Thursday, April 15, 2010


Day Two

After our beautiful day at River’s End, where the Russian River meets the Pacific we looked forward to another day exploring Sonoma County.

We woke to an overcast sky spitting water outside our condo every 20 minutes or so as my brother Bob, sister-in-law Nguyen, Richard and I prepared for a day of wine tasting.

Ever “weather optimistic,” we decided to pack a picnic lunch. Many wineries have sections on their grounds for people like us who just want to keep sipping wine and not take time to stop somewhere for a meal (raises hand). We had some leftover grilled chicken from the night before so we made sandwiches, packed some fruit, hit the road and headed up the mountain to the Gary Farrell winery.

As we drove through the entrance gate and up the incline leading to the winery/tasting room’s glass and stone structure, it started to rain. Our plans to picnic on the terrace overlooking the vineyards, ancient redwoods and neighboring mountains were dashed. We picnicked in the car. In the parking lot. Overlooking the walls of the winery. After our “atmospheric” lunch, we ran between rain drops into the expansive tasting room w/ a wall-to-wall picture window that gave us the view (shrouded dramatically in rainy fog) we’d missed during our car-lunch. It was time to sip some wine.

Brian was our server and he told us that Gary Farrell was no longer the winery’s wine maker – his apprentice, Susan Reed, had taken over. Bob, Richard and I shared the premier tasting (for $10) and the Limited Release tasting (for $15). I like their 2007 Russian River Valley selection chardonnay in the $10 tasting and the 2007 Pinot Noir – Hallberg Vineyard/Russian River Valley and the 2007 Pinot Noir – Ramal Vineyard/Carneros, but at $32, $50 and $50, respectfully, not enough to buy the wine. I’d buy the view, though.

The next stop on the long and wine-ing road – Arista Winery, visually quite different from Gary Farrell. The tasting room building is nestled in a lovely garden that boasts some modern sculpture and green lawns.

The building itself reminded me of a modern church because of its pitched entrance.

The room was small and cozy. The tasting fees were $5.00 and $10.00.

The $5.00 tasting included a 2008 Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer – I’m not a fan of this wine (maybe because I can’t pronounce it), but it seemed ‘fine’ for a Gewurztraminer ($24), a 2008 Mononi Vineyard pinot gris ($28) that I didn’t care for and two 2007 pinot noirs one from Sonoma Coast ($30), the other from Russian River ($44) – none of us cared for these wines, either. We moved onto the $10 tasting of four more 2007 pinot noirs, all from different regions, all priced at $56.00 – and even though they all scored in the 90’s by Wine Enthusiast and Pinot Report – all three of us were under-whelmed.

Further down the mountain was the Matrix Winery.

Perhaps Keanu would be there to pour for us us. Nah – it turned out to be a guy, raised in the Bay Area who sounded like the guys I grew up w/ in Queens, Long Island, New York, accent and all. Turned out he was from my hometown, Bayside! Ha. This “small world” encounter was probably the most exciting thing about the winery. Though the tasting was free, the wines (all over $35) were mediocre. It did have a nice 2007 Chardonnay, Struhlmuller Reserve and a 2007 Russian River Alegria Reserve Zinfindel, but, again, not a wine I loved enough to buy.

So far, though the views and landscape were glorious and the rain didn’t interfere w/ our having a fun sipping time, we hadn’t found the wine of our dreams.

Next stop was Hop Kiln housed in a Sonoma landmark building.

We again dodged the raindrops as we ran into the huge, funky, barn-like tasting room. The place was jammed. No room ‘at the inn’ (tasting bar) and it was closing in on the 5:00 wine tasting witching hour and there was one winery ‘in town’ we wanted to try. So, as wonderful as the atmosphere was, we passed on the wine and headed back to Healdsburg and the La Crema tasting room.

And I’m glad we did. The room was a simple store front. Modern w/ a flat screen TV and big chairs for those who wanted to watch a game while they sipped their wine, and a bar for the more serious wine taster… Mark was our ‘barista’ – an outgoing guy from Peoria. The tasting fee was $5, but since we had a complimentary ‘coupon’ from our time-share condo complex, we sipped away for free… And out of five pourings, I really liked three: the 2008 Los Caraneros pinot gris, ($25), the 2008 Monterey County pinot noir - Richard really liked this one, too ($24), and the 2007 Los Carneros pinot noir ($40) – and, while we were enjoying the wines, Mark gave us a little La Crema history. In 1993 Jess Jackson (of Kendall-Jackson) bought the winery and his daughter, Laura Jackson, runs the business. Melissa Stackhouse is the winemaker. That was two female winemakers mentioned that day and one female winery “runner.” I liked that. And I liked Melissa’s wines.

The clock chimed five and wine tasting was over… but to paraphrase Miss Scarlett, “tomorrow’s another day.”


Kathryn said...

I enjoyed reading about your Sonoma / Healdsburg wine tour, but what about Rafenelli? You need an appointment, but it's very much worth the effort ... magnificent Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

ilona saari said...

Sorry I never got to go to Rafenelli, Kathryn... Tho, as you can see from the continuing blogs in this Sonoma series, we did hit a quite a few of the zillion wineries in the area. Next time, I'd love to try your favorite. I still have a few more wineries (and restaurants) I'll be posting about before this blog series is over. Hope you enjoy the rest of my posts and pictures.