in Healdsburg. Amazingly, Tim entered three wines into the 2013 SF Chronicle Wine Competition and all three were awarded Double Gold medals just the week before. Very impressive. The three winners: 2010 RRV Pinot Noir; 2010 RRV Pinot Noir Il Migliori and a 2010 Russian River Valley Zinfandel. They offered a delightful pork loin dish for pairing. As a unique reflection of their Italian heritage, Portalupi offers a wine called Vaso Di Marina (after Jane's mother), bottled in 1 liter and1.89 liter milk jugs. All the wines offered for tasting were approachable and quite enjoyable.
The second surprise was in Geyserville. Ramazzotti Wines was established by Joe and Norma Ramazzotti. They now share a tasting room with Mercury Wines in Geyserville since early 2012. Joe was born in Italy on the Adriatic coast and arrived in the U.S. (Dry Creek Valley) when he was 8 years old along with 2 siblings (later became 5 children with two American born siblings). Joe and Norma have worked in agriculture and viticulture for most of their married life and established their own winery in 2002. At this event, Joe paired his 2009 Ricordo (Zinfandel Blend) with a very flavor-filled Chicken Gumbo from Sweet T's restaurant in Santa Rosa. Just the right kick - the Zin blend stood up very well. More surprising was the sheer number (13) of wines Ramazzotti offers from a 2011 White Riesling to an 2006 Zinfandel Port (Rapport). Of course Sangiovese and other Italian varietals are well represented. Check them out at 21015 Geyserville Ave, in Geyeserville.
The Wine Road, formed in 1976 as the Russian River Wine Road and in 2008 was updated to Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, is a winery association which represents 190 wineries and 56 associate lodging members within the three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs - Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley) participating. The participating wineries offer a wide range of varietals as one would imagine with the various elevations, soils, weather … the terroir (that special sense of place embodied in geography, geology and climate) represented in this diverse geography. Some of the soils are volcanic while other locations have alluvial soil. Some of it is rocky while elsewhere clay or sandy soils proliferate. All of these variations result in an amazing array of flavor profiles especially combined with the unique wine making philosophies of the talented and eclectic collection of wine makers crafting wines along the Wine Road.