We’ve been quiet for a while — but that’s not because we haven’t been on the wine trail!
Well…maybe just a little bit. We have been diligently visiting some awesome wineries to share with you all, but life has gotten in the way a bit and distracted us from our purpose here. But never fear! We’ll be back chronicling the best places we find and helping you plan your trip to the California wine country (and beyond!).
We also made a little pit stop in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. Alas, there are no vines, but we recommend it just the same. Take a trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada; we enjoyed our stay in the town of Banff, too!
Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Earlier this year, the WineBirds took a flight over the ocean, and landed in the wonderful land of La Rioja, the place of some excellent Spanish wines. La Rioja is a few hours north of Madrid, and about an hour and a half south of Bilbao. The main grape of the region is Tempranillo, and most wines are a mixed with some Grenache and perhaps Mazuelo and Graciana. These are great food wines — a great pairing with salty Manchengo cheese and jamon.
While in the region, we were able to stop at several wineries, one of which was Bodegas Ysios. We showed up at our designated appointment time, and found that J had booked our tour in Spanish (this ended up being a theme of our trip). As we were the only ones on the tour, our guide graciously ran the tour in English.
This week The WineBirds headed up north and made a visit to one of our favorite “hidden” gems — Porter Bass Winery. This is the last winery you’ll find on Highway 116/Gravenstein Highway before arriving in the town of Guerneville. But…you’ll have to look a bit before finding it. There are no signs for the winery and the cell reception is spotty, so you need to know where you are going. Take a turn down Mays Canyon Road, make your way through the majestic redwoods, then suddenly you’ll find a clearing with steep hills of grapevines.
There, you will also find this unassuming little winery. The tasting “room” is located in the front yard under a large walnut tree — a wine-barrel bar with a few chairs and a bench overlooking the gorgeous vineyards. This is a small, family-run winery, and the tasting experience reflects that — you’ll be led through the wines either by the vineyard manager (mom) or the winemaker (son).
Porter Bass uses organic and biodynamic principles in its 16 acres of estate vineyards. There are diverse plants throughout the property which protect the vines from wind, guide the fog, and attract beneficial insects (the winery’s logo is a bee and a grasshopper). Corporate wineries are starting to offer pricy reservation-only vineyard experiences where they brag about bringing on expensive consultants to implement biodynamic practices. Porter Bass has been farming naturally since it resurrected its turn of the century vineyards in the 1980s, so it doesn’t need to brag. Simply setting foot on the property is an experience in natural farming and terroir.
Tucked away in an unassuming warehouse-looking building, Red Car Wine Company is another gem on Highway 116, specializing in Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay, and a knock-your-socks-off Rosé.
Once again, we need to set the scene. About a year ago, two WineBirds and their DogBird left the cozy confines of their condo and headed up north in the pouring rain. LadyBird had to attend a meeting at our summer park, leaving LordBird & the dog to their own devices.
A few hours later, the meeting was over, and Jonathan arrived to pick Annie up, gushing about a new winery he had stopped by and how we needed to go there and oh, by the way, he had joined the club (are you seeing our pattern here?).
Off the three of us went back to visit Red Car Wine — the second visit of the day for two of us. Jonathan was greeted with a hearty hello, Luca with a nice scratch of his ears, and Annie with a selection of several of their tasty, and complex, Pinot Noirs.
This week we’re taking a break from the West Sonoma/Gravenstein Highway wineries, and heading a bit up north, to the Dry Creek Valley. Specifically, a wonderful place on Lytton Springs Road called Mazzocco Winery.
This is probably the winery we visit most in the area, and that they haven’t gotten tired of us and our friends is a real testament to how fun a place this is. It’s also special enough to us that we served several varieties at our wedding, and sent our guests to stop by on their wine tours!
Of course — there is a backstory! Annie first heard of this winery when her friend won a weekend stay at their guest house, and decided to take her (and the DogBird) along. It happened to be bottling weekend so perhaps a little noisy, so the winemaker stopped by to give us a few freshly-filled bottles as an apology gift. The winery treated them all so well, that on the next trip, Annie joined the club. Later, on one of their early dates, Jonathan mentioned that he, too, loved Mazzocco, and that he, too, was a member. The fates had aligned.
Highway 116 from Sebastopol to Guerneville is full of treasures, some hidden and some only accessible via a rough, unpaved road. Iron Horse Vineyards is one of the latter.
Let me set the scene…approximately two years ago, a newly engaged couple decided to spend Valentine’s Day on the River, tasting wine along the way. This was a small break from the intense wedding planning that had been happening, and also a way for them to, ummm….find some wine for the wedding. Yes, that’s it.
This couple left their little DogBird at home and headed to the house of bubbles they’d passed often, but never visited. Down windy 116 they went, then up the rough, gravelly road and were met with a vista that seemed to go on forever, accented by a casual, outside bar that was dotted with glasses of bubbles, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.
Recently, we made our first visit to Horse & Plow, a new winery right on the edge of Sebastopol in the Russian River AVA. This was a place I had noticed on one of our trips up north, but never had the opportunity to try out. We tend to visit the same places repeatedly; we made the decision on that particular day everywhere we went should be new to us.
The winery has a small tasting room and a large outdoor area, complete with big trees, a few picnic tables, and lovely chairs where you can sit back and enjoy the wine (and cider!). You will likely be greeted by the winery dog Pepita — she came met us at the parking lot and immediately started flirting with the DogBird…who was not really having it. Nevertheless, she escorted us into the tasting room then out to the chairs, and visited with us until DogBird hid under the chair. Silly guy!
We tried two flights — a flight of Horse and Plow’s “Gardener” series of wines and the Cider flight to mix things up. These cost 15$ and 12$ respectively; the tasting cost is waived with a two bottle purchase. With each wine and cider, our server brought the taste to us, along with an explanation of what we were tasting. Pours were generous — there was definitely enough to have a taste, swirl around, then taste the new nuances. The bottles are moderately priced, both for wine & cider.
The winery welcomes dogs & kids, and offers ample space for both to roam (under supervision, of course).
What to try:
LordBird’s Fave: Gardener Series Pinots
LadyBird’s Fave: Farmhouse Cider
Horse & Plow
1272 Gravenstein Hwy N
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(Originally published by Annie at HeadinKnots)
One of the main purposes of our trip was to discover the world of Sicilian wine — specifically around the Etna area. The morning after we arrived, we were excited to get going on our adventures…but Mother Nature had other plans.
The rain we had encountered upon our arrival had not left us yet — we had a slight reprieve on our first evening, but it came back with a roar our first morning. Luckily the scenery was worth staring at for a while.
After the torrential downpour in Taormina that confined us to our hotel, it was time to head out to the Sicilian countryside to sip some vino and watch the volcano. After a harrowing journey back down Taormina’s windy roads, we were soon en route!
Outside of our room — vines creeping over the wall
Unlike most places in the wine country here in northern California, most of the wineries in Sicily require reservations.
Unfortunately, thanks to the storms, we were running terribly behind. We decided to swing by one place, any way, in hopes that they still might entertain our visit.
Welcome to our new site: The WineBirds. We are excited to share our love of wine, and travel, with you.
Who are we?
We are Annie (LadyBird) and Jonathan (LordBird) — two lovebirds who spend quite a bit of our time visiting local wineries, flying off to international wineries, and overall just enjoying wine.
What will we be covering?
Wineries, of course…Wine events, great wine bars & shops, and other things that we think might benefit our readers.
When will there be updates?
We’ll update as often as we can — we’re hoping for at least once a week. Forgive us if we get lax…and let us know!
Where will we be focused?
Our focus will be largely in the northern California wine region — trying to bring you fun experiences, tips to tasting, what we like at various places along the way. Most of our holidays tend to focus around wine regions, so if we find something fun, we’ll share!
We’ve been talking about this for a while, along with a few other projects, and we were so excited to share our most recent trip that we finally pressed enter on the “create a blog now” button.
How are we qualified?
We are deeply passionate about wines from around the world, and are often asked by friends to advise on wines, to set up an itinerary for them, and what we like — so we thought, “why not make it more formal?” We spend a considerable amount of time in the wine country of northern California, and finding new and interesting things both at home and while we’re traveling.