Riding Out of Santa Rosa

The ins and outs of the Russian River Valley


When we last left off, we had completed a loop of northeastern Sonoma, leaving a lot of unexplored country out there! Today’s trip will lead us out of Santa Rosa heading to the west, right smack dab through the famous Russian River Valley!

Any visit to Sonoma wouldn’t be complete without a look at some of the truly iconic regions, and the Russian River Valley certainly qualifies. This rather large region was -- not surprisingly -- settled by Russian immigrants, who brought us the eponymous river and towns such as Sebastopol, home to many a fine winery.

Photo of vineyards above Christopher Creek Winery off Limerick Lane
By: Joe Becerra, Wine Country Getaways
The Russian River was dominated by lofty redwoods until the second half of the 19th century, when railroads sliced their way through the primeval forests, allowing for the easy transport of lumber, and facilitating the transformation of the region from woodlands to orchards.

The region was originally thought to be too cold for grapevines destined for wine production; the vestiges of the original orchards and vegetable farms still dot the Russian River Valley. Over the past 4 decades, however, the region has gained recognition for its myriad prime vineyard sites.

Heading west out of Santa Rosa on the Luther Burbank Memorial Highway, aka SR 12, leads us right into Sebastapol. Hang a right on Main St. (aka 116) and head north, you'll see the name change to Healdsburg Ave before turning into Gravenstein Highway North, a testament to the influence of the region's apple-farming roots!

Dutton Goldfield

It’s not far along 116 before we hit Graton road, and just to the west the town of Graton, home to Dutton Goldfield. A relatively new operation, Dutton Goldfield traces its roots back to co-proprietor Steve Dutton’s father Warren.

Warren was a pioneer in the region, first planting wine grapes in the mid 1960’s and slowly expanding to over a thousand acres of vineyards through the Russian River Valley. With assets like that it’s no surprise that Steve took the plunge, joining forces with UC Davis-trained, Robert Mondavi and Schramsberg-alum Dan Goldfield.

Together the duo has established Dutton Goldfield as a leading producer of cool climate Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

2007 Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch RRV Chardonnay  13.5%

Very intense notes of pine, ash, dried peach, with a touch of honey. This opens with lots of bright pineapple fruit in a lighter style that yields to a clean, brisk mid-palate with gentle shadings of cream, spice and even a touch of dried flowers that leads to a spicy, moderately long finish that finishes with a bit of orange cream and some baking spices from the wood, but no real overt woodiness. Well-done middle of the road style that is great on its own and would work well with a variety of cheeses. 91pts

2007 Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch RRV Pinot Noir 13.5%

This opens slowly on the nose, quite lightly red fruited at first with cola and spice tones, but gains a nice deeper, more cherried tone with some air. The palate mirrors the quick evolution of the nose. It starts out quite lean and yet sweetly-fruited revealing some spice tones on the mid-palate and gaining depth of fruit on the backend and through the moderately long finish, though with some air this really gains some intensity though never gets too big for its crisp acids and polished tannins. 92pts

When leaving Dutton Goldfield, take Route 116 north and leave the wine-lands behind for a while. There is so much natural beauty to see in this region that it’s worth taking a detour to enjoy it! A stop in Guerneville for lunch is convenient.  Pizza and great sandwiches can be had at the Main Street Station or if you’re good at planning, have the Applewood Inn prepare a picnic basket for your lunch and take it with you to either of the stunning parks further west! If you have the time, spend the night and enjoy dinner here, it’s really worth it.

While in the Russian River Valley one should really take the time to visit the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve and adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area. It's a glorious reminder of pristine wilderness that serves to remind us all what this region once was like, and how difficult the transition to today’s landscape must have been.

Heading further west you eventually come to the coast, a wonderfully rugged and unchanged expanse of Pacific coastline awaits you at the Sonoma Coast State Beach Park. A great place to enjoy that picnic lunch!

After lunch head up north on world famous California Highway 1 and soak in the fabulous coastal scenery until you come to the small town of Stewarts Points, home to a good ol’fashioned General Store!

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    We first visited Sbragia in 2007, soon after the winery was opened, with its spectacular view of the Sonoma Dam. We were most impressed by the Cabernets, Adolsen Vineyard in particular. Absolutely a must stop in Dry Creek (along with Raymond Burr Vineyards, maybe the friendliest winery there is!).

    Guy Gimson

    Jul 27, 2010 at 3:58 PM

  • Snooth User: JayGK
    541708 1

    Napa & Sonoma wines are overpriced.
    El Dorado, Amador and Calavaras counties are the new wave.

    Jul 27, 2010 at 5:31 PM

  • Snooth User: hgmachens
    519302 28

    The Paseo Robles wines are the BEST, and not expensive...Napa and the area are over priced, and when you have to PAy to sample their products, it's highway robbery......They want you to buy their product (Wine), so they shoudl give you all the tasting that you ask for...If it's good, you"ll buy it, if not, then just walk away....

    Jul 27, 2010 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    I agree with JayGK that (all) Napa and (some) Sonoma wines are overpriced, but El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras County wineries don't make the wines that Dry Creek does. Amador makes fabulous Zins and Rhone wines, such as Roussane, Viognier, Barbera and Grenache. My favorite wineries are Wilderotter and Jeff Runquist. Dry Creek, and Sbragia, is still worth visiting (free) for what they do best - Sauvignon Blanc, and Cab.

    Jul 27, 2010 at 6:24 PM

  • Had Sbragia Chardonnay AND Zin at Bistro Ralph in Healdsburg recently - both were wonderful and not at all horribly priced for restaurant wine. Agree that Paso Robles has some fantastic wine bargains and choice (not sure Amador has nearly the choice of Paso). Huge fan of Gelfand Vyds on the east-side of Paso who makes Petite Sirah that will leave your tongue purple for a week. Subtle? Not really, but if you like big flavor, well, Gelfand should have called it Grand Sirah. Drink with Paso style bbq-pit tri-tip.

    Jul 27, 2010 at 6:30 PM

  • Snooth User: twstdvn
    34423 2

    Funny how an article showcasing Sonoma County and SoCo’s wine road (Russian River, Dry Creek & Alexander Vly) garner comments directing folks to Paso or the Sierra Foothills. I agree that both regions offer guests a wonderful wine country experience; however are these regions really a much better value than the RRV? Too bad the writer didn’t include more boutique wineries that are found in RRV (& the wine road) who offer exceptional wines at a wonderful value - including Inspiration Vineyards found in Santa Rosa. One more note - on the World stage, Russian River Valley has almost the same name recognition as Napa and is ranked just under Sonoma County - prices in the RRV are much lower than those found in either app (Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley - yet, there probably is a reason why these wines are considered premium - because they are darned good!

    Jul 27, 2010 at 7:06 PM

  • One of the older families in Dry Creek is the Mounds Family in the upper reaches. Until recently they sold their grapes. Now they make great wines. We rented a cabin on the Russian River for $800 for the week which slept 8. Rustic, but adequate, especially with a grille and fire pit and canoe. After traveling through Sonoma each day checking out the wineries, we looked at our wine purchases and decided what food to pair with our wine acquisitions. Big John's Grocery in Healdsburg had the best food selections which we cooked on the grille, visited over the fire pit, and yes used our laptops with wireless reception via the cabin connection, around the fire pit. We had to use Satellite Radio to get music. We would spend around $60 per day for the four of us for food with wine extra. Our trip was around $1,500 for food and lodging and gas.

    Jul 27, 2010 at 8:44 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,227

    Nice trip. I was at Dutton Ranch this morning. Along that Gravenstein Hwy you passed Merry Edwards, Dutton Estate, Iron Horse and Russian River Vineyards before you hit Forestville. The next rt after Forestville, Martinelli Rd, would have brought you to Hartford Family Winery. Martinelli ends at River Rd. Turn left and along the way one can stop at and tour the F. Korbel and Sons Champagne Cellars just a few minutes before reaching the location of Armstrong woods. Further down River Rd in the Hamlet of Monte Rio is a great little Wine and cheese shop named Sophie's Cellars. All this before you even reach the coast.

    You actually drove Skaggs Springs Rd on a wine tour? At points it's a one lane logging road at best. Not for the timid. Very funny.

    All those nay sayers seem to have another agenda. ITB perhaps?

    Jul 27, 2010 at 8:51 PM

  • Snooth User: bibuloso
    372893 6

    I tasted a RRV Chardonnay - don't remember the cantina name - at Vinexpo 2007 (Bordeaux), and I still remember the rich palate and a delicate lingering flavour. I also remember the price --- $48 !! That is many times the price of a GOOD white bordeaux or other comparable vintage.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 4:34 AM

  • Snooth User: redrobbo
    317107 3

    My wife & I recently visited the area from the UK (along with Paso Robles,Lodi,Amador,Calaveros,Napa & Sonoma) and we really enjoyed Dry Creek Valley, loads of really good wineries, Sbragia was great with their Ginos Vineyard Zin being our favorite, we also bought the Dutcher Crossing Propreitor's Zin. We also loved Jacks Cabin Zin from Mauritson. We stayed at the Geyserville Inn which was lovely, and ate downtown at Catelli's, fantastic food,great wine, and lovely people make that place a "must do"!! I agree that Napa & Sonoma wines are overpriced but no one forces you to stop, taste,or buy them!

    Jul 28, 2010 at 1:44 PM

  • Snooth User: Vine Master Fanucchi
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    46167 371

    Your summation of the Russian River Vally's roots is a bit inaccurate on a couple of critical points!
    1) While much of it had and still has Redwoods Lots of Russian River Valley's farmland was not "harvested Redwood forest"!
    2) Successful Wine Grapes have been Continuously Growing Here since the late 1800s! Viticulture was NOT started here 40 years ago! In fact about 40 years ago when my family purchased our Old Zinfandel Block It was among many dozens of Old Zinfandel Vineyards North West of Santa Rosa that survived from late 1800s. Over the last 40 years most have been torn out either for new vineyards or sadly, high density housing as Santa Rosa has gobbled up a few thousand acres that were mix farms & vineyards between us & what was a much smaller Santa Rosa 40 years ago.
    3) Truth be told, actually some Vineyards where planted between the Far western Russian River Valley and the strip of exclusively eastern Sonoma Coast (It's exact location hasn't been found). Their are Records of Russians who ventured East of the Fort Ross trading post who did have Vineyards (they did note they had to go inland for warmer weather towards what is now Russian River Valley) If it the spot could be found today would actually be considered the First Vineyard in California; predating the Spanish by decades

    Jul 29, 2010 at 3:55 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks for the comments Vinemaster.

    As far as I know the first cash crop of the Russian River valley was lumber, and the cleared land became primarily farmland.

    As far as viticulture, what I wrote was that single vineyards, actual individual vineyards, began to gain recognition about 40 years ago. Of course there were vineyards in the are well over a hundred years ago, and in fact I pointed out some of the oldest Zin vineyards, like the Bucklin's Old Hill in a previous article. As I said they are really the jewels of California's viticulture crown!

    it would be fascinating to learn more about those first vineyards, what grapes could the Russians have planted?

    Jul 30, 2010 at 12:22 AM

  • I'm sure that is my photo you are using. I took that shot from the vineyard above Christopher Creek Winery off Limerick Lane. Where did you snag that photo from?

    Please give me credit for the photo.
    Joe Becerra, Wine Country Getaways

    Oct 14, 2010 at 7:39 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Sorry Joe, don't know where it was taken from. The young lady who sourced the image is no longer with the company. I've added your attribution and a link to Wine Country Getaways.



    Oct 14, 2010 at 8:11 PM

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