Wine Country Itinery - Russian River Valley

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By Robert P. Farmer

Among Sonoma County's numerous and unique appellations is Russian River Valley. One of the too-often-overlooked regions, in my estimation, this charming bucolic swath of valley terrain is home to more than 100 wineries--each as unassuming as they are impressive. It's also a region known to locals for its great off-the-trodden-path eateries and markets, and where winemakers are as serious about their craft as they are about enjoying life. Russian River Valley enjoys warm summer afternoons and ample coastal fog allowing for a long growing season. A diversity of soil types allows several varietals to thrive, though the Valley.
Stop 1: J Vineyards
This beautiful winery is like an emporium for premium chardonnays and sparkling wines. Large and accommodating, this popular stop along the Redwood Highway offers a few options for tasting, from the casual pop-in, to the by-appointment sitdown sparkling wine tasting experience. Indeed the J Bubble Room is one of the star attractions at J, where winery-only selections are poured and discussed in an intimate sitdown setting. Otherwise, the visitor center and wine bar are like a slice of urban wine-tasting life in the country. Still another option can be found on the expansive terrace--great for casual noshing and tasting.
Tasting Room: Open 11am-5pm daily; Bubble Room open Fri-Mon. 11am-4pm. Tours by appointment. 11447 Old Redwood Hwy, Healdsburg; 707 431-5400
Tasting Fee: Wine only $10, Flights paired with food $25, $35 & $55

Stop 2: Joseph Swan Vineyards
Diametrically opposite to the J tasting room experience is the one you'll find at Joseph Swan, where the small, charming tasting room is likely to be hosted by winery proprietors--that is, if Rod and Lynn are not in the vineyards tending the grapes. Another great example f the Russian River aesthetic, Swan produces sock-knocking zinfandels, including single-vineyard and old vine varieties. But you can also sample excellent pinot noirs and chardonnays at this off the trodden path tasting room.
Tasting Room: Open weekends 11am-430pm and by appointment, 2916 Laguna Road, Forestville, 707-573-3747
Tasting Fee: No Charge

Stop 3: DeLoach Vineyards
This is one of more well-known wineries in the RRV, and for good reason. Its big-name stature belies its downhome hospitality, and the winery and visitor experience just keeps getting better. The winery's visitor center is enjoying a renaissance thanks to a complete redesign at the hands of one Wine Country's most renowned architects. The casual elegance of the room is perfect for spending a leisurely afternoon here and for enjoying the growing catalog of DeLoach wines--including the highly recommended OFS label varietals. Call in advance and book an artisan cheese pairing for your wine tasting. Great spot for a picnic.
Tasting Room: Open daily 10am-5pm, groups larger than ten people by appointment only.
1791 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa, 707)-526-9111
Tasting Fee: $10, waived with the purchase of any bottle of wine

Stop 4: Lynmar Estate
This family-owned estate winery is worth stopping in for a visit simply because the wines are so good and otherwise so hard to find. The Lynmar Winery at Quail Hill specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay from RRV, and both varietals are exceptional examples of the potential from this region. Though they haven't been around long--the wines were first released in 1996--the Lynmar wines have quickly established themselves as serious participants in the Sonoma County conversation. The tasting "salon" is sleek and stylish, and the staff is accommodating and well-armed with knowledge about their wines and about the region overall. Picnic facilities are available and culinary pairings are offered by advance appointment.
Tasting Room: Open daily 10am-5pm, and by appointment, 3909 Frei Road, Sebastopol, 707-829-3374
Tasting Fee: $10, $25 for Reserve tasting

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