Posted from Glen Ellen, CA
After a couple of weeks in Sonoma Valley enjoying the local grape with most of our evening meals, both home-cooked at our cottage and at various restaurants, it was time to stop at a winery for a tasting.
We’d visited multiple wineries during previous trips here, so we felt we had a fairly representative exposure to the local offerings. However, with Sonoma County reportedly home to 60,000 acres of vineyards and more than 370 wineries, we decided we’d be remiss if we didn’t participate in this cultural ritual once again.
We made our move during a recent visit to the Russian River Valley, an AVA, or American Viticulture Area, centered around the Russian River to the northwest. The Russians, the first non-natives to settle in Sonoma County and the reason for the Russian River Valley’s name, established a culture of grape growing and winemaking. Similar to a tide, the regular ebbs and flows of cooling fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean are, in effect, a natural air conditioner, enabling the grapes to reach optimum maturity over a growing season that often lasts some 20% longer than in neighboring areas.
First, though, we stopped for lunch (mushroom panino and a burger of grass-fed beef) in Guerneville at Boon Eat + Drink. It’s a modern California bistro, so named for the owner’s Frisbee-catching dog and so decorated with dog + frisbee-in-mouth silhouettes dotting the wall.
Then it was on to Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg. We ascended a curvy hill and encountered the architecturally stunning, contemporary-style stone and wood winery. We bellied up to the tasting bar, with its sweeping views of the Russian River Valley, where our server Lianne poured us five of their stellar 2010 chardonnays, pinot noirs, and zinfandels and talked about the all-important climate.
“You want a little rain, and we also do a little irrigation. You don’t want to pamper the grapes. It’s like a spoiled person in that their character isn’t as good. You want them to struggle to get water, like those planted on a slope do, because it produces sweeter fruit. You don’t want a lot of moisture because of mold, so you want the sun to burn it off, and you want it cool so the acidity and sugar levels are balanced.”
Her prediction for the 2013 vintage? “So far, so good.”
We’ll drink to that.