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Monday, May 14, 2012

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

The end of our stay in Sonoma's Wine Country with the Wine Road was another glorious California day with blue skies and warm weather.

I got up early to take pictures of the yard and amenities at the Haydon Street Inn. John served me another beautiful breakfast and I had the opportunity to chat with a few more winery peeps who joined us for breakfast. After breakfast our driver D.J. Hamilton from Platypus tours arrived to pick me up for our final day of wine tours. You can see in the lower photo how the seating on the tour bus was U-shaped and there was plenty of leg room :)

Our day began at Quivira

I LOVE this winery. Ron Washam, Quivira's Hospitality specialist, gave us a fantastic tour where he explained how the current owners since 2006, Pete and Terri Kight, shared the same respect for nature and vision that the founders (and previous owners), Holly and Henry Wendt, began in 1981.

For instance in 1998 the Wendt's began restoring Wine Creek, which runs alongside the winery and through the estate. They wanted to return it back to its original condition to benefit the steelhead and coho salmon who spawn there. In 2005, under the stewardship of the Kight's, Quivira became Fish Friendly Farming certified and in 2010 the Kight's worked with the Department of Fish and Game who released thousands of juvenile Coho Salmon into Wine Creek. They also donate a portion of every bottle of wine sold to Trout Unlimited, an organization dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring coldwater fisheries and watersheds.

To keep runoff from the vineyards from polluting the creek the estate went organic and later received its Biodynamic Farming Certification in 2005. Receiving the certification was a six year process!

To reduce green house gas output they Installed a solar panel roof comprised of 300 solar panels which supplies "nearly" 100% of Quivira's electricity needs. Click on that link to view a really cool data graph of how much electricity they produce and use, and how much carbon dioxide they haven't created since installing the panels. As of this morning the meter read 545,525 pounds.

You will find vineyards, vegetable gardens, a pond, a creek, flowers that attract beneficial insects and pasture raised chickens all flourishing in a tapestry of life.

The vegetables from the raised gardens are used for event meals at the estate and the rest are sold to local markets with the profits going to help both members of the community and employees in medical need. The fruits are used to create preserves that are sold in the tasting room.

The large propeller in the bottom row is a vineyard fan used to protect the vines from frost. It helps to mix cold air near the ground with the warmer air above it.

The winery even has its own pig! Ruby was saved as an infant after being found caught in a fence. She was nursed back to health and has been part of the Quivira family ever since. We didn't get to see Ruby that day. Perhaps I can meet her the next time I visit.

Ron had just told us about how the property is literally teeming with life when, as if on cue, that little ladybug, second row on the left, flew right past me and landed on a grape leaf. LOL the timing was so perfect it felt staged :)

Future Quivira Grapes

If you want to drink an environmentally conscious wine whose vintners have gone to great lengths to live in harmony with nature, definitely look into Quivira wines.

Capturing the sparkle of the glasses and color of the wine. I love shooting wine!

After the tour we retired to the tasting room where Ron served each of us a glass of 2011 Rosé.

The wine tasting room also has a small gift shop area with really cool t-shirts, the estate's fruit preserves, olive oil and honey, neat candle holders, and of course, wine.

My little fisheye lens was the perfect wide angle I needed to capture all of the details of the winemaking equipment.

That dark yellow cheese is St. George

Just like the day before, when we returned to our bus D.J. had more cheese at the ready. But this was special cheese. Because we were such a bunch of foodies he went the extra mile and procured a locally produced cheese called St. George. He then told us the story about how this rich, smooth and cheddery type of cow's milk cheese originated in Portugal and how the Matos family brought the recipe (and possibly their cows, though I suspect the cow part may be an urban legend) with them to America. He took such great care of us!

The bottom right picture was Sabrina and Amy having a great laugh with D.J. as they attempted to convince him that his fab mustache should have its own Facebook page. LOL

Yoakim Bridge was our next stop. Owners David Cooper and Virgina Morgan definitely won the cutest couple award in my book. Virginia's demeanor is so friendly I was instantly charmed by her hospitality. And that was within 10 seconds of her walking out onto the porch with a huge smile on her face and her arms opened wide to welcome us. Her energy and zest for life were obvious and contagious.

Their 1886 Victorian farmhouse is to die for! With rows of white rose bushes along the front and back edges of the lawn and ambling climbing rose vines, thickly covering the veranda, the scene was so picturesque it just didn't seem real. And they get to live there!

The tasting room is intimate and beatuifully appointed. David, who was both personable and entertaining, offered everyone homemade meatballs to pair with the wine. Even though I knew my taste buds were conspiring against me I still tried the Petite Syrah. LOL I am definitely an optimist if nothing else.

Out in front and along a row of trees were very cute Airstream trailers with white Adirondack chairs and potted topiary trees beside them. They are informal guest quarters for family and friends who come to visit.

Tasting Room: Open Friday - Sunday 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Yoakim Brige does ask that groups of eight or more set up a reservation for a tasting.
Tasting Fee: Yes, but refundable with wine purchase

And then we went to Truett Hurst. I also really want to go back here again for so many reasons. Winemaker Virginia Lambrix had the gals lined up at the bar for several samples. Again, being the optimist, I tried one then wandered about to see what I could see.

Two things you'll notice as you enter the tasting room are the art and food. From photos of the farms animals and wildlife by photographer Rob Scheid to the most amazing picnic foods, I wanted a little of everything. Some Mt. Tam Cowgirl Creamery Cheese, a Lemon San Pelligrino, crackers and olives. . .

Truett Hurst has everything I need to be happy picnic'er. Oh and I want Rob's sheep picture over the bar :)

What I didn't realize was that a picnic lunch had already been prepared for us and was waiting for us outside! That day we were treated to lunch by Platypus Tours. Croissant sandwiches with all the fixings, a fresh quinoa and veggie salad, slices of ripe apple and pear, and petite lil' cupcakes with cream and a fresh blueberry for dessert. I ate every bite.

Right across from the picnic area is a habitat garden complete with walking paths. It was tranquil and full of butterflies and bees. Truett Hurst is a winery dedicated to using organic and biodynaic farming principles to produce world class wines. For those who think using chemicals is the only way to remove unwanted pests from your garden Truett Hurst may cause you to think again. They are organic and their property is full of thriving plants from the vineyards to their vegetable and habitat gardens. It's also brimming with life and not just on land. . .

If you look closely you can make out at least nine fish in the top photo of Dry Creek.

As I walked down to Dry Creek after lunch I spotted fish in the creek. And not just one or two. There were dozens upon dozens, maybe even hundreds of them. I moved closer and closer to the edge extending my camera out over the water. I was wishing I'd brought my 100-300mm zoom lens with me because then these pictures would have been even better. But alas, I had to work with my 14-140mm because it was all I had with me. Because I'd already heard at Quivira earlier that morning that Dry Creek has thriving Coho and Steelhead salmon populations, I guessed these might be baby Steelhead or Coho. A quick peek at Google images when I got home leads me to believe they were indeed baby salmon of some type. Neat!

As I photographed the fish I happened to notice a damselfly sitting on some reeds growing near the shore. Immediately I turned my camera to try to get a shot. All of a sudden it started contorting its body into first an arc like a U-shape, then a question mark shape and finally would loop the tip of its abdomen all the way up to just beneath its thorax forming a tight closed circle. What was it doing? Later when I downloaded the pictures I noticed two small, round dots on its abdomen. I Googled to see if they were eggs but there were no pictures of damselfly eggs.

A bit more digging on Google and I learned that Damselflies often get mites! And those two little dots look a lot like the photos I saw. So, not eggs but still an unexpected and interesting detail to capture! 

After spending a LOT of time at the water's edge I walked over to the fire engine red Adirondack chairs where everyone else had been eating lunch and relaxing. All too soon it was time to leave and we headed back to the tour bus. Along the way I shot more pictures from the habitat and vegetable gardens.

Butterflies, artichokes, and the most healthy sweet peas I've ever seen!

The little swallow in the bottom row center lives in a house out in the parking lot just a couple of feet from the ground. I was shocked that they would be willing to live so close to cars and tourists milling about.

If you love nature I think you'll love visiting Truett Hurst Winery. I know I did.

Tasting Room: Open Friday - Sunday 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Tasting Fee: Yes, a nominal amount

Though we began our day in the Dry Creek Valley, we finished in the Russian River Valley for our final two stops.

From earthy and organic to formal and manicured our next stop at Kendall Jackson Family Wines was truly a delight. I was familiar with the name but didn't know the winery was in Sonoma, didn't know that it was still 100% family owned and run, and didn't know that they had an interesting multitude of gardens right on their property. For the umpteenth time on our tour we were in for such a treat!

In the photo above I was pretty taken with the image where you can see the vines and blue sky reflected in the wine. Beauty in a glass. We just drank it all in. Loved it!

Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, Grand Reserve Syrah and Camelot Highlands Chardonnay.

While most people know about Kendall-Jackson wines they may not be aware of their Highland Estates and Stature lines. Both are limited production estate wines that aren't available at your local supermarket.

Our Wine Educator that afternoon was Dale Cullins. Here he poured each of us a glass of 2010 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay.

A baby pear, a honeybee, orange blossoms and fava beans.

Chef Matt Lowe then took us on a garden tour explaining the differences between the Wine Sensory Garden, or as he called it: "The scratch and sniff garden." He had to pull us away to show us the International Gardens where plants from different parts of the world are cultivated for use in the Kendall-Jackson kitchen. I think they must also sell or share their surplus with local restaurants. Remember that salad I had the day before at Cork's? The greens came from Kendall-Jackson!

There were also flower gardens and what are known as cover crops in wine country. This is when certain plants are planted near or in the vineyards to help draw in beneficial insects and birds so that pesticides aren't needed.

After our garden tour we were invited to sit at a long table to enjoy five wines paired with food. And the food was delicious. For me, there were a couple of vegetarian substitutions.

Clockwise from top left:

A spoon of Délice de la Vallé Cheese with Fresh Sorrel Sauce paired with 2009 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Salsify with Chardonnay Grapeseed Oil and fresh Chives paired with 2009 Grand Reserve Chardonnay

Mushroom Arincini with Sottocenere Truffle Cheese and Pinot Noir Aioli paired with 2007 Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir (BTW even though I don't like mushrooms I tried this little fried ball of goodness and loved it! I could have eaten a dozen of them. LOL)

A Tofu Slider with thinly sliced cucumbers and Syrah BBQ Sauce paired with 2006 Highland Estates Alisos HIlls Syrah

Stone Ground Grits from Old Mill of Guilford and Micro Greens paired with 2006 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

A picture perfect backdrop at Kendall-Jackson.

Fellow blogger Frank DiMarco took this photo of the group before we were served. Look at all of the cameras out on the table! LOL. I felt like I was a million miles away from San Jose while we were dining in the gardens. They were so peaceful and soothing. It was rejuvenating and I realized I really need to take and create relaxation time like this for myself every now and then.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center - Fulton
Tasting Room: Open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Tasting Fee: Yes for Classic, Reserve and food Tastings
Garden Tours:
Offered daily at 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM (weather permitting). Private garden tours and wine tastings are available (for a fee) for groups of 10 or more. Be sure to contact the Tasting Room Scheduling Desk at 707.576.3810 to schedule an appointment.

Healdsburg Tasting Room
Tasting Room: Open daily from 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM
Tasting Fee: Yes for Classic, Reserve and Dessert tastings

The Wineyard shares access with the Heritage Public House

Our final stop was in Santa Rosa. If driving on wending country roads and walking around in vineyards isn't your thing because you prefer a more urban environment, The Wineyard may be just the place for you. It's a collective tasting room that currently represents four wineries with more to come. General Manager Chris O’Connell greeted us at the door and proceeded to pour us several samples. There were things I really loved about The Wineyard. For starters Chris' friendliness is guaranteed to help grow the business as it just opened in January of 2012. I also loved that there are purse hooks under the bar! You can see my purse hanging in the picture above and that's Chris, serving Carl a glass of wine, just to my right.

We sampled:

2009 Santa Rosa Junior College, Shone Farm Pinot Noir

2009 Flocchini Saddle-Up Syrah

2007 Jazz Cellars Petite Sirah

2011 Atascadero Creek Sauvignon Blanc

Tasting Room: Thursday – Monday 11-5.
In off hours the wines from the Wineyard are also served next door at the Heritage Public House, a beer room that specializes in California produced craft beers.

Tasting Fee: Yes, but applied to purchase

That's me at Quivira vineyards, all blurry at Kendall-Jackson and with Carl at The Wineyard.

And just to prove I was really there here are some pictures of me. I decided to pose for a few because I kind of hate when people show me vacation pictures and they aren't in any of them. It makes me wonder if they really went or if they're just showing me someone else's pictures. LOL

And that was it. The end of my dreamy Sonoma Wine Country blogger's getaway. I absolutely have to thank the Wine Road for the invitation. It was such a treat and I am grateful for the opportunity to have met so many friendly and interesting people like the winemakers, our drivers, and the other bloggers I joined for this excursion!

Though I came hoping to finally figure out what kind of wines I like, I left a bit disappointed to have learned I may never like most wines at all. The thing is, I know on a personal level my taste bud handicap won't hinder me from enjoying the Wine Road in the future. Just like how sometimes I would rather photograph food than eat it, I think wine is also so photogenic I'm certain photographing it, and the beautiful vineyards it comes from, brings me just as much pleasure as connoisseurs receive by drinking it :)

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. . .


Quivira Vineyards and WInery
4900 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Yoakim Bridge Winery
7209 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Truett Hurst Winery
5610 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Kendall-Jackson Estate & Gardens

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center
5007 Fulton Road
Fulton, California 95439

Healdsburg Tasting Room
337 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, California 95448

The Wineyard Santa Rosa
1305 Cleveland Avenue, Suite A
Santa Rosa, CA 95401


Haydon Street Inn
321 Haydon Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448


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

Additional posts from this trip include:

The Wine Road Russian River Valley Wine Tour

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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