California,  Musings,  Wine

Musings: Winter WINEland 2018

Say you’ll be wine…

It’s a little too early to say this was an early Valentine’s Day celebration, but I’m going with it — cause it works well for this post! Last year, we experienced the Lodi Wine & Chocolate weekend. This was the weekend prior to Valentine’s Day. This year, we celebrated a month early and wandered through the Winter Wineland event, put on my Wine Road, which is in the Russian River Valley area.

To be honest, I had nothing to do with planning this on our calendar. Our general house rule is if you add an event to our shared calendar (thanks, iPhone life) and there isn’t already something there, it’s your ‘time’ for the taking. And let’s be honest, J never really adds anything, since I keep him busy with all my activities. But, he happened to secure a weekend for us to get away and visit friends in Santa Rosa. Sadly, I had to miss a couple of events that weekend, but the rules are the rules.

Winter WINEland runs for both weekend days, 11AM-4PM each day. The bagillion wineries involved run along the ‘Wine Road’ along the Northern Sonoma County. And because I am NO wine snob, I don’t truly understand exactly what this means, but it seems like a selling point, so I thought I’d share this tidbit from their website: “All participating wineries will highlight a Vintage, Varietal or Vertical tasting for the weekend.” Some wineries would have tastings too. They offered weekend tickets, Sunday only tickets, and Designated Driver tickets. They were pretty specific about a few rules. For example, NO KIDS! HAHA, I thought it was a little hilarious how many times they said it, but I get it. Their sentiment for dogs was the same too. There was also wineries that wouldn’t accept buses with 8+ people. All understandable rules for the event, but the fact they spelled it out multiple times, means over 26 years of this event it was needed.

Since we were with Russian River Valley experts, we let them drive the show — literally and figuratively.  The event allowed each winery to have 50 check-ins. We let our friends choose where we started and went all day. They did ask our input, but other than saying we prefer reds, we didn’t truly have a preference in where or what we did for our day.

Balletto Winery – This by far was our favorite winery and the only winery we bought anything from. Our friends selected this area because they knew it wouldn’t be as crowded, unlike the Healdsburg area. From the storage area that was decorated super cute to their actual tasting room, the experience was lovely. Also, a great way to be introduced to the event. When we walked in, we were greeted by two women manning the check-in process. They took our tickets and gave us wristbands. The designated driver had his own color. Our event wine glasses already had our first tasting poured into them, waiting for us. Our DD had a plethora of drinks to choose from and he also got a really awesome mug. It should be noted, we saw at a different winery that there was another style of mug — his was better 😉 They served kale and sausage soup, but none of us partook. We did take some pics with their cutely, winter-inspired decor! Into the tasting room, we went. It was crowded, but they had different spots to visit. We ended up grabbing a quick tasting, then headed to the main tasting area and met the sweetest woman who was so informative. This is the only spot that grows their own grapes. The field workers requested a baseball field on the grounds and the owner granted it to them, but they had to build it. It’s the only field on a vineyard to MLB size standards. It’s considered one of the ‘Field of Dreams’ across the nation. They showcase a gorgeous pic of it on their TV. We all really liked the wines here, we each bought a bottle. The grounds were cute, but we didn’t enjoy their outdoor seating.

Fog Crest Vineyard – This one was our second favorite. It had a beautiful balcony/patio on its property and the view was beyond gorgeous. The wine was okay, but nothing I remember being too excited by. We took our last tasting outside and hung out for awhile. We all sat and lounged, chatting, while enjoying the gorgeous view. Unfortunately, J found the chair that had some water on it and was not too happy about that. Good thing the heating lamps, which were scorching my dome, kept him warm and dried him up real quick. We all got a good laugh out of that one. Great experience had here.

Taft Street Winery – Just down the street from Fog Crest, so we popped on in. Their tasting room is super small and essentially a garage. Their theme is a garage and they even use a French word, garagistes, for their naming properties. The garage is an important theme because their wine was first made in a garage in Oakland, CA. Here’s a little tidbit I just looked up on Wikipedia: The garagistes refers to a group of winemakers in the Bordeaux region, producing “Vins de garage“, “Garage wine”. So, there you have it. Their wall is painted so they can write with chalk on it. One side has their varietals and the other has a large map of the region. It’s a cool little touch. All the furniture tie into the garage theme too. We really enjoyed our convo with the employee here. She was sweet and super knowledgeable about the area, their wine, and the history of the winery. We didn’t really dig the wine, but we enjoyed our visit here. They also have a patio with umbrellas, if one were to stop and enjoy snacks. We decided to snack soon, but not yet.

Dutton Estate Winery – Before we could even experience the winery, we ran into the cutest tractor that was definitely NOT going to be passed up for photo opportunities. Even J got in on the action! They had props, which the 20-year-olds in M and I loved! We also stopped here, since we knew they’d be serving some bites. They ended up serving Mama D’s Chili. It has beans, so I didn’t really eat all of mine. They also had fresh baguette sliced, so I dipped mine in my chili to try the soup-ish part. J quickly took mine off my hands. Then we went inside, as it slightly died down and we tasted. I spotted mini, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. We asked for some during our tasting and he totally sent let us have one. Just one each 😉

Sunce Winery & Vineyards– We had to stop and it by this point. Even though we stopped for some Chili, it was just a taste. Luckily, we came prepared. We had a basket full of stuff…BUT, they served clam chowder in bread bowl here. They were so generous with their ‘bite!’ We sat on one of the picnic tables that were right next to the bocce ball court. It was such a lovely day, that although brisk, the sun warmed us up immediately. After we scarfed down all the goodies, we joined the group outside who were going to do a blind taste test. I hesitantly joined this party, but who cares really, it was just for fun. I say that as I recollect my score 1/5 I think. After all of this, we went to the winery and partook in some wine tasting. It was a great place to stop and take a food break, but also their generosity and hospitality were on point!

Hook & Ladder Winery – This place was crowded, more crowded than any other venue we visited for the day. They had a large, long table for tasting. The theme was dedicated to the fireman, with posters and paraphernalia of the likes. We snagged a tasting spot at the end of the table, but it wasn’t as intimate as we’d experienced during the entirety of our day.

Harvest Moon Winery – This was our last stop. There were only about 15 to 20 minutes left for the event. When we originally walked in it looked super crowded. The pros knew what was up and took us out to the little courtyard. There were picnic tables with benches, a fountain, an outdoor pizza oven, and a lovely view of the vineyard. They had a tasting station set-up out here. We knew this would be our last stop, as the event was ending for the day. Within the span of twenty or thirty minutes, as the sun was starting to fall, it felt like the weather dropped at least ten degrees. Our tastings were done and we were starting to get cold. We chatted with our server for a quick second, then we decided this was a great way to end our experience on the Wine Road.

Love being able to try new events that involve wine and good friends. Every time we come out here, we always have a great experience. There are so many tasting opportunities along the Wine Road and in the area, it really should be taken advantage of. Despite the horrendous fires that happened just a few short months ago, this town seems to be thriving and supporting the community. I’m glad to see it doing well and we’ll definitely be back for the wine…and the hospitality!

What can I say, we enjoy celebrating love with wine!

Leave a Reply