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.