Our first full day in California was action packed to say the least! From our hotel in Sonoma we headed north towards Sebastopol and into the Russian River Valley – renowned for its Pinot Noir. Our first stop was DRNK wines, run by the young Ryan Kunde of the famous eponymous family wine estate. This was a small operation of about 2000 cases and with an amazing cellar that had been dug out of the hillside by one of the original Channel Tunnel excavators.
We had a brisk start as we tasted 10 wines in quick succession with the main focus being on Pinot Noir, but also encompassing Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Syrah and a red blend. Ryan was engaging and knowledgeable – as you might expect from a scion of a long established wine family. The Pinot Noirs were exceptional.
We then headed south to the Petaluma Gap and another tiny winery called Azari Vineyards. Only 2500 cases are produced so it’s definitely classified as boutique. The delightful Cyrus Azari hosted our visit and we combined some superb wines with a selection of delicious pizzas. Cyrus skilfully managed to combine pizza preparation and discussion of his wines without missing a beat. Homemade dough, his mother’s tomato sauce and an outdoor pizza oven made this a rather wonderful experience. We also took a trip into the small winery where we got some first-hand experience of punching down some freshly picked grapes.
From Azari it was a short hop to Sonoma Portworks in Santa Rosa. As the name suggests, this is an operation that focusses solely on fortified wines and is considered niche to say the least. Bill and Caryn hosted an exceptional visit that combined an eclectic selection of fortified wines with some outstanding cheese and chocolate pairings. Fortified wines made from Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and a sherry style Palomino were exceptional. We were all blown away by a mature cheddar brushed with lavender and espresso coffee. Bizarre but it worked! A very different but highly enjoyable finish to our first day.