Wine Road “Russian River” Sonoma County










Reblog                               (Gary Farrell’s Wine Cellar)

Wine has been around for thousands of years, and is closely entwined with the history of civilization, religion, cuisine and agriculture. Some archaeological evidence even suggests that the earliest known wine production may have occurred around 7000 BCE. Wine has become such a major part of our society that some people actually pick food to compliment a wine instead of vice versa. We incorporate it into many of our food recipes, and perhaps, no other cuisine in the world benefits from wine as much as French food. As a matter of fact,  French wines are actually meant to be consumed with a meal. With that said, food and wine parings have become so popular now that many local restaurants host private wine dinners teaching us which type of wine to drink with certain types of cuisine.  I say, “Hurray” for that trend!

Certainly one of my favorite pleasures is enjoying a really good glass of vino. I like distilled spirits and beer beverages too. But, I just adore a great glass of wine. In my opinion good vino is so straightforward and easy to drink, and it seems to pair well with most cuisines leaving it the obvious choice as my go-to favorite beverage. Wine undoubtedly adds a factor regarding sophistication to drinking on the whole. Additionally, a glass of decent vino will help make a mediocre meal more palatable and you genuinely never hear anyone’s express their opinion on the size of one’s wine tummy.

If you are interested in learning about wines or want to expand your palette on the many varieties, a trip to “Wine Road” in California may be the idea place to jump-start that quest.

California produces more wine than any other state or country in the Americas, and ranks 4th overall in total wine production in the world, following France, Italy and Spain. In my opinion, the California vintages can stand up and hold their ground to some of the most sought after and overly expensive French wines too. Thus, the “Paris Tasting”

I normally leap towards the first opportunity to experience  a wine tasting, especially when I can sample some primo vino.  However, most local wine tastings are held as fund raisers and the wines showcased usually aren’t very high quality. That wasn’t the case on a past business trip to San Francisco. That opportunity gave me a chance to experience the Wine Road region and experience some really delicious vino.

Wine Road, as it’s referred is not really a road, but a large region that has many great wineries located along Highway 101, just north of San Francisco in the north central part of Sonoma County, California. The Wine Road region produces some of the finest Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zin and Rosé wines available.














“Wine Road, as it’s referred is not really a road, but a large region that has many great wineries”

If you have little knowledge or don’t know which wine producer or region to visit, it could be a little overwhelming with so many choices. It’s basically impossible to visit every wine producer in all the regions because it would take the average person weeks or months to accomplish such an exuberant task. I would recommend visiting the regions that produce the varieties you like to drink. Also, selecting three or four  wineries  per day is about an average for a full day of wine tastings. Most wineries are generally open between 10-11am and close between 4pm-5pm, so you need to plan your trip accordingly. One more tip is to call ahead and schedule an appointment if possible.

On the day of my trip I picked up a rental car in downtown San Francisco and headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge to the little town of Healdsburg, California.

Thinking ahead I made a quick stop in Sausalito, a town just on the North side of the Golden Gate Bridge to pick up some fresh fruit and assorted cheeses. One has to be prepared for a full day of wine tasting, so I bought a disposable ice chest and packed it with all sorts of little treats to compliment the many wines I planned on sampling. My next stop would be Healdsburg, CA.

Healdsburg is a small town that lies near the border of the four main wine growing appellations.  The Russian River, Dry Creek, Chalk Hill and Alexander Valley are the most popular regions and the wine producers have several tasting rooms located in the town square in Healdsburg. The quaint picturesque town also features some fabulous restaurants and shopping opportunities.


(The Kendall Jackson “Flights and Bites” tasting room)

Being slightly famished and eager to wet my palette with some of California’s fruit of the vine, I chose Kendall Jackson’s wine tasting room almost immediately after parking the car.  Mainly because I loved their little sign “Flights & Bites” that hung above the entranceway.  Their little wine parlor offered up some very tasty little treats that paired well with their wines.  I must say, it was indeed a very favorable visit. I ended up joining their wine club.  I learned quickly that by joining an estate wine  club gives you access to their more sought after estate wines, which are only available to their members. The wine tasting fee would also be waived and that alone could costs as much as $25.00 per person at selected  wineries. The wine club’s also offer a generous member discount on purchases. Simply a no-brainer to join the club if you truly like a particular estate wine.


(La Crema’s tasting room)

In route to another winery just a few steps next door I found the tasting room of La Crema. Again, I sampled some of their primo wines in their member’s special lounge area and ended up ordering several bottles on their wine plan. Their Rose did it for me, a bit dry which I like and not that sweet.

Located just around the corner from La Crema was the Murphy Goode Winery tasting room.  It was there that I was crowned with a set of “Viking Horns” upon joining their wine club.

I also noticed that the Rosé (pink pinots) wines were really popular and almost every winery had one to sample. Many consumers confuse Rosé with cheap blush wines so most are priced at a bargain. Needless to say,  I just had to purchase a few bottles.

I begin to feel a bit tipsy after all the tastings and my wine palette had become semi-corrupted. I found myself walking around town toting a set of Viking Horns kinda looking a little foolish, so I  concluded the wine tour for the day.  I opted  instead  to walk around the lovely town square and scout  for a decent restaurant for dinner. I had dinner two nights in Healdsburg and found two great restaurants. One was the, “Zin Restaurant and Bar” (gotta love the name for that area) and the other was a delightful fresh seafood restaurant called,  “Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar”  there I enjoyed several different types of fresh gourmet oysters on the half shell. Both restaurants were excellent choices.

Healdsburg  turned out to be the perfect starting point for a wine tour. The wine tasting rooms were located within walking distance, and the town’s pleasant country like casual atmosphere contributed to a very pleasurable wine tasting experience in Sonoma. My time in Healdsburg was one of the major highlights of the trip.


The next morning I set my sites on the prestigious Russian River Valley Vineyards. I highly favor the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from that part of Sonoma County. So, my decision on selecting a region was predetermined and not at all complicated.

The drive along the Russian River Valley’s back roads was a treat in itself. The highway was flanked with rows upon rows of beautiful green vineyards as far as the eyes could see. I crossed an old rusty metal truss bridge that span over the Russian River and snapped a few photos, then on to Westside Road, in route to  Gary Farrell’s Winery.


     (A view of the Russian River from the Wohler Bridge in Sonoma County)

The Gary Farrell Winery was one of the first to master Pinot Noir in California. The Pinot fruit is grown in a cool climate with a contributing fog from the Russian River.  The Russian River Valley’s weather is also influenced heavily by the Pacific Ocean which brings a cooling fog and winds which significantly lower the vine temperatures resulting in a longer growing season. The slower ripening process helps create fruit with a bright and vibrant natural acidity, remarkable balance and delightful flavor intensity.

“The Russian River Valley’s weather is influenced heavily by the Pacific Ocean which brings a cooling fog and winds which significantly lower the vine temperatures resulting in a longer growing season”.

The Gary Farrell’s tasting room had a terrace with gorgeous elevated views of the vineyards. I chose that area as my option which was perfect for an outdoor tasting. The serenity of being outdoors enjoying a delicious glass of Russian River Pinot with the most gorgeous weather and sounds of an echoing peacock cry in the distance brought a certain tranquility to my experience there. It turned out to be one of my favorite places to visit on my trip.  Once again, loving the wines, and joining yet another wine club, which also granted me a private behind the scenes tour of the winery.


(Gary Farrell’s Wine Tasting Terrace)

Inside the main aging room we noticed every barrel of wine was labeled and stacked in a climate controlled environment. The winery was exceptionally clean and very well-organized.


(Gary Farrell’s Processing Room)

Our next stop was the Thomas George Winery, just up the road about three miles north on Westside Road. It’s a place easy to pass if you’re not paying attention just as I did. I turned the car around when I discovered I was actually driving pass the MacMurray Estate Vineyard which was just up the road about a mile. I had already tried the MacMurray Estate Russian River wines and think they may be one of the best values one can find for a decent Russian River area wine.

The Thomas George tasting room was located inside a stone cave which added to ambience of the experience. The climate in the cave maintains a steady optimum temperature year round which is perfect for wine aging.  The grounds were beautiful with a very nice shaded picnic area located just by the entrance. Their Pinot was outstanding and so was the Chardonnay. The wine was delicious and yes, I bought a few bottles.

winecaveblog(a view of the wine cave tasting room of Thomas George Winery)

Afterwards, I drove north along the Russian River towards Healdsburg to the Hop Kiln Winery for the next stop. The winery featured a large historic building with a unique shaped roof which I found was built early in the 1900s. The building was originally designed to dry locally grown hops for making beer.  The historic structure is the home to Hop Kiln Winery now and one of the most popular tasting rooms in the Russian River Valley area.  A picnic area on the bank of a small pond caught my eye as I first entered the building. I tasted several of their wines and guest what? I joined another wine club.  I really liked their wines and they were fairly inexpensive. Their “Big Red” was approximately $10 per bottle for a case price.  It would make a perfect company wine that could be enjoyed year round.  After the tasting I enjoyed a bottle of the HKW Pinot Gris and picnicked by their pond. Remember that stop I made in Sausalito? It was now the perfect time to sit and enjoy some of the fruit and cheeses I had packed the day before.









(a view of Hop Kiln’s old historic wine tasting room)

Driving back to Healdsburg I had one more stop, Selby’s Winery, located just a few blocks from the town square. I had already tasted their Chardonnay at a wine dinner in Colorado and became members of their wine club. I wanted to taste some of their Pinot and dessert wines, which I did and loved them both. I highly recommend their pinot’s and their “Bob Cat Zin” too …..I think Susan Selby makes some of the best wines in the area, and their Chardonnay is one of my all time favorites.


At the conclusion of my “Wine Road”  Sonoma trip,  I had joined 6 wines clubs and purchased over 5 cases of wine.

Wine Road was definitely a trip to remember, and one I hope to take again soon. I would recommend going in groups or couples and making reservations and plan accordingly.

I also recommend downloading the Vivino App to your cell phone. I use it all the time when I’m unsure about a wine I haven’t tried prior. It ranks the wines and gives you an average price per bottle for reference.

The very next day I drove over to Napa, but that’s another story!

Contributed by: Martin Allred

About chowjudge

Martin Allred is a professional photographer and frequent traveler. His organization Nationwide Photographers provides Professional Photography throughout the USA and Canada. Martin is a native of New Orleans and currently resides in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
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