Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley appellation is a meandering, mysterious place set beautifully against California’s famous coastal fog, vine-planted hillsides and winding river that travels through the heart of its northern edge.
The Russian River Valley’s relatively cool climate is a haven for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with smaller plantings of old-vine Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. 20th century pioneers include Joe Swan and Joe Rochioli Jr., known as the “Two Joes,” as well as Davis Bynum, the Bacigalupi family and Warren Dutton.
The region’s greatness can be traced to this second wave of wineries that took note of its climate and soils, which range from alluvial to Franciscan Assemblage and the valley’s geologic calling card, Goldridge, a fine sandy loam. The operations they headed up still farm much of the area’s grapes.
Many of these upstart wineries would become world-famous, like Dehlinger, Merry Edwards, Martinelli, Gary Farrell, Kistler, Williams Selyem, Paul Hobbs, Hartford and Lynmar. Many converted old hop kilns and apple barns into utilitarian production houses and modest tasting rooms as they rose in prominence.
Others took years to have wineries and tasting rooms of their own, while some have only recently let visitors in. All continue to evolve and find fans.
Kosta Browne began to make wine here more than two decades ago, which brought acclaim and attention to the Russian River. Other notable contemporaries include DuMOL, Littorai, Inman Family, Balletto, Arista, Benovia and Croix, which recently opened its doors to visitors.
Here are the newest (or renewed) wineries to visit in the Russian River Valley.
With a tasting room set amidst its surrounding vineyards, Benovia has renovated a historic farmhouse on its property and now welcomes guests by appointment to its Ranch House. A family-owned winery that creates small-production bottlings, Benovia’s winemaker and co-owner, Mike Sullivan, makes great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Grenache from a handful of estate sites across Sonoma. For lucky visitors, Sullivan will occasionally offer library tastings of his wines.
Longtime Napa Valley winemaker and Rutherford native Kirk Venge declared his love for Russian River Valley wines when he bought the former Robert Rue property. Now the Croix Estate, the vineyard’s famous old-vine Zinfandel and Alicante Bousche surround the renovated tasting room. Reservations may be made to taste Wednesday through Sunday.
Gary Farrell Winery
This longstanding producer recently renovated its tasting space, which includes plenty of outdoor seating, to add luxury and take advantage of tremendous valley views. Experience an Inspiration Tasting hosted by one of the estate’s sommeliers, and enjoy six of the producer’s vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs with accompanying bites from Chef Didier Ageorges. Tours and tastings, as well as a blind tasting experience, are also available. Reservations are required.
Underneath the high ceilings and amid the sunbathed art installations of the Paul Mahder Gallery in downtown Healdsburg, GrapeSeed Wine offers a range of tasting experiences. GrapeSeed partners with notable winemakers like James MacPhail, Jean Hoefliger, Doug Stewart and Jessica Boone to create small-scale wines that encourage experimentation and whimsy. Reserve ahead for a range of seated tastings.
This once-elusive winery now allows visitors to peek behind its doors at the stately Trenton Roadhouse in Sebastopol by appointment. It hosts four in-depth tastings of its exquisite wines, the majority being heritage-clone Chardonnay from a careful selection of sites.
MacRostie Winery and Vineyards
With expansive views of the Russian River from a hill atop Westside Road, MacRostie’s beautiful new Estate House includes three patios from which to enjoy its wines. The Elevated tasting begins with a tour of the house and property before a sit-down sampling of single-vineyard wines with paired bites. Available Monday through Thursday from 11 am–5 pm and Friday through Sunday from 10 am–5 pm, reservations required. macrostiewinery.com