The 14th Annual Wine Road Wine and Food Affair offered the best of all worlds: two days of sunny skies, warm temperatures, glorious fall vineyard colors, the smells of harvest and, of course, great wines paired with delightful foods. Why would anyone be anywhere else if they could be here?
The Wine Road, formed in 1976 as the Russian River Wine Road and updated in 2008 to Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, is a winery association which represents 190 wineries and 56 associate lodging members within the three North County AVA, the Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and the Dry Creek Valley.
This event, A Wine and Food Affair is the third major event sponsored by the Wine Road and is considered the annual capstone event. (The other two events are Winter Wineland held in January and Barrel Tasting in March.) Over 100 wineries participated this year and each one selected a favorite food and the perfect wine to pair it with. Each ticket holder receives a cookbook, prepared specially each year, with all the recipes selected by the participating wineries. In some cases the winery employs a caterer or a local restaurant chef to prepare the food pairing while others employ their own Estate Chef to prepare the food.
This years highlights, and their were so many, will be narrowed down to just four for the benefit of both the writer and the reader of this article. Make no mistake, the adjectives employed to describe these 4 are adjectives that could and likely are being used to describe dozens of other participating wineries. After all, reasonably, the typical ticket holder might only experience 10-12 wineries over the two days unless they are being chauffeured on a well planned route and spend less than 20-25 minutes at each winery. Remember, despite there being only one wine and food pairing at each winery, they are typically pouring 3-5 other wines. So onward considering these are the ramblings of one person’s experience!
The Most Fun: Founded in 1981 by Tom and Diana Manning, Chateau Diana, located on Dry Creek Road in Dry Creek Valley has quickly become a favorite. High energy and youthful in perception, they must have had their tasting room experience in mind from the moment they began the design in 2005. It has been open less than 2 years however they have definitely created a buzz. A wonderfully well-appointed tasting room with balcony overlooking the brilliantly colored vineyards of the Dry Creek Valley. It also sports a tranquil picnic/outdoor event area with brilliant fountains. All of this is topped with an array of at least 5 labels each targeting a different price point and level of sophistication. Always approachable and always priced right, the wines at Chateau Diana clearly achieve their goal. The constant flow of people reflected that with a clientele envied by many in Dry Creek Valley. The pairing was the 2010 Three Sisters Zinfandel and a family recipe (Diana’s) for Sausage and meatballs in tomato sauce over polenta. Traditional Italian comfort food. This was skillfully catered by a la heart catering, inc.
The Most Fascinating: Paradise Ridge is located within the original 2,000 acres of the Fountain Grove estate established and owned by Thomas Lake Harris, the leader of a mid-19th century utopian cult which moved to Santa Rosa from New York in 1875. The setting is stupendous and offers unmatchable sunset views from the eastern ridge across the Russian River Valley (RRV) toward the coastal hills and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. Paradise Ridge was pairing their 2007 Estate Zinfandel (Hoenselaars Vineyard) with a wonderful Wild Mushroom & Brie Soup with white truffle oil. Perfect! They were also pouring their 2011 Chardonnay (Bazzano Vineyard), 2007 Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon (Rockpile Vineyard) and 2006 Syrah (Hoenselaars Vineyard). This is a do no miss winery set in a virtual residential area of southeast Santa Rosa.
The Most Idyllic: Lynmar Estate, located in the Russian River Valley, is the love child of Lynn and Anisya Fritz. Lynn bought the property in 1980 and began planting a variety of Pinot and Chardonnay clones under the watchful eye of Merry Edwards and Tony Soter who bought the grapes for their very successful wine making endeavors. In the 90’s, Lynn embarked on small production quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on his own. Only in 2008 did Lynn and Anisya make the estate their permanent home and fully commit to making premium wines in greater volumes. Lynmar is an idyllic and exquisite 100-acre property fronting on the Laguna de Santa Rosa water shed. It is a wonder of rolling vineyards and organic vegetable gardens. Approximately 70 acres of the estate is vineyards of Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah. Winemaker Shane Finley earned his chops from 2001 at Copain Wines, 2002 in Australia’s Barossa Valley, a year in the Rhône Valley, Cellar Master at Copain in 2003, Paul Hobbs Winery in 2005 and then six years at Kosta Browne Winery. Lynmar Estate’s Winemaker since 2012, Shane’s touch will soon be seen in the next vintages. Lynmar’s Estate Chef, David Frakes, paired the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with a delightful Turkey Chili with goat cheese and onions. Warm and inviting. Seconds were definitely in order.
The Most Family Oriented/Unpretentious/Low Key: Graton Ridge Cellars in Sebastopol is truly a small family operation. The Paul family began in 1945 as apple and fruit growers but as times changed they ‘evolved’ into grapes and wine making. The tasting room is quaint and the staff is both knowledgeable and personable. Proprietors Art and Barbara Paul are on site and fully engaged. The wines are very approachable beginning with the 2010 RRV Chardonnay and proceeding through 2 Zinfandel and a 2010 RRV Pinot Noir. The pairing was a Lamb Meatball in tomato sauce, offered by Sally Tomatoes Catering, paired with the 2010 Bacigalupi Vineyards Zinfandel. Fall is the time for comfort food and this really hit the mark.
Honorable mention to perennial winners: The Kobe Tri-tip sliders at Kendall Jackson Wine Center paired with their 2005 Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The cabernet braised red cabbage and blue cheese and buttermilk dressing were mouth-watering. Pedroncelli Winery, on Canyon Road, has been an icon in the Dry Creek Valley since 1927. The wines are always good and the family remains visible and dedicated to excellence. On this date Jim and Phyllis Pedroncelli greeted guests on arrival.
The Northern Sonoma County Wine Road, Wine and Food Affair is an exceptional event that should not be missed. Mark your calendars, make a reservation at one of the 56 member lodging establishments and spend a glorious weekend in Sonoma Wine Country.