By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
While California Wine Country makes any savvy traveler’s list of top places to enjoy wine, food, and nature, Sonoma County jumps to the very top of it by sheer volume of Wine Road’s visitor-oriented events.
Wine Road is not only golden vineyards and picturesque little towns along Highway 101 that leads to the many wineries of Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. It is also a name for an association of vintners and innkeepers, tirelessly promoting their cornucopia of earthy delights.
With more than 150 wineries and 50 lodgings, this creative organization puts up numerous educational and wine-tasting programs. One of its most popular annual celebrations, Winter Wineland, just turned 20 this January.
Every year, feeling overwhelmed by the amount of participating wineries, I try to rush through the list, but end up exploring just some of them – in depth.
This time, I limited my winter wine tasting to the vicinity of the town of Sebastopol.
I started at Graton Ridge Cellars, owned and operated by a family of Barbara and Art Paul, and Sue Bonzell. How could I leave their hospitable sun-lit backyard with Adirondack chairs and bocce ball court, where classic chili was served to compliment robust and tannic 2010 Petit Syrah from Russian River Valley?
I enjoyed my time in the sun, and proceeded to try sweet 2010 “A+” apple port made with locally-harvested Gravenstine apples, and berry-rich 2009 “Peninsular” Zinfandel Port.
My next stop was at Dutton Estate Winery, historically tied to Sonoma County since 1881.
On a wisteria-covered terrace of the boutique winery I learned about a perfect pairing of Dutton Estate 2008 Manzana Pinot Noir with Cynthia Newcomb’s California lamb stew. The secret of the stew lay in humble winter vegetables – carrots, parsnips, and potatoes, roasted before being added to the pot – deglazed with wine, of course.
Taft Street Winery was next on my list, pairing its tasting room exclusive 2008 “Garagistes Reserve” oaky Chardonnay with freshly-made clam chowder. Coming from Russian River Valley grapes, the wine took gold at the California State Fair, and silver at S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition, Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and Orange County Fair.
My last but not least stop was at Russian River Vineyards, in a fairy-tale historic house with an elegantly-modern tasting room, where dark and complex 2009 Petit Sirah was paired with equally elegant hors d’oeuvres of beef tenderloin with creamy and spicy lobster remoulade.
Sonoma County, producing highest quality wines for over 130 years, continues to entice visitors from near and far with its rich history, natural beauty, viticultural diversity, and culinary prowess.
To learn more about the Wine Road events, visit: www.wineroad.com.