Beautiful sunshine greeted us for another full day on our California wine tour. DRNK wines were our destination for our first visit. Situated near Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley, the winemaker is Ryan Kunde and he has created a boutique operation that makes around 3000 cases, sourcing fruit from a mix of family estates. They don’t own any vineyards themselves. We settled into their cave – which was a series of tunnels dug into the hillside by one of the original Channel tunnel excavators. Ryan hosted a terrific tasting that comprised nine wines – a diverse mix of whites and reds but majoring on some seriously good Pinot Noir – reflecting the reputation that Russian River has secured.
From Sebastopol we headed south to Azari Vineyards in Petaluma. This is very much a developing area for wine within the Sonoma Coast AVA with just a few growers so far. Cyrus Azari hosted us and a particularly fun time was had by all. Despite the catastrophe of the pizza oven not firing up, we tucked into an extensive selection of cheese and tasted through his wines. The big excitement was in the winery as there was plenty going on. We got some first-hand experience in pigeage or ‘punching down’ the cap of a fermenting vat, and then we tasted some cloudy Riesling which had literally just finished fermenting, followed by some Petite Sirah in a similar state. Cyrus was a great host and it was really useful to see some winemaker operations at first hand.
Our final stop was at the amazing Sonoma Portworks right in the town of Petaluma itself. We met owners Bill and Caryn Reading and it was another fascinating insight into the diversity of the Sonoma wine industry. One of only a tiny number of producers who specialise in fortified wine, it is a small but very high quality operation. Using well known grape varieties such as Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and fortifying with an aged Solera style spirit, the wines were exceptional. Bill also took us behind the scenes where we tasted some just fortified Petite Sirah and aw various wines in different stages of development. This was something really different and was much appreciated.