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3 May, 2018

Tasting along Northern Sonoma County’s Wine Road

Posted in : Bars and Tasting Rooms, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Dessert Wine, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Primitivo / Zinfandel, Red Wine, Shiraz / Syrah, Tasting Rooms in Sonoma - CA, White Wine, Wine on by : becca

The Wine Road is a professional association of over 250 wineries and lodgings based in northern Sonoma County. At 40 years and counting, it’s rather long-lived for a California wine country organization! The Wine Road is also a Taste Award-winning, biweekly podcast from hosts Marcy Gordon and Beth Costa. Beth has been the executive director of the association for nearing 20 years, so the two high-quality endeavors are closely linked.

the wine road, sonoma county

I’ve known Marcy for the past four years, as we met at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton. Prior to the 2017 conference, Marcy arranged for a few bloggers to take a mystery tour of some of the Wine Road’s member wineries. I was delighted to be among the guests, and yes, that means I paid nothing for this experience <– obligatory disclaimer. After meeting Beth and her son Aaron, who served as our driver, the delight only grew!

the wine road, sonoma county, beth costa, aaron costa

Our intrepid blogger group at the Willow Wood Cafe. Beth, front L; Aaron front R. Eli, middle L. Liza, back L; Kelly, back R.

Aaron runs his own Healdsburg wine tour company, which you can check out here. I can highly recommend his professionalism – we didn’t even know Beth and Aaron were related at first, as Aaron was fully immersed in his role as chauffer. I’m sure he’s a fantastic guide as well.

Our tour was based in the center of the Russian River appellation, 4-5 miles south of the Russian River itself. I am pleased to guide you through our stops and share my favorite wines from each.

Stop #1: Battaglini Winery

Battaglini Estate Winery, known locally as one of the most authentic, family-run wineries in wine country, was our first stop.

the wine road, sonoma county, battaglini wineOwner and winemaker Giuseppe Battaglini opened up the tasting barn just for us. Eight different wines hit our tasting glasses, all while Giuseppe regaled us with tales of his roots in Italy. He absolutely lights up sharing photos from his homeland.

battaglini wine, giuseppe battaglini

Giuseppe Battaglini

Giuseppe has preserved the old zinfandel and petite sirah vines dating from the winery’s birth in 1885. He released his own first vintage in 1994. Thirty years later, he produces only 2,500 cases, but that’s a big increase from his initial 250. And oh, what cases they are! The youngest wine we tried was from 2011. And the oldest? A 2001 Proprietor’s Reserve Zinfandel. What a treat! But my absolute favorite wine was the Battaglini Estate 2010 Reserve Chardonnay.

battaglini wine, chardonnayI’ve learned that aged and oaked chardonnays are much more my style than younger ones. This chard might seem like an overdose of acidity at first sip, but that brightness makes the perfect bed for kiwi, honeydew, and balanced saline to sleep in (5/5).

Second best for me was the Battaglini Estate 2007 Petite Sirah.

battaglini wine, petite sirahI dubbed it “a spicy, rugged adventure in the Russian River Valley, with notes of plum and golden cherry” (4.5/5).

After wine, Giuseppe took us through his beautiful, well-loved, gnarled vines.

battaglini wine, giuseppe battagliniAnd then we were off to lunch!

Stop #2: Willow Wood Market Café

willow wood market cafe, graton, willow woodLocated in Graton, one of the Russian River Valley’s tiny towns that boasts outsized culinary chops, the Willow Wood Market Café fed us lunch. It’s a very cute café with a diner feel and shelves full of either wine, beer, or old-timey games and products. The menu items are inventive takes on classic nourishment … and delicious takes, too!

willow wood, cafe, graton, rock fishMy fried rock fish sandwich with slaw was warm, succulent, and melt-in-your mouth memorable. Truth be told, I’m still not sure this croque monsieur offering or the shrimp and polenta weren’t the better options.

willow wood, cafe, graton, shrimp, polenta

willow wood, cafe, graton, croque monsieurAlas, one cannot eat three separate lunch entrees. The moral of this story is: You’ll do well no matter what you order at Willow Wood Café. You’ll also do well to walk down the block to the Paul Mathew tasting room.

Stop #3: Paul Mathew Vineyards Tasting Room

This tasting room has a cozy backyard that looks perfect for a lazy, relaxed afternoon.

paul mathew, wine road, winery, gratonAnd you really should make use of it to wantonly enjoy your tasting flight. Oh my, what a talent winemaker Mat Gustafson has for crafting pinot noir. He is nearing 40 years’ experience in the industry and focuses on terroir-driven techniques that yield remarkable variation from vineyard to vineyard. They offer 5 vineyard-specific pinot noirs. I was blown away by the thoroughly unique Paul Mathew Bohemian Vineyard 2014.

paul mathew, wine road, winery, graton, bohemian pinot noirIt’s an outstanding wine that tastes of raspberry and cherry crème savers candy. Each sip is worth cherishing (5/5).

Surprisingly, my other 5-star wine from Paul Mathew is one of the few they make that’s not pinot noir.

paul mathew, wine road, winery, graton, syrahThe Paul Mathew McReynolds Hills 2014 Syrah made me ponder if a syrah could be elegant. It provided plenty of balanced evidence for that examination, perhaps due to the 5% blending in of viognier. Bright cherry notes beckon with rich plum, currant, and boysenberry. Calls to mind an unexpected hug from a friend (5/5).

Alas, a hug cannot last forever. But that’s a good thing when there are more places to go on the Wine Road.

Stop #4: Tara Bella Winery

The moment we pulled down the driveway toward this estate, I was thinking of tropical Southern summers. Thus, I knew Tara Bella Winery would be full of personality.

wine road, tara bella, wineryAnd it is! Owners Kevin and Wendy Morrow are unafraid to tackle cabernet sauvignon in an appellation not known for it. And they do it well by focusing on just two clones . . . two clones that happen to yield two very different wines!  The tasting cellar yields plenty of its own wine-drenched aroma.

wine road, tara bella, winery, tasting room

Bloggers at work.

The 2013 Tara Bella Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Bordeaux-style wine made from Clone 7 grapes. It tastes warming, and its copious herbal notes would pair well with most anything. The berry is smooth and juicy with agreeable nectarine and tannins (4/5). Clone 7 is also used to produce Tara Bella’s Portal dessert wine and rosé. Yet I found Clone 4 to be more my style.

wine road, tara bella, winery, reserve, cabernet sauvignonThe 2013 Tara Bella Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is made from an Argentinian clone and offers a full chalky and cedar nose. Bountiful berry, currant, roasted strawberry, and watermelon join with a mélange of tangy spices and herbs: anise, cumin, parsley, and a peppercorn blend (5/5).

No matter which you prefer, Wendy will be happy to tell you about them and about all the events you can participate in at Tara Bella.

Wendy Morrow, tara bella, winery, sonoma

Wendy Morrow

Tara Bella is part of the Olivet District, a collection of wineries along Olivet Road that includes Battaglini and Stop #5, Harvest Moon. The eight participating wineries host the Taste of Olivet in April and the Lights of Olivet holiday craft festival in December. It is a district well worth spending the weekend in if you need help narrowing down your northern Sonoma County options. And believe me, you do—there are so many! Speaking of…

Stop #5: Harvest Moon Winery

We didn’t plan on stopping at Harvest Moon Winery, but with a little extra time, why not? Or should I say, with a little extra time and Beth Costa’s connections! =) Grower and winemaker Randy Pitts welcomed us in for a tasting, though he was firing up the brick pizza oven for a club members event.

harvest moon, winery, brick oven, the wine roadHarvest Moon is the largest producer we visited in the Olivet District. They focus on zinfandel, gewürztraminer, petite sirah, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon with an impressive back catalog available for purchase and plenty of blends, sparkling, and dessert wine experiments.

Although the sparkling zinfandel and gewürztraminers intrigued, I found the straight up zinfandels most appealing in Harvest Moon’s collection. The nose of the 2015 Harvest Moon Russian River Zinfandel, bottled just before our visit, overflowed with roses. Sandalwood tumbled into the glass, where it was joined by fresh cherry, strawberry, and blackberry notes. Pepper reined in those vivacious young fruits (4.5/5).

harvest moon, winery, zinfandel, the wine roadThe 2013 Harvest Moon Pitts Home Ranch Zinfandel offered clay in the nose that led to archetypal cherry with pepper accents. Pineapple played with expectations (4.5/5). We also tried the 2002 Pitts Home Zinfandel, which still had plenty of flavor to enjoy. It smelled like the roast you’d want to serve it with, but think turkey rather than steak. The wine was bright and warm with roasted cherry and elderberry. A little nail polish remover was the sole off note (3.5/5).

My highest rating at Harvest Moon went to zinfandel as well, but the sweet sort.

harvest moon, winery, brick oven, the wine road, dessert wine, zinfandelThe 2015 Harvest Moon Late Harvest Zinfandel holds lots of pepper and ripe cherry, proving it doesn’t take its “sweet” designation too seriously. Orange notes round out a delicious glass (5/5).

Harvest Moon’s fields offered us the best opportunity for blogger shenanigans at the end of the afternoon.

harvest moon, winery, grape vines, the wine road

Kelly, L, and Liza, R.

It was a pleasure to share this tour of the Wine Road with Beth, Aaron, and my fellow wine bloggers, BrixChick Liza; Elijah, the Fine Wine Poet; and Kelly of Off the Beaten Glass. I’m sure it’d be a pleasure for you to share it with some lovely companions of your own choosing as well. As mentioned, the Olivet District hosts annual events, and the Wine Road does also for the region at large. The next one coming up is the Esprit du Rhône, 5/18–5/19. You can also catch the Wine & Food Affair in November, Winter WINEland in January, the Barrel Tasting Weekend in March, or pick up a Wine Road Tasting Pass at any time for $35 to earn your way into three tasting rooms on the day of your choosing.

More info on all the Wine Road events can be found here.

I traveled the Wine Road on 9 November 2017.  

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