The last stop on the Highway 116 tour, for a little bit at least, is a true standout. Tucked behind the trees just outside of Forestville is Russian River Vineyards, a lovely spot to watch the sunset, enjoy a taste or three of wine, and perhaps get a bite to eat.
RRV is unique in the area in that it is open until 8pm each day! This came in handy recently as we were heading home from our cabin, not quite ready to end the weekend. Lucky for us, not only was RRV still open, and serving dinner, but it is dog-friendly as well. The tasting “room” is an outdoor hidden forest, surrounded by redwoods and overlooking a (currently unplanted) vineyard. You can sip in comfort on one of the couches, around an outdoor fire pit, or while playing cornhole.
While you cannot do a tasting in the restaurant, you can order a full meal in the tasting area — a win win! We had never had their wines, so were happy we could get the full experience.
We had a wonderful pourer for the day who took us through a full flight, plus a few extras while we ate. All the while a live musician played in the background, adding to the ambiance. Continue reading
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.
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