Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sonoma County, Part 1: The Wineries

I am finally going to begin to attack our trip to California wine country, but it took me a while to decide how to do it. Because we visited 22 wineries over 4 days of tasting, a blog entry per day seemed overwhelming and not entirely helpful, so I’m going to divide it up a different way. Today’s post will be dedicated to our favorite wineries that we visited – one per day of wine tasting that we did. My evaluation of these wineries is not solely based on the wine but also on our experience at the winery and the tasting room, scenery, etc. There were previous few wineries where we had even mediocre, let alone bad, experiences, so this is not an easy list to compile.

Day 1: Michel-Schlumberger

Unfortunately, we didn’t take any pictures here, but this was, by far, our favorite wine tasting experience of the day. We were welcomed into a beautiful tasting room set up like a restaurant with individual tables. If it had been just slightly warmer, they also have outdoor areas available for tasting. Our pourer was extremely friendly and generous with the pours, and the wines were outstanding. We saw many wine club members come up to taste and pick up their wines, and they obviously had rapport with the staff at the winery. Michel-Schlumberger is an organic producer in Dry Creek Valley, close to Healdsburg. We just stopped in and did a basic tasting, but they also offer a variety of tours. We were all set to join their wine club, but they do not yet ship to Tennessee.

Day 2: Arista Winery


I suppose it was a good omen when we pulled into the parking lot at Arista and saw a beautiful rainbow. Fortunately for us, we found the pot of gold at the end of it when we walked into Arista. With a fire blazing in the fireplace and a dog sprawled out on the floor, the tasting room felt incredibly homey. After pouring us our first taste of pinot gris, our pourer, Gabriel, encouraged us to check out the Japanese gardens around the property. The landscaping was stunning with lots of benches and picnic tables spread out for enjoying your wine and food. Given the landscape, it was no surprise that they do a bustling wedding business. It was a little chilly to enjoy our wine outside, so we headed back in by the fire to taste the rest. Arista specializes in pinot noir, and we loved nearly everything we tasted. The atmosphere in the tasting room was convivial, and we talked to several of the other couples. They do not have a wine club but instead offer their wines for sale on a mailing list. The catch? There is a wait to even get on the mailing list! We did sign up for the wait though. Between the wines, the landscape, and the company, Arista was our favorite tasting experience of Day 2.

Day 3: Stryker Sonoma


For all of the planning that we had done and the friends we had consulted, sometimes you have to just point at a map and say, “Let’s try this one.” We were interested in hitting up some Alexander Valley wineries after sticking to mostly Dry Creek and Russian River appellations, so we looked at the map, and I picked out Stryker Sonoma based on the little blurb that their building had won accolades for its architecture. Sure enough, the building was beautifully designed with windows in the tasting room that opened right up onto the vineyards. Around this time, I decided it might be a good idea to check in to the wineries we were visiting on Foursquare. Stryker happened to have a deal for a free tasting if you tweeted your check-in. I appreciate social media-savvy companies and have since had further interactions with Stryker on Twitter. Our pourer was very involved and let us try far more than the tastings our free tasting allowed, pouring us wines based on what we had said we liked and didn’t like. Overall, we were very impressed with the wines, the setting, and the attention we were given at Stryker Sonoma.

Day 4: Paradise Ridge Winery


After doing some sleuthing online, I chose Paradise Ridge as our first winery of day 4. You can imagine that our palates were a little bit tired at this point, but Yelp reviews told me that Paradise Ridge had beautiful views, and they did not disappoint. Additionally, mentioning Yelp netted us more free tastings! We would drink much better wines later that day, but the overall experience at Paradise Ridge was the best. Like Arista, Paradise Ridge also does a lot of weddings. They were setting up their tasting room for their post-Thanksgiving holiday open house, but our pourer at the bar area was very friendly and knowledgeable, also pouring us additional wines that he thought we would enjoy. Even though it was a bit chilly, the day was clear, and the deck overlooked the vineyards and Santa Rosa, making for great photo ops. Its location, close to Santa Rosa, is also very convenient. Our favorite wines would come later in the day, but the views and service at Paradise Ridge made it worth the visit.