This is a big weekend. Dan and I are combining Russian River / Passport to Pinot festival with my friend Speedo’s 50th birthday weekend. The birthday party is down near the Sonoma Square, but the wine festival is up in Russian River. So that’s where our hotel was. A wee bit of driving involved..but we can do it!
Friday, June 8 – small bbq party at the Sonoma house
I started off the day being convinced that a blood clot had formed post vein surgery from earlier in the year. I had all the usual symptoms, so off to my vascular surgeons office I went (this is the ‘awful’ view from their office). I saw Scott, the same tech that’s been helping/scanning my legs for years. He said I was totally clear. Phew! I thought for sure I was going to get checked into the hospital straight away. Now I can relax and I don’t have to miss our super fun weekend.
Friday, en route to Sonoma, I get a frantic text from Speedo…no one brought any veggies… just meat. lol. Dan and I stopped at Safeway on the way up and picked up some grill friendly veggies like corn, peppers, etc. We got stuck in some wicked traffic, and we finally made it up there sometime after 9pm. But we arrived just in time. The food was just finishing…and man did everyone had a major head start on the alcohol. It was quite hilarious. Speedo was still maintaining, but a bunch of his old friends were not. We sat down outside to a lovely BBQ dinner, complete with nice, robust red wines to pair. Our friend Marc always brings the great stuff! That wine was certainly coming out tonight and not for the free for all pool party tomorrow.
After dinner, we headed indoors to keep the noise down. And finished up one last glass of wine before Dan and I had to hit the road to our hotel in Santa Rosa.
Saturday, June 9 – Passport to Pinot & Speedo’s Pool Party
We woke up bright and early to get a head start on the day. We hit one of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau’s breakfast recommendations, the Dierk’s Parkside Cafe in Santa Rosa. Great breakfast and way to fill up before drinking wine all day. If you are a Pinot Noir fan, this festival is an excellent way to get introduced to the delicious variety up in Russian River, Sonoma. The festival is annually in early June. Make your plans for next year! Pinot is certainly the focus, but most of the wineries are also pouring other varietals.
Our first stop on our passport was Dutton-Goldfield Winery. The focus of the day is certainly going to be on Pinot. And they make it quite well. Many of their small lot wines have received 90+ points. They are also well known for their Chardonnays.
We had to keep a fairly tight schedule, which I never do well with in wine country, since we wanted to get to the Speedo party by 2ish.
Next we ventured out to Hartford Family Winery. The winery looks like a house on the outside. Very neat and well kept. They had a good party atmosphere complete with music and good food pairings for the wines they were pouring. They make this beautiful Pinot called Velvet Sisters. This is a must try! We sampled wines and food pairings and spoke with some winery folks and went on our way.
Next up was Iron Horse Vineyards. This one is a little trickier to find, and oh my is it ever worth it! This place is up on a mini hill, so you get spectacular views from up there. Not only do they make Pinot, but they have a load of sparkling too! How did this slip past me all these years??? Now I must spread the word. I could have hung out up there all day. But alas, we had to depart to make the party.
The drive down towards the Sonoma square was longer than I thought it would be. Thankfully Dan was driving. He was saving his drinking until the party. We arrived a bit after 2 and the party was in full swing. It was a hot day, lots of people in the pool. Probably about 30 or 40 people were there. I mostly hung out with old friend JB, Big Daddy and Dan… and Speedo of course when I could. Dan, Big Daddy, me and some very drunk chick jumped onto the bocce ball court to try our hand at some bocce. Dan and I were pretty much kicking ass. So I decided to make it drunk bocce to give our drunk friends a chance. Throw between the legs, over the shoulder, etc. Good times. Dan and I still won though.
It was getting on to 7pm and there was a large group reservation down at Hop Monk in the Square. Eventually everyone got over there and we waited, and waited and waited. Well…I was fading and made the executive decision to bail. We jumped in the car and pulled a Houdini. On the drive back up to Santa Rosa, we passed by the Kenwood Restaurant and it didn’t look too busy. We got the last seating and had a lovely, quiet dinner. The perfect end to our hectic day.
Sunday, June 10 – Passport to Pinot Day 2 & party
Another day in Russian River, and another day of Pinot Noir tasting. We decided to venture out of Santa Rosa to try something different for breakfast. We stumbled upon this cute place in Sebastopol called Hole in the Wall. It looked pretty good…so we gave it a try. AWESOME. This is a great hidden little gem. If you find yourself wine tasting in or around Sebastopol, this is a must. After getting our base, we ventured out to day two. We had a few suggestions from folks we spoke with at the wineries yesterday.
We headed to Sunce Winery first. This place is very friendly. Possibly the friendliest winery I’ve ever been too. I liked the wines, didn’t love them, but liked them. They do have an awful lot to choose from, so you are bound to find something you like here…whites and reds. It wasn’t as stunning as the other properties either…but again, super nice people here. They literally wanted me to taste everything they made. I tasted as much as I could and I liked their Sangiovese the best.
On the way to the next winery, we crossed this very cool looking old bridge that’s one of those one way bridges. Only one car can pass at a time. If you drive around in Russian River, you will find several of these.
Next we went up the road to Thomas George Estates. This modern winery hasn’t been around that long, but it doesn’t show in their wine. Even the barrel wine tasted good, and I don’t normally like barrel wine. I enjoyed many of their Pinots. I’ll have to go back and taste their other wines. Esthetically this place is a stunner. Brilliant wine caves, decorated with some serious style. You can either taste out in the tasting caves, buy a bottle and hang outside and appreciate the scenery, or head indoors to the main tasting area. Either way, you cannot go wrong. This is a hidden gem for sure. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the driveway.
Just around the bend from Thomas George Estates you’ll find Arista Winery. Not to be confused with Artesa (trust me…I mix them up all the time). These are very different wineries. Arista is a real family affair. From the dad who’s passed the winemaking reins to his sons, to the mom that’s just there helping out where she can. I loved this place instantly. I spend a good while chatting with the winemaker, Mark. Their wines were tasting great, even in the ridiculous heat! They set up the Pinot Event tasting outside and out back to open up space. This too is a beautiful setting. Maybe you’re getting tired of me saying that…but these really are magnificent. Another winner…I’ll be back here to taste more of their wines as well.
I also met a fun couple, Darryl and Christine, who run a website called WineLuv (like Groupon for wine)…I’ll have to check that out. They invited me to their weekly wine tasting event at the Four Seasons…that I will need to check out too!
Due to my inability to get in and out of a winery in less than 1.5 hours, we were now officially out of time. It was time for the event to end and for us to make a move back to the city. The final part of Speedo’s birthday weekend was a party down at District later that night. We have just enough time to get home, get cleaned up and head to the party.
The usually suspects were there. A handful of the people from the Sonoma house and whole bunch more. I hung out mostly with Serge, his wife Mayra, Dan, JB and Big Daddy. My 40th birthday party in a few weeks will undoubtedly look similar.