Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wine Road, Sonoma County

Everett RIdge
The view from Everett Ridge Winery

Recently I was invited up to Sonoma to visit the Wine Road. The Wine Road isn't an actual road, but a winery association with a wide variety of members and their mission is to increase awareness of Northern Sonoma County. Think of it as your own personal concierge, available to craft the perfect experiences in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. The Wine Road covers six different AVA's, represents about 150 wineries, or around half of the wineries in the region, over 50 different lodgings and produces a fantastic map of the area.

I go up to Sonoma frequently, but this latest trip hosted by the Wine Road introduced me to a number of wineries I hadn't visited before. Here are the highlights of my trip:

Kendall Jackson Wine Center
I know what you're thinking. Really? Kendall Jackson? The brand I find in the supermarket? Well, yes. Kendall Jackson has a series of stunning Wine Center Gardens and an outstanding wine tasting program.
Kendall Jackson wine garden

There are red and white wine sensory gardens that include the plants that have affinities for wines, and descriptors, which are the flavors that you find in the wines. For example in the Pinot Noir section you'll find descriptor plants like plum, violets and strawberry (all flavors you will find in the Pinot) and affinities such as figs, pumpkin and leek (all of which pair well with Pinot). There's also an international cuisine garden, a vegetable trial garden and a culinary herb and edible flower garden. Meandering through the gardens provides a good starting point for wine country exploration.

Kendall Jackson has a chef on staff and a food and wine tasting available for $30. You'll get a chance to try seven of their wines (that are not available in the supermarket) primarily their Grand Reserve and Highland Estate wines, each paired with a delicious morsel of food.
Pinot Noir with Mushroom Arancini with Sottocenere Truffle Cheese and Pinot Noir Aioli

Think Chardonnay paired with house cured king salmon with Chardonnay grapeseed oil, preserved Meyer lemon and estate peas followed by Syrah with sweet tea brined Niman Ranch pork belly slider with Syrah BBQ sauce. My favorite pairing was the 2007 Highlands Estate Seco Highlands Pinot Noir with mushroom arancini with sottocenere truffle cheese and Pinot Noir aioli. Each bite of food made me want to take another sip of wine, and each sip of wine, another bite of food. There are also wine and cheese tastings if you prefer.

Paradise Ridge Winery
I tend to like wineries with that extra something special. At Paradise Ridge I not only enjoyed their refreshing Sauvignon Blanc with lots of grapefruit and a hint of gooseberry, but feasted my eyes on their sprawling 156 acre estate and outdoor sculpture collection all tucked away behind a residential neighborhood in Santa Rosa.
Paradise Ridge sculpture

Worth a visit for the views alone. It's a small winery, you may find some of their wines in wine shops, but mostly they sell through their wine club. The outdoor sculpture "galleries" are open to the public without charge as is a self guided vineyard tour. Driving up to the property you see all different sculptures set into the landscape. The tasting fee is $10 and refundable with purchase.

Truett Hurst
Truett Hurst its located in the midst of Dry Creek Valley and there are acres of garden and a particularly idyllic setting on the creek that is perfection for a picnic or a nap. Yet another winery set on amazing piece of property...but even if it wasn't I'd still suggest you seek it out.
Truett Hurst

Paul Dolan a pioneer of sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines is one of the partners, and Virginia Lambrix is the wine maker and I really like her elegant approach. I can't say which of the Pinot Noirs I preferred, the Black Sheep Pinot Noir with classic strawberry notes, good acid and big bouquet or the Burgundian style White Sheep Pinot Noir with good structure and firm tannins and while Zinfandel is not my favorite varietal, her wines won me over. They ranged from the Luci Zinfandel which was intense and bold with lots of spice (and a frightening 16% alcohol) to the Red Rooster Zin which was balanced and juicy. I also like that none of their wines are priced over $40.

I also enjoyed Virginia's VML Chardonnay which was bright, clean, zingy and fresh and the rosé which was also bright and fresh with lots of fruit.

Farmhouse Inn
If I could afford it, I'd love to stay again in Forestville in the Russian River Valley at the deluxe Farmhouse Inn. It's the most luxurious, private and quiet spot with more attention to detail than I've experienced in a long time.
Farmhouse Inn garden

Who wouldn't love a place with not just gorgeous gardens but a fire pit for making your own s'mores (all the ingredients provided, natch)? Not just cookies before bed, but cookies and milk the mini fridge and a couple of mini cupcakes too! Heated marble floors in the bathrooms and cozy bedding spoiled me.

But best of all might have been the food. Breakfast at the restaurant was included and I was crazy for the corn waffles with bananas, caramel sauce, candied pecans and whipped cream one day and huevos ranchers with black beans and chorizo the next. I'm dying for the recipe for their banana walnut muffins, the best ever.

Of course you can plan a trip on your own, or just head up to Sonoma and wing it, but if you want something specific, I do recommend contacting the Wine Road folks who know the area intimately.  They can make suggestions or arrangements for you. For example they can steer you in the right direction if you want to visit wineries that also offer food or have great art collections, or garagiste winemakers that are not always open to the public or that offer tours by appointment only, if you want to find a winery with with picnic facilities.

There are also a ton of events up in wine country, so be sure to check out Wine Road event listings before you go for things like BBQ's, concerts, parties and more.

And oh yes, this is a Wine Road iPhone app!

My thanks to the Wine Road for hosting me on this trip.