Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
Napa Valley has been in the news this week, as an earthquake shook up local residents and visitors alike in the wee hours last Sunday morning. My husband, traveling alone this time, happened to be about seven miles from the epicenter at a lovely bed and breakfast. He was pleased to report that everyone was still open for business and ready to welcome guests. Only about a dozen wineries reported significant structural damage according to Napa Valley tourism officials (some bottles and wine were lost, however).
On our last family trip, we decided to explore another part of Wine Country, the Russian River, near Sonoma. As we turned off the main road into the Russian River area, we found the geography to be very different than in other parts of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The redwoods and other dense tree cover loomed up on both sides of the two-lane road.
Our destination this time: a charming yellow Victorian house right on Austin Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, where we spent a few days enjoying the vineyards and other attractions. I often check out VRBO.com for houses or apartments to rent before I check hotels, because we love to set up house when we travel. Our house was named the Big Easy, and it was decorated in a jazzy, New Orleans style with all the comforts of home and an eight-person hot tub that reminded us we were indeed in California. The rental prices were cheaper in this part of the Valley, and we were within reach of several of my favorite wine areas, most notably the Dry Creek appellation, where they produce my very favorite—rich, plummy zinfandels. My goal was to spend at least one completely “zinful” day, tasting the best of the best.
The nearest food essentials were up the road about six miles at the Cazdero General Store. We got milk, bread and a couple bottles of local wine. A wonderful local restaurant in nearby Guernville, the Applewood Inn and Spa, allowed us to bring our Russian River wine to enjoy at dinner with no corkage charge. The charming pink building looks like a wonderfully romantic place to stay. On Sunday nights they offer a Russian River prix fixe three-course menu for $35, a huge bargain for a marvelous meal.
For coffee, we drove down to the tiny town of Duncan’s Mills, which got is start in 1877 as a sawmill supplying the growing city of San Francisco. The Gold Coast Coffee and Bakery served the coffee drink of your dreams using coffee beans roasted on site. I had to sample a bear claw baked in their authentic wood fired oven. The chocolate croissants reminded us of Paris. We picked up lunch across the street at the Cape Fear Café, where they graciously packed our food to go, so we could eat while enjoying the sand and the surf on the beach. The blue Pacific Ocean was just 10 miles from our rental house.
The main event was a day of wine tasting. The Russian River meanders through California’s Sonoma County creating a special microclimate that grows some of the best California Zinfandel grapes. In the Russian River Valley, new Zinfandel plantings have joined old vines planted in the late 1800s. The long, cool growing season produces some superb wines. The region is also known for its Pinot Noirs, which is my husband’s favorite flavor.
As previously advertised, I’m a Zin gal, however, and nearby Dry Creek didn’t disappoint. With well over a century of continuous cultivation, Zinfandel is Dry Creek Valley’s cultural heritage and its signature winegrape. Ridge Lytton Springs, Unti, A. Rafanelli, Seghesio, and my new personal favorite, Passalacqua Winery, all beckoned…so much wine, so little time!