The Russian River’s New Crop of Wineries

On our third annual trek to Sonoma County, my husband and I finally took the time to go wine tasting. What we found there is so far from what I remember, it was a quintessential ‘not in Kansas anymore’ experience.

Many wineries have changed hands in the past three years; some of them in the past six months.The biggest changes are seen on Westside Road, my all-time favorite winery drive, which stretches from Healdsburg to Forestville. Five long-established wineries have new owners and new names, and one rose organically. Having worked at several of them, visiting was a like taking sentimental journey. So much gossip to catch up on.

Our first stop was at Twomey Cellars, just south of Healdsburg. Here’s their backstory: Twomey is owned by the Duncan family. Ray Duncan had been partners with Justin Meyer in the creation of Silver Oak Cellars, the famous cabernet house known for its five year oak aging program. Twomey and Myers started Silver Oak in the Napa Valley town of Oakville, but in 1994 they spread to Sonoma County, buying the English manor-style Lythe Winery, north of Geyserville. I once worked there as a temp when Silver Oak first took it over.

The Duncan family bought this modernistic Westside Road facility from Roshambo in July of 2007. (Roshambo has a tasting room in Sonoma and will soon open a new winery nearby). The building’s sweeping forms and expansive windows continue to offer a jet-age atmosphere. The long tasting bar faces a window that reveals a panoramic view of the upper Russian River Valley. From behind your glass, you can watch airplanes taking off from Sonoma County airport.

And whom did we find working at the counter? None other than Ramana Behrens, the tasting room manager at Silver Oak in Geyserville when I worked there in 1994. I recognized her right away and was surprised when she remembered me. “I can’t believe I’ve been with them for 17 years,” she said. “It’s just a great company to work for.”

In Napa, Twomey is all about merlot, and Silver Oak remains a cabernet house. But here, in Russian River, Twomey is all about Pinot Noir and their dedication shows. Awesome grapes from a Forestville vineyard give the 2006 Russian River Pinot beautiful depth and complexity. The perfume on the nose is intoxicating enough to forgo sipping and the warm red fruit is perfectly balanced with French oak. I was very impressed. Not expensive for a wine of this quality, it sells for $50 at the winery with a six-bottle limit.

Next time, I’ll tell you about our visit to Matrix, owners of the old Rabbit Ridge winery.

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.