When visiting wine country, there are so many wineries to choose from. If you’re renting a limo, party bus or van you only have so many hours in the day. So how do you know where to start and where to go? Look no further.
I highly recommend tastings by region instead of starting at one winery and driving across town or even up a city or two to the next, for obvious reasons (more time to drink!). You get more out of each winery and the education on the region and it’s strong suits begin to take form on your pallet. So today I wanted to take the Russian River Valley for a ride. This region has incredible wine but before you taste, you need to know what makes it tick.
Before wine took the valley by storm, apples reigned as king. Many have heard of the Gravenstein Apple fair held every August since 1901. It was in part due to the Dutton family who owned a Graton apple ranch. When the apple industry shifted to Washington state, Dutton shifted his plans as well. Despite the many many who claimed the region was too cold for ripening wine grapes, he persisted. Thanks for your perseverance Dutton- you are my hero. We now have some of the world’s most incredible Pinots and Chardonnays right here in our valley.
So how should one plan their route of the Russian River region? I’ll give you the top 6 based on history, wines and atmosphere but remember- you’ll probably have time for 3-4 tops depending on the order you go in. Below, you’ll find them starting from East (with easy access from freeway), to west.
J Vineyards and Winery
You may have seen this bottle in your local grocery store. J Vineyards is a pretty common household name. Their great wines along with beatiful grounds make this a must stop. Their newly opened Bubble Room is a culinary experience all it’s own. Here you will find an every-changing menu they pair with their wines. Ranging from their bubbles to their reds, there is a dish for each. It is worth noting that a designated driver should be a requirement for this experience. These pours are not your average tasting “splash”. You’re getting your money’s worth. The Bubble Room does require reservations but I also recommend reservations for the tasting room. Tasting for 6 or more require an appointment.
Twomey is one of my favorite memberships we have. Many have never heard of it but both the facility and the wine is a showstopper. You may have heard of it’s sister winery though- Silver Oak. Yep, the famous and pricey Cabernet powerhouse has a little sister that we keep hidden up our sleeves. Twomey is always a winner in our books and a must-stop when we have friends and family wanting to do a tasting tour. We are always treated like family when we go and the views are stunning. Their Pinot is hard to match and every release has had a Pinot that makes you just… well, speechless. If you are lucky enough to be helped by Brian, his tour of the facilities is our favorite thing to take friends on. You learn and see so much behind the scenes! Reservations not required but if you are wanting as tour or have a party of 6+, reservations are recommended.
Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery
This is a noteworthy name to the Russian River Valley and well. Like Dutton, Gary was also a pioneer to the winemakers of the valley. Today, his wines are exclusively available through the winery and you better get some! Like many others in the valley, their Chardonnays and Pinots are the bread and butter. They know what they are good at and they excel. Just ask Wine Enthusiast or Wine & Spirits. If you’re wanting something special- they offer a seated wine and cheese pairing which is music to my ears. It is worth noting that Gary Farrell is exclusively by reservation only.
MacRostie Winery and Vineyards
Have you ever walked into a building and said “oh yeah, I’ll live here”. Enter MacRostie. I mean the beauty this winery holds is hard to rival if you ask me. You are always greeted with a glass of Rosé or Chardonnay and I could just sit on their balcony all day. They treat you so well here (even your fur babies!). Among walking up to such a grand building, I’d expect some high class sass, as I like to call it, from them but no. They are as warm and inviting as any mom and pop winery. Probably thanks to the legacy of Steve MacRostie himself, who has been making wine in the area since 1974. Another great pioneer of the area. What I love as well is this experience is a very personal one. They don’t stick to a tasting- you’re in charge if you want to be. They will tailor the tasting to your likes/dislikes. LOVE! MacRostie requires reservations and allows up to 6 per party.
Dutton Estate Winery
What Russian River Valley would this be without Dutton Estate? Yes, the sixth generation of farmers/winemakers is open for tastings. They are family friendly and offer boxed lunches if you didn’t pack one yourself. Rookie mistake. Gotta eat if you wanna drink! Did I mention they offer a chocolate pairing? Yes, samplings from local chocolatier Wine Country Chocolate. They have food pairings as well! What makes Dutton so special is it’s family charm. You literally feel like you’re sitting in the backyard of a friends home having wine with them. There’s no glitz and glamour here. Just home-grown wine and great service. Reservations not required but always helpful!
Lynmar Estate Winery
Last but not the least, by far- Lynmar. Another membership worth having in my opinion. Their top tier wines are reserved for the Advocates Club members only. Worth it, as their Quail Hill vintages are some of our favorite Pinots ever. Drew always takes care of us and has so many gems to share available bout the property and its’ breathtaking garden designed by Kate Frey who has won awards and worked on gardens through Saudi Arabia to London and Malaysia. It shows. Most of the menu items include the edible flowers and herbs from the garden which is just another plus for Lynmar. They have a stunning redwood grove with a pizza oven where they hold events and parties as well if you can ever get yourself to leave the garden.
There you have it. The top 6 wineries you must see in Russian River Valley. There are so many more famous wineries and vineyards to be seen on the region but these few hold something special (and stunning!) to those that visit. If you end up visiting any, or have in the past, I’d love to hear your experiences!