If you’re even a novice wine drinker, you’ve probably heard of California’s Sonoma County. Within this region lies a beautiful area called the Russian River Valley, which stands out as a fertile valley for grape growing. With rolling hills and a climate conducive to viticulture, this region boasts several award-winning wineries.
Read on for a list of three of the best wineries in the Russian River Valley, a certified American Viticultural Area.
Rochioli Vineyards and Winery
Rochioli Vineyards and Winery has a long history dating back to when the Rocchioli family (later dropping the second “c” in their last name) immigrated from Italy. Joe Rocchioli Sr., the grandfather of the current winemaker, Tom Rochioli, first began working on a farm at the age of 10 and eventually moved to a Fenton Acres, a 125-acre property where Rochioli Vineyards and Winery resides today. It was here that he began to make jug wine with Early Burgundy, French Colombard, and Napa Gamay (now known as Valdeguié), and he eventually acquired the property in the 1950s.
Tom Rochioli spent countless hours observing how his father and grandfather tended to the land and planted the vines. Although the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes didn’t grow well, Rochioli found success with the Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, the vineyard’s Sauvignon Blanc vines are some of the oldest of their kind in California.
Rochioli Vineyards and Winery also stands out as the first winery in the region to divide the property into blocks with their own terroir, a process used in Europe. The result is a selection of excellent Pinot Noirs, Sauvignon Blancs, and Chardonnays.
While Rochioli’s single-vineyard wines are available only to members, the winery sells estate wines that are blended from grapes on select vineyards on the estate, including Pinot Noirs as well as Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays.
Rochioli Vineyards has earned recognition for several of its wines, including 97 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate for its 2016 Pinot Noir Big Hill. The 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc also earned 95 points from Wine & Spirits and 94 points from Wine Enthusiast.
Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery
Known for its outstanding wines, especially Pinot Noir, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery offers gorgeous hillside views of the Healdsburg area. The winery sources its grapes from nearby vineyards, including Rochioli, with whom it has partnered for many years. When selecting vineyards, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery looks for those that benefit from cool fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean in the morning and evening to compensate for the summer heat. These conditions lead to a long growing season that yields mature grapes with a balanced acidity.
The winery offers a tour and tasting experience that takes visitors into the cellar to see the ins and outs of the winemaking process. In addition to seeing the gorgeous vineyard cellar, visitors have the opportunity to taste five single-vineyard wines as well as various small-production wines.
The winery’s Pinot Noir accolades are too long to list, with multiple 2015 labels earning more than 90 points from various critics. Its Chardonnays have also gained significant recognition, with the 2015 Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay earning 94 points from Wine Enthusiast in March 2018.
La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
La Crema Estate, known as “the Barn,” is housed in a historic barn estimated to be about 90 years old. The barn has been remodeled and turned into a multilevel tasting room where visitors can sample the estate’s outstanding Pinot Noirs, the grapes of which are sourced carefully from pristine vineyards not only in California but also in Oregon’s widely acclaimed Willamette Valley.
Guests can select from three tasting flights based on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or the best of both. The winery’s current selection includes its 2015 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley’s Bellflower Vineyard. Made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, this wine undergoes aging in 100 percent French oak barrels for 15 months and features aromas of black plum, boysenberry, and sweet pipe tobacco.
White wine lovers can try the Nine Barrel Chardonnay, which also comes from the Russian River Valley. This outstanding wine is aged for 17 months in 100 percent French oak barrels and features plum, apple, and shortbread flavors as well as aromas of baked pear and toasted hazelnut.
In addition to its high-quality wines, La Crema Estate offers various tour options, such as a golf-cart tour of the meticulously maintained vineyard. Guests can even call ahead to arrange for a picnic accompanied by wine on the estate.
The above three wineries offer a great introduction to California’s Russian River Valley. When visiting the area, feel free to explore the smaller, less traveled roads to see all that this viticultural area has to offer. You may find some smaller wineries and vineyards that offer likewise unforgettable, boutique-like experiences.