The first two weekends in March witnessed the 35th Annual Northern Sonoma County Wine Road Barrel Tasting. This year the Wine Road presented sun-splashed hills and valleys over their three American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) - Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley. Thousands of wine aficionados from around the country circulated among the approximately 120 participating wineries over the 6 afternoons (many wineries included the two Fridays).
The Wine Road - Northern Sonoma County has ~200 members including 150 wineries and 50 lodging establishments. The organization sponsors and organizes three events each year beginning with Winter WINEland in January and ending with A Wine and Food Affair in early November. Although A Wine and Food Affair is considered their premier event, the Barrel Tasting weekends are the longest running and the most popular in terms of attendance over the 6 days. No single event in the north county can compete for fun, adventure and great wine deals. It also offers the most likely contact with the winemakers as they are typically offering the barrel samples.
Barrel tasting weekends are not overwhelmed with themes, music and food (although many wineries do offer palate treats) as the focus is truly on the wine. Most wineries offer the chance to taste and purchase futures (wine in barrel from previous harvests but not yet bottled) at a discount. Purchasers may have to wait 6-18 months to actually get their wine. Because so many of the participating wineries are small and have limited production this is often the only opportunity for non-wine club members to actually acquire these special wines.
The Wine Road's 3 AVAs are spread out over a large segment of Sonoma County so it helps to use the Wine Road map to do a route plan that avoids running back and forth between the 3 AVAs. Additionally, planning should include lunch, as the event extends from 11 am - 4 pm each day. Many wineries offer some food, as reported above, but it is mostly lighter fare. Picnics are possible at many of the wineries and there is always the Oakville Grocery Co., or Dry Creek General Store to purchase picnic supplies. Alternatively Barndiva, Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar, Agave Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar or Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg are available for a casual quick bite. Costeaux French Bakery was the restaurant of choice this year with its French bakery and café ambiance and very welcoming staff. Food is fresh, beautifully presented and priced right.
Meanwhile, the Top Five Reasons to participate in The Wine Road Barrel Tasting weekends are the wines in the following list. Mark your calendars for 2014!