I first started visiting the Russian River Valley when I moved to Sacramento in the early 1990’s, and have developed an absolute affinity for the beauty of the area that is best experienced through a slow drive along Westside Road. Here, there’s a good chance you can stop in at a world class winery like Rochioli and have the tasting room all to yourself. A stark contrast to Napa, where the valley has become overrun by tour buses, limousines and packed tastings rooms with a $20 tasting fee.
Earlier this month my wife and I made a long overdue visit to the region, taking the opportunity to visit some of our favorite wineries.
Our first visit was to the new Kosta Browne Winery in The Barlow. Located in downtown Sebastopol, The Barlow aims to bring together some of the best winemakers and food producers in a thoughtful, creative space. The new Kosta Browne facility can only be described as state of the art, and no expense has been spared in creating a fantastic environment for making wine and hosting guests.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to taste through the 2011 Appellation wines. For me, the Russian River Valley bottling stole the show, but the Sonoma Coast and Santa Lucia wines are close behind. If you skipped the 2011 Kosta Browne appellation wines due to vintage concerns you made a poor decision. We also tried the soon to be released ’11 Keefer and Gaps Crown. The Keefer had great red fruits and a tremendous bouquet, while the Gaps Crown had darker fruits and will certainly need some time in the cellar to truly shine. I plan on buying my entire allocation of the ’11 appellation. Finally, we tried several ’12 barrel samples.
Beg, borrow or steal to get an allocation of the ’12 Kosta Browne lineup.
The next stop marked our first visit to the new Williams Selyem winery on Westside Road – another absolutely breathtaking winery. At a sit-down tasting we tried several older bottles including a 2004 Allen Vineyard Chardonnay, ’08 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, ’08 Vista Verde Vineyard Pinot Noir and a ’10 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir. The wines were gorgeous and I immediately regretted not buying previous vintages of Bucher. The Bucher Vineyard is in the epicenter of great Russian River Valley vineyards right near Rochioli, Allen and the Williams Selyem Estate.
Finally, we were treated to some winery-only offerings including the ’08 Haystack Peak Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the ’08 Drake Estate Vineyard Brut Blanc De Noir. The Cabernet Sauvignon has to be one of the better California Cabernets I’ve had this year. The wine is a rarity and priced as such at $175 per bottle. My wife smartly picked up a magnum of the sparkling wine that was a bargain at $100.
Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
Our last stop was Rochioli, for the past two decades my all-time favorite winery. I’m somewhat amazed that the tasting room is even open to the public considering the five year wait for an allocation of their single vineyard wines.
There’s usually only a few wines open in the tasting room: On this visit we got to try the 2012 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, ’11 Estate Valdiguié and ’12 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir. All the wines hit the spot on an 80 degree afternoon. As with past trips to Rochioli, we brought a picnic and purchased a bottle to enjoy on the beautiful flagstone terrace overlooking the vineyard. I could visit here every year and it would never get old.
I am more excited than ever about the wines coming out of these three iconic Russian River Valley wineries and can’t wait to visit again.
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