Saturday, May 24, 2014

Local is Knowledge: Exploring the Russian River Valley with Wine Cube Tours

For the next day of our Vines to Vinos Tour Kelly and I drove southward through Sonoma County to the Russian River Valley AVA.  As the mercury dropped from the warm toastiness of the
Raymond Rolander of Wine Cube Tours
Alexander Valley to cooler coastal climates, the leaves danced along the road so they shadowed waves barrel rolling in a grassy ocean.

The Russian River Valley has a characteristically cool climate, by virtue of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.  The weather here is heavily influenced by the cooling effect of the evening fog flowing in from the Pacific Ocean only a few miles West through the Petaluma Gap and up the Russian River.  The fog drops temperatures up to 40 degrees, allowing full grape maturity over an extended period of time, while simultaneously preserving crucial natural acidity. 
With over 15,000 acres of grapevines planted, there is a broad range of wines from the Russian River Valley.  The weather, along
with its famous Goldridge Loam (Loam is soil composed mostly of sand and silt, and a smaller amount of clay) converge, creating a phenomenal region for cool climate grape varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 
Iron Horse Vineyard
This is not an AVA known for “Butter Balls” or “Oak Bombs.”  This style of Chardonnay has (for the most part) been replaced by a leaner, crisper, more sophisticated, fruit-forward wines with a palette ranging from pear and apple to peach and nectarine, often with overtones of Meyer lemon.

Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and for this reason this native of the Burgundy region of France achieves greatness in only a handful of places worldwide; luckily the Russian River Valley is one of those places!!! 
Russian River Vineyards

The perfect Pinot climate combined with an amazing complexity of
soil types, results in wines that reflect their individual sites but share a common intention.  In the Russian River Valley, aromas tend to be bright and focused fruit, ranging from wild strawberries and raspberries to red and black cherries.  Notes of cola and baking spices are also standard.

Our tour guide through this cooler climate AVA (as introduced to us by the Sonoma Wine Road) was Raymond Rolander of Wine Cube Tours.  This grinning bearded guy in pageboy cap knows where to go and what to drink in the Russian River Valley.  Driving around wine country in his Nissan Cube, Sonoma Magazine referred to Raymond as “a one man Uber.” 
The Wine Guerilla
A native of Sonoma County, Raymond’s a former tasting room manager with a decade of bar work under his belt.  With all that knowledge, he’s gained a unique perspective of what guest are looking.  Raymond’s fun, compact (it can seat up to 4 guests), and economical car provided us with an almost 360 degree view as we zipped through the back roads of the Russian River Valley.

Rolander tailors all tours based on whatever you want in wine, experience, and location preferences in a fun and 100% worry free environment.  With a catchphrase of: local is knowledge, he specializes in access to small, off the beaten path producers of wine, cheese and olive oil while serving up a side order of local

history.  Rolander quite mobile as he covers both Sonoma and Napa (he does about a 80/20 split between the former and the later).  Upon request, he’ll even enhance your day with a local farm,
Tree Hugger Kelly at Armstrong Redwoods
cheese and/or olive oil production tour.  

Our day with Raymond consisted of four unique Russian River Valley wineries (which will be fleshed out in detail in coming posts!).  Our first stop was the sparkling wine gurus Iron Horse Vineyards and their outdoor tasting room.  Next was the Russian River Vineyard, their bat-housing chateau like Hop House, and their delicious Corks Restaurant located in a historic 1890s farmhouse.  In the afternoon we continued our tour with a

Zinfandel only based winery the Wine Guerillia in the tiny hamlet of Forrestville.  This was followed by Hartford Family Winery, a family owned winery that specializes in single vineyard Chards and Pinots.  To finish off the day we drove through Armstrong Woods, an 805 acre California State Park of the magnificent Sequoia Sempervirens (aka the coastal redwood).

It was a perfect day of beauty: of bucolic landscapes, bright and brainy teachers, and bewitching bottles for as Rolander noted, “an open bottle, is an empty bottle.”

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