Flying Tails: Russian River Valley

Bay Area

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY (KRON) – It is crush time in wine country, one of the favorite times of the year for wine fans.

In this edition of Flying Tails, we head to the Russian River Valley.

The plane is still in the shop waiting for a new propellor and can’t fly into Healdsburg or Santa Rosa airports, so we hit the road to one of the most famous pinot noir areas on earth, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.

First stop: A small winery outside of Sebastopol called Cartograph.

“This is exactly what we’re looking for. nice tight little cluster. These teeny berries. You’ve got good skin to juice ratio,” Alan Baker, Cartograph Wines, said.

Alan Baker and his wife Serena Lourie are living their winemaking dream with their own small vineyard.

It’s off the beaten path where you can watch and listen and hear almost nothing.

This year’s grapes are looking pretty good.

“Your flavors coming from the skins, not the juice. That’s why wine grapes tend to be teeny like this cuz you get more skin and more character out of the grape into the wine,” Baker said.

Serena puts out her tasty goodies, including homegrown olive oil. 

All of it found in their tasting room in downtown Healdsburg.

The harvest, or crush as winemakers call it, is the busiest time of year.

“We’re starting to pick at 2 am. We’re done with pick by 7. We’re on the crush pad and then I have to be at the tasting room by noon,” Serena Lourie, Cartograph Wines, said. 

Our next stop is at one of the premier wineries in all of Russian River, Gary Farrel, recently named one of the top 100 wineries by wine and spirits magazine.

The winery is bustling.

Young interns from Italy and Australia are helping move the grapes from the bins to the press.

It’s a highly synchronized dance, moving grapes from vine to barrel within a few hours.

Gary Farrell and the Russian River are especially known for pinot noir.

This wine pairs really well with dishes such as seared duck breast, truffle risotto, and cedar plank salmon. 

Gary Farrell grows its own grapes but also purchases some from other vineyards, including Rochioli, just five miles up Westside Road along the Russian River.

Tom Rochioli is continuing the family wine legacy started by his grandfather.

“This is my 35th year of actually making wine. I’m starting to get the hang of it,” Tom Rochioli, Rochioli Vineyards, said. 

Some of the vines are especially thick and gnarled. Some were planted 60 years ago and are still producing.

Tom also says this year’s grapes are better than usual.

“Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir all have ripened beautifully so I’m very happy with this year,”Rochioli said.

It’s always fun to start out with some bubbles

The Rochioli family story is best heard on the patio a place to stretch out and enjoy the views and see step by step how those grapes end up in your glass.

Our dog Mango came along for the trip, but be sure to call ahead to see if the winery you visit is pet-friendly.

Many places will allow pets outside in patio areas.

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