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Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Wine Road Russian River Valley Wine Tour

Following our day in the Alexander Valley I slept more soundly than I have in ages. On Day 2 of my Wine Road adventure I woke up just in time to hop in the shower and enjoy a beautiful three course breakfast at the Haydon Street Inn before the tour bus arrived to pick me up for our second day of wine tasting. I'd looked at the extended weather report so I knew it would be sunny and warm in the 80's all three days we would be in Sonoma.

On Day 2 a new company chauffeured us around. Platypus Tours provided us with a fun and comfortable tour bus. The seating inside was U-shaped so we were all facing each other which was nice.

Tracy from Wine Road was all smiles that morning at Thomas George Estates :)

Our first stop was Thomas George Estates. That's the winery's President Jeremy Baker who runs the winery with his dad Thomas. Their focus is to produce site-specific Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays through their estate program that includes three distinct and well respected vineyards: Baker Ridge, Starr Ridge and Cresta Ridge.

Jeremy took us through the winery showing us the different steps it takes to produce wine including this very unusual concrete egg tank. The concrete is used instead of the traditional oak barrels. I read an article that says the concrete doesn't impart a flavor to the wine the way oak does and can create a different and better mouthfeel than oak.

While I was still in a bit of amazement over the concrete egg Jeremy took us around to the side of the winery to show us the mobile bottling system they use. Currently Thomas George produces 8,000 cases each year which sounds like a lot but doesn't necessitate the investment of running their own in-house bottling line. The mobile service fills, corks, and foils each bottle. The next thing you know the cases are coming out the back end down a gravity conveyer belt. They make it look so easy!

Next we headed into the 8,000 square foot cave.

Inside the walls are stuccoed. With the lighting the overall effect is pretty breathtaking. It's cool (both literally and figuratively), beautiful and quiet. It made me want to curl up with a book and a blanket.

I spotted these bottles placed up against a large mirror resting on the floor and couldn't resist stopping to take a picture.

We enjoyed a very private tasting in the cave's wine library.

With Justin to assist pouring glass after glass of wine for us, Jeremy continued to share stories about the winery and himself. He is a very interesting person. When he said in a previous life he was a skier before breaking his neck I said to someone he didn't look old enough to have a previous life. LOL. Turns out he is quite the Renaissance man. In the short time we were with him he told us about three previous careers he had before becoming the President of Thomas George Estates.

Tasting Room Hours: 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week
Tasting Fee: Yes, but refundable with wine purchase

When we got back into our Platypus Tour bus our driver D.J. had set up a selection of cheese and crackers for us. What a nice surprise that was! We munched on our goodies on our way to Lauterbach Cellars where I spotted 3 wild turkeys as we pulled into the driveway.

Lauterbach Cellars is named after its founder Dr. Stew Lauterbach. It was really neat to go from the larger property like Thomas George Estates to the smaller scale production taking place at Lauterbach Cellers where they produce only estate wines (meaning they grow all of the grapes they use to produce their wine themselves).

Amy receives a barrel sample.

Dr. Stew explained that they run their own line to fill, cork and foil their bottles onsite because the larger mobile services have a 500 case minimum. Lauterbach Cellars currently produces 400 cases each year so they have to do their bottling on their own. He said they run "will work for wine" events when they need help and friends and family will come help out in exchange for bottles of wine. That sounds like a win-win situation!

We sampled four wines and two barrel tastings at Lauterbach Cellars. The finished wines were a Syrah Dessert Wine (aka Port), a Pinot Noir, a Syrah Rose and a Syrah. One of the bloggers enjoyed one so much they asked if they could order a case on the spot!

Lauterbach's Tasting Hours: Tasting & sales by appointment only

When we got back on the bus Amy turned to me and asked which wine did I like the best. I confessed I didn't really like any of them because all wine tastes too strong, bitter and sour to me. Plus some of them literally burn my tongue. Well, except for the sweetest of dessert wines. "Oh my gosh, you must be a supertaster. I've heard of them but hadn't ever met one before" she said. I'd never heard of a supertaster. She continued by saying "I bet you don't like coffee either?" No. "Or spicy foods?" No. "Yup, you're probably a supertaster" she said. A quick read on Wikipedia that night said that women are more often supertasters than men and people of Asian and African descent have a higher frequency of being supertasters than other ethnic groups.

So this is my tongue. Sorry if you think it's gross. I thought the interest factor outweighed the ewww factor. In the top picture is one area of my tongue with 40 visible tastebuds through a hole the size of a standard paper punch. The lower picture the buds are so large and densely packed together the entire circle is filled with nothing but taste buds.

DIY Supertaster Test: 35 or more tastebuds in the circle means you're a supertaster.

The name supertaster is a bit of a misnomer because when it comes to wine there's nothing super about having such a sensitive palate and high concentration of tastebuds that you simply can't enjoy wine. But it was a lightbulb moment because all of the years of not being able to drink wine finally made sense! Supertasters are thought to taste foods up to and exceeding three times more intensely than normal tasters. I read if you're a foodie you're probably a supertaster. Yeah, that sounds like me.

Our next stop was the Russian River Vineyards and Cork's restaurant. This is a unique venue in Sonoma because it is a vineyard, tasting room, restaurant and a place you can host a wedding, all in one.

Santa Rosa Tasting Room Hours: 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
Tasting Fee: Yes, but refundable with purchase

Walk through the restaurant and onto the patio and you'll immediately notice the winery building. With a Russian architectural influence it's definitely eye catching in a woodsy, hobbit, castle kind of way. There is also a new, large unicorn sculpture and to make it even more picturesque I spotted an artist working on an easel.

That's our group beneath a canopied arbor ready to order and enjoy lunch.

For starters we tried the truffle fries. I think they were sprinkled with truffle oil, not truffle salt, so the flavor was on the more mild side. A nice truffle salt with the oil would really make them pop! Nancy ordered the cold avocado soup. Not only did she pass it around for everyone to photograph, she then insisted we all try a spoonful as well! It was very good.

Lacey Hunter, the vinyards tasting room & wine club manager, took excellent care of us that afternoon. With a later start that day so we could all enjoy our breakfasts and a party of eleven for lunch, we were running a little behind so even though we sampled three wines with lunch we had to leave before being able to try the Botrytis Chardonnay (pronounced bo-try-tis).

Botrytis is a special wine because it happens quite by luck when the grapes pick up a fungus while still on the vine. This botrytis is also called "noble rot" because it does amazing things to the grapes. It concentrates the sugar transforming what should be a dry Chardonnay into a Dessert Wine that more resembles the sweeter profile of an Ice Wine.

Due to the obvious disappointment of having to leave before the Botrytis Chardonnay our dedicated tour team went the extra mile for us and purchased a small bottle so that we were able to sample it later on our wine tour bus. Which is where I took that picture. I wish I'd have taken a wider angle as well so you could have seen we were on the bus yet the bottle was so beautifully lit. LOL.

For lunch I ordered the Spring Salad that contained Kendall Jackson Greens, Castroville Artichokes, Redwood Hill Chevre (goat cheese), Sonoma Olives and purple potatoes! It came with a toasted slice of baguette that was a perfect complement to the salad. It was really good and I was very happy I ordered it!

Paradise Ridge has two tasting room locations: One in Santa Rosa and the other in Kenwood. We visited the Santa Rosa location that day. Walter and Marijke Byck purchased the land in 1977 and aptly named it Paradise Ranch because Walter thought he had found Paradise overlooking the Russian River Valley. In 1997 the winery was founded. In 2006 when Marijke Byck-Hoenselaars passed away, after tragically being hit by a car, her son Rene and daughter Sonia continued to run the winery started by their parents.

Santa Rosa Tasting Room Hours: 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
Tasting Fee: Yes, but refundable with purchase

Not wine related but I really love when I see things like this. The front deck was custom cut to surround a tree root rather than cutting it or covering it over. I love to see evidence of such a respect for nature. It always makes me smile :)

Why were we here? To participate in a ten minute, ten winery, speed tasting. OMW. This is where things got a bit awkward for me.

Paradise Ridge Speed Tasting Event and Bengt Akerlind from West Wines

There were small tables set up and every ten minutes we got up and moved to the next table. At each table a person representing a winery was there. It could be a hospitality representative, the winemaker and/or the owner of the winery. Most would ask after I sipped the wine "What do you think?" at which point I'd confess that I don't like wine because it all tastes too strong for me. In all likelihood I'm a supertaster destined never to be able to enjoy dry wines.

"You don't like wine? How did you end up in this group?" they would ask. I replied I think I was invited because I have a passion for promoting local tourism and love to support small businesses on my blog. "Oh, then that makes sense" they would say. Everyone was so kind and spent their ten minutes chatting with me about their companies and things to do in the area other than drink wine like cycling, rafting, golfing, ballooning, and more.

Still, I gave it my best shot and tried ten wines. The one I liked the most was the Viognier by West Wines. It tasted like caramel in my mouth and the aftertaste was a bright and fresh apple flavor. The winemaker's description of the same wine is:

"The aroma and taste show classic Viognier flavors such as guava and mango with a hint of tangerine. These flavors continue on the palate along with some tropical fruit, citrus and a tinge of pineapple. The wine is full in the mouth, both sensual and fresh, with lingering aftertaste and long finish."

Ok, so we both feel it's fruity and fresh. LOL

After the speed tasting concluded we retired to the deck overlooking the vineyards and enjoyed small bites of veggies, olives, cheese, crackers, bread, hummus and two other spreads. It was so good! I could seriously eat antipasto trays for dinner each night.

As you drive onto the property you almost immediately notice large sculptures scattered amongst the trees. To support the arts, founder Marijke Byck created an annual, rotating, sculpture exhibit on the property. We couldn't resist posing with the LOVE sculpture and were pretty awed by a wooden structure being built that might one day, if permits are obtainable, be burned to the ground Burning Man style.

There is also an onsite exhibit dedicated to one of the first eight people to immigrate to the United States from Japan in 1865. Kanaye Nagasawa's story is one of adventure, fearlessness, gain, success, loss and acceptance. I would love to go back to Paradise Ridge just to see this exhibit.

Our final winery, and dinner stop, was a visit to Everett Ridge. We arrived just before sunset and had plenty of time to relax on the deck adjacent to the tasting room that overlooked the rolling vineyards below. The deck itself held containers of flowering plants that I couldn't resist photographing in the soft evening light.

Craig Sterling formally welcomed us to Everett Ridge introducing hismself and brother Chris (who was busy making us dinner). There were plenty of wines to sample but I must confess now that I knew my tastebuds wouldn't like them I opted for water with dinner because I felt kind of guilty to waste the wine these vitners (winemakers) work so hard to produce.

I read in this lively SFGate article "Everett Ridge Winery offers hospitality, humor" about the four Sterling brothers who run the winery.

Tasting Room Hours: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
Tasting Fee: Yes, but refundable with purchase

That's Chris Sterling at the wood fire pizza oven cooking up our dinner for us. The pizzas were delicious. I had two slices, several crostini, some salad with fresh mango and dessert.

Make that two desserts. Both looked so good I couldn't choose between them so I had both.

As we enjoyed the end to our second day looking out over the quiet and peaceful vineyards at Everett Ridge all I could think was that I was one lucky girl to be able to take some time off and enjoy part of the Bay Area that I, along with others, often overlook. It really opened my eyes to wanting to come back again to explore the American Viticulture Areas, aka known as appellations (grape growing areas), even further. Whether it's a day trip or overnight stay I highly recommend you should take a similar trip too.

If you enjoy wines (all of my friends) or don't (me the sad supertaster) there is plenty to do and see on Sonoma's Wine Road.

Wine Road - Northern Sonoma County
"Founded more than 30 years ago, Wine Road is an association of wineries and lodgings in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys of Northern Sonoma County. From its modest beginning as an organization of nine wineries, it has grown into a spirited constellation of more than 150 wineries and 50 lodgings." Read more. . .


Thomas George Estates
8075 Westside Rd.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Lauterbach Cellars
3420 Woolsey Road
Windsor, CA 95492
707-578-0537 or 866-352-7089

Russian River Vineyards
5700 Gravenstein Highway North
Forestville, CA 95436

Paradise Ridge - Speed Tasting
Santa Rosa Estate Tasting Room at Paradise Ridge
4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive
Santa Rosa

Kenwood Tasting Room at Paradise Ridge
8860 Sonoma Highway
Kenwood, CA

Everett Ridge
435 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, California 95448
707-433-1637 x13
Toll Free: 888-474-7456


Haydon Street Inn
321 Haydon Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Corks Restaurant at Russian River Vineyards
5700 Gravenstein Highway North
Forestville, CA 95436


Platypus Wine Tours
Platypus Tours Limited
1015 Shetler Avenue
Napa, CA 94559

Additional posts from this trip include:

Wineries, tasting rooms and the beauty of nature in Dry Creek Valley

Touring the Alexander Valley with the Wine Road

The B&B to stay at while touring Sonoma's Wine Road Featuring the Haydon Street Inn

I went on a Sonoma County Wine Country Adventure! Includes the list of bloggers I was on the Wine Road with for three days.

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