Winter is a truly delightful time to visit California North Coast wine country. Living in Sonoma County at the nexus of Mendocino, Napa and Lake Counties, it is a treat to observe the variation in the terrain, foliage (or lack thereof) and the patterns of activity in the vineyards. Pruning the vines is mostly complete; burn piles of the detritus send columns of white smoke into the air and the off-season festivals are gearing up.
2018 Winter WINEland Poster from the Wine Road (L.Compisi)
This post will focus on a recently experienced January event, the Wine Road’s Winter WINEland and three upcoming events for your consideration. Anderson Valley’s newly renamed Aromatic White Wine Festival in February, the Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting Weekends in March and Appellation St. Helena’s bASH in St. Helena in Napa Valley in early April.
Hop Kiln is now the home of Landmark Estates in the Russian River AVA (L.Compisi)
The 26th Annual Winter WINEland was a perfect opportunity to experience these wonderful wine growing regions without the crowds. January is a generally a quiet time of year and since the wildfires of October 2017 it appears that many people may have canceled their travel plans. A real shame as Sonoma County, specifically, and Northern California wine country, in generally, survived well considering the real devastation that some residential communities experienced in the area.
The Landmark Tasting Room is a beautiful historic building (L.Compisi)
We spent our time in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVA) of the Wine Road (the Alexander Valley and downtown Healdsburg members also participated but one only has so much time).
Winter WINEland is a great time to meet winemakers, taste limited production wines, sample new releases and library wines. Designed by the Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, WINEland is the smallest (in terms of crowds) of their annual major events. As is typically the case, some wineries offered food pairings and other enticements for visitors to stay, enjoy themselves, establish an emotional connection, join wine clubs and, ultimately, buy wine. Most of the Wine Road’s 200 member wineries (the association also has 54 lodging members) participated in this winter themed event that drew visitors from around the country. The cost of admission included wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the 2 day weekend, with hours from 11am – 4PM daily.
A particular pleasure with events on the Wine Road is the beauty of northern Sonoma County vineyards and wineries. Spread over hundreds of square miles, the rolling hills, bench lands and valley floors just ooze idyllic tranquility. What’s not to love?
The Dry Creek Valley from Trattore Winery (L.Compisi)
Despite the fact that the wineries often offer small bites, your planning should include a lunch break if for no other reason to give your palate a break. Picnics are possible at many of the wineries but the weather is not a guarantee. Some lunch or dinner options include the Oakville Grocery Co., or Dry Creek General Store to eat or purchase picnic supplies. Alternatively, Campo Fina, Costeaux or the Bear Republic Brewing Company offer a casual quick bite in Healdsburg. The Trading Post (Best New Restaurant in Sonoma County 2017) in Cloverdale (Alexander Valley) also serves brunch from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Planning your route can be a challenge if you are trying to maximize your visitations, again, because of the vast geography. The well advised brought designated drivers, hired drivers and or hired limos or buses to handle the driving chores. This approach is clearly much safer (no DUIs) and also offers an opportunity to visit more wineries with parking and departing facilitated by the non-drinking driver. Visiting more than 10 wineries in the 2 days is not likely and also not advisable
Landmark Estates at Hop Kiln: Located at 6050 Westside Road Healdsburg, CA 95448 only recently became a Landmark property. The wines offered are identical to the wines offered at their Sonoma Valley tasting room as they sold of the inventory of the former Hop Kiln Winery. The property is undergoing some upgrades and remains both historic and beautiful. The Landmark Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are always good with grapes sourced from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara County AVAs.
Landmark Tasting Room Chardonnay and Pinot Noir galore. (L.Compisi)
De La Montanya Winery and Vineyards is located at 999 Foreman Lane
Healdsburg, CA 95448 just off of Westside Road. De La Montanya is a family operated winery with over 270 acres planted in Sonoma and Lake Counties and produces about 4,000 cases annually. Their tasting room is just off the beaten path and is located in ‘the barn’. Intimate and quaint, the variety of wines they produce offers many choices to visitors. Winemaker Tami Collins is well regarded in the area and is the winemaker for several outstanding labels.
De La Montanya ‘barn’ and tasting room l.-r. (L.Compisi)
Trattore Farms Winery and Tasting Room is located at 7878 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, CA 95441 and is marked by the olive orchards on the hillside. Recently opened, the tasting room is situated high above the Dry Creek Valley with a beautiful terrace sporting expansive vineyard and Dry Creek Valley views. Owner Tim Bucher named his 40 acre farm and winery Trattore, tractor in Italian because farming is his passion. Trattore has a nice selection of Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. Trattore has its own mill to press their olives and they offer community pressing during the olive harvest season. Private tastings and tours can be arranged. As an added benefit, Trattore Farms is equipped with Tesla and Universal chargers in front of the tasting room.
Trattore’s new tasting room has spectacular views of Dry Creek Valley (L.Compisi)
David Coffaro Estate Vineyard is located at 7485 Dry Creek Road in Geyserville, California 95441. A real iconoclast, Dave and wife Pat have farmed their Dry Creek Valley estate since 1979. They sold their grapes to E&J Gallo for years while Dave experimented on making his own wine. In 1994 they obtained their commercial winery license and now produce about 8,500 cases of estate wine annually. In2003 Coffaro became one of the earliest adopters of 100% screw cap closures. Many offerings are Zinfandel or Bordeaux blends but Coffaro also produces sparklers depending upon the vintage. About 60% of Coffaro’s wines are sold through the futures program. The Coffaro’s have great parties and their wine club is filled with happy loyalists.
Coffaro’s always get into the mood of the event! (L.Compisi)
Three upcoming wine country events to consider:
The Anderson Valley Wine Growers in Mendocino County are hosting the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Aromatic White Wine Festival (formerly the “International Alsace Varietals Festival” – same great festival, new name) on Saturday, February, 24, 2018. The event begins with insightfully and highly enjoyable Education Seminars from 8:30 am – 12 pm at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds – Apple Hall in Boonville. The afternoon brings the Grand Tasting from 1-4 pm, also at the Fairgrounds. A unique opportunity to taste Alsatian-style aromatic white wines from the Anderson Valley and beyond including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Muscat. You will actually meet the winemakers and sample over 100 wines from around the globe. The food for pairing is typically exceptional and the Silent Auction, to benefit the local Housing Association, is exciting. Tickets can be obtained at: http://www.squadup.com/events/2018-anderson-valley-aromatic-white-wine-festival-2
The newly renamed Aromatic White Wines feature Alsatian whites (L.Compisi)
The Wine Road’s next events are the Barrel Tasting Weekends (yes that’s 2 three day weekends), March 2nd through the 4th and March 9th through 11th. These weekends are very popular and offer the chance to taste unreleased wines from previous vintages that have yet to be bottled. Many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, and return, if you like, to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months later. The weekends also offer a Winemaker Breakfast and Q & A on Saturday March 3rd and Saturday March 10th. Tickets must be purchased for this added event during registration. This is an open forum for guests to meet and chat with winemakers in a casual breakfast setting. http://www.wineroad.com/events/barrel-tasting/
March is a delightful time in Sonoma County for barrel tasting (L.Compisi)
The last event, although technically not winter, that I wanted to highlight is perhaps the most elegant wine and food pairing event we have experienced. Of course this world class event is hosted by Appellation St. Helena – ASH – (the local growers and vintners association) at the historic Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Greystone (formerly Christian Brothers) property in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. The delightful aspect of the event, called bASH, is that 24 CIA student chef team are paired with local wineries to develop specific creations to pair with the local wines. Very unique and quite exquisite. A few local St. Helena restaurants also participate to add and additional level of interest. This event is scheduled for Saturday April 7, 2018 from 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm. Get there early! Tickets are available at: appellationsthelena.com/events
The CIA in St. Helena is unbeatable and the student Chefs are great too (L.Compisi)
ABOUT THE WINE ROAD: The Wine Road, formed in 1976 as the Russian River Wine Road and in 2008 was updated to Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, is a winery association which represents 200 wineries and 54 associate lodging members within the three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs – Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley) and in town Healdsburg tasting rooms and wineries participating.