Our venture into wine country included more than tastings, we wanted to see the giant Redwoods located a few miles from Guerneville. We discovered a peaceful, sun-dappled woods, punctuated by the tallest trees on earth--as high as 350 feet!
The Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve was set aside as a 'natural park and botanical garden' by Colonel James Armstrong in the 1880's. Although he harvested lumber for his livelihood, he appreciated the beauty and value of those forests in which he worked.
The park has preserved 805 acres, which contains a visitor center, 2,000 seat outdoor amphitheatre, self-guided nature trails, picnic tables and restrooms.
FYI: There is no camping at the state reserve.
Redwoods growing on the coast of California average between 200-250 feet in height and live to be 500-1000 years old. However, some grow to over 350 feet and survive for 2000 years! The moist conditions contribute to their amazing growth (picture 2).
We noticed some of the forested areas were marked "extremely fragile", making it important to stay on the trails and not tromp through these places. A trail guide can be picked up at the park's visitor center.
The oldest tree at the reserve is The Colonel Armstrong Tree, said to be over 1400 years old. A nod to the Colonel for his efforts to preserve this wondrous forest. The Parson Jones tree is the tallest at 310 feet in height.
FYI: If you park your car at the park entrance, you can walk in for free.
Every year there's a big blues festival on Johnson's Beach in Guerneville. Sit in the sun, swim in the river and listen to blues legends, old and new. Rock on!
The 2005 festival is June 18 & 19 with a good sounding lineup:
Saturday:Al Green, Deborah Coleman, Coco Montoya, Maria Muldaur, and The Johnny Rawls Revue.
Sunday:: Los Lobos, Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, Shemekia Copeland, The Tommy Castro Band, and Bettye LaVette.
Both days on the Wine Stage: Earl Thomas
An amazing jazz festival, at the end of the summer on the beautiful Russian River. This year's festival was September 6 and 7 and starred:
Bobby Hutcherson/Cedar Walton Quartet
Lavay Smith & her Red Hot Skillet Lickers
Orquestra La Moderna Tardicion
Yow!! It was a GREAT show! Rather than stand in line and sit in the crowds on the beach, we hopped in a canoe at our friend's house on the river, and paddled upstream to watch from the water. What a way to go!
The Russian River valley is a great place for wine tasting. However, Korbel offers champagne tasting. Established in 1882, Korbel is one of the oldest wineries in the United States. Korbel survived Prohibition (1920-1933) by making sacramental wine for the Church.
The cellars were founded by Francis Korbel and his brothers. Francis Korbel immigrated to the United States from Bohemia. He set up a successful cigar box company in San Francisco. In the early 1870s, Francis Korbel purchased property near Guerneville and started a lumber business. When the timber was depleted, the Korbel Brothers searched for other uses of the land. Seeing that the climate and land were similar to the Champagne Region in France, they began growing grapes. By 1882, the winery was established.
Korbel Champagne Cellars has a tasting room that is open to the public. They produce and offer tastings for a variety of champagnes, wines, and brandy. Some are commercially available at major grocery stores like Safeway, but others are only available at the vineyard. They offer the typical champagnes like Brut, Rose, and Extra Dry, but also offer some more unusual varieties like Rouge, which is a champagne with a deep red color. Its vivid color comes from Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Free tours of the winery are offered and worth attending. The history of the winery is revealed in the tour. The process of making champagne is explained. At the conclusion of the tour, some tastings are conducted.
Korbel’s tasting room naturally has a wine shop and gift shop affiliated with it. They also have a delicatessen that offers some nice sandwiches and salads. You can enjoy your lunch on their patio under the redwoods.
Several episodes of the 1960s television show “Combat” were filmed on the Korbel vineyards. The winery apparently took advantage of the special effects. Whenever an explosion was to occur, Korbel insisted that they blow up an old stump left over from the logging days.
Armstrong Woods can be attributed to lumberman Colonel James Armstrong, who desired that some of the natural beauty of the forests that he harvested be preserved. The park is an oasis of giant redwoods, surrounded by hills. The redwood grove is majestic. The oldest tree is over 1,400 years old. The tallest is more than 310 feet high.
Several trails are available. The Pioneer trail meanders through the redwood grove. The Discovery and Nature Trails are wheelchair accessible. The East Ridge Trail and Pool Ridge Trail climb 400 and 500 feet respectively into the surrounding hills and make for more moderate hiking experiences. More strenuous hikes such as to Bullfrog Pond Campground are also available. See the trail map and recommended hikes posted at the visitor’s center for more information about the trials. I would recommend to always carry water when taking any trails out of the redwood grove.
My favorite short hike is to take the Pioneer Trail from the parking lot, through the redwood grove, to the East Ridge Trailhead. Then follow East Ridge Trail up the switchbacks into the hills. Then traverse the ridgeline. Finally, emerge from the Ridge Trail at the parking lot. This route is about 2 1/4 miles and involves a climb of 400’.
The park includes a visitor center, a large outdoor amphitheater, picnic facilities, and campgrounds. Horse rentals are also available.
Dogs must be kept on a leash and must remain on the paved roads. They are not allowed on the trials.
In 2008 the day use fees are:
$6.00 per vehicle
$5.00 per vehicle for seniors
Free to pedestrians and bicyclists
Guerneville is the primary town within the Russian River resort area. The river remains one of the areas main attractions. Summer weather is usually warm, making a day at the beach quite pleasant. The Russian River has a lot of beach access. Johnson’s Beach located right off of downtown Guerneville is popular. Swimming and sunbathing are the primary activities there. However, Johnson’s Beach often hosts some music festivals, such as the Blues Festival and the Jazz Festival.
Johnson’s Beach also has a concession that rents canoes and kayaks. Unfortunately, no dogs are allowed on Guerneville’s signature beach. So if your dog wants some summer aquatic fun, it would be best to take him to one of the other nearby beaches. Some of the resorts along the river also have their own beach.
Swimming in the Russian River is best in the summer months when the “summer dam” is in place at the downstream edge of Johnson’s Beach. The dam regulates the water flow and pools water to make Johnson’s Beach into a nice swimming hole. In the winter months, the river can get a bit too wild and cold for swimming.
Korbel's Gardens were exquisite! The rich, velvety color of the roses set within the multiple hues of the other flowers made lovely vignettes along the pathway (pictures 2-3). There are more than 250 varieties of antique roses on display on the Korbel grounds.
The Korbel family originally planted the antique rose gardens in 1880 to beautify their summer home. Can you imagine the profusion of color accompanying their morning walks about the grounds?
It's said that these gardens came into their greatest beauty when horiculturist Phillip Robinson put his 'green thumbs' to work. Now the garden blooms with 1,000 varieties of plants, flowers and bulbs from around the world.
We arrived too late in the day for an official tour of the gardens, but they are available mid-April through mid-October on Tuesdays-Sundays at 11am, 1 pm and 3pm.
To enter Korbel's tasting room, one has to pass through the wine shop. The shop is stocked with sparkling bottles of Korbel's champagnes, wines and brandies. I imagine some people travel no further than this room.
In the tasting room, an extensive counter monopolizes a long wall in the spacious room. It is here that servers courteously pour samples of Korbel's finest from a wide selection of choices. I preferred their BRUT--which was wonderful.
The following were some of the choices:
Blanc de Noir
Hours for the wine shop are 9am-5:30 pm from May 1-Sept.30 and 9am-5pm from Oct. 1-Apr.30. Tasting Room hours are: 9am-5pm from May 1-Sept. 30 and 9am-4:30 pm from Oct.1-Apr.30
The Korbel Champagne Cellars are located on a 2,000 acre estate in the Russian River Valley. We dropped by on our drive through wine country.
We had already seen lovely little Healdsburg and some of its wineries and were traveling towards Bodega Bay. There was just enough time to see Korbel before it closed for the day.
The Korbel family hailed from Bohemia, now Czechoslovakia. Their champagne cellar was founded in 1882, after the Korbel brothers tried their hand at farming and discovered they had a talent for growing things, especially grapes.
As business grew, they discontinued growing their other crops and concentrated on grapes. They introduced the Pinot Noir grape to the area, although it had been primarily used in the champagne region of France. Soon, their wines were being sought after!
A tour of the Korbel cellars takes visitors to its old vaults and museum to see how champagne is created. (Please see their website for tour times).
Redwoods grow naturally along the coast from southern Oregon to central California. They are nurtured by moisture-laden fog and considerable winter rains. This climate enables them to reach unbelievable heights!
There is a small $4 charge per car upon entering Armstrong Redwood Reserve. A narrow roadway leads you deep into its shady splendor; a dry creekbed follows alongside. As you drive further into the forest, you'll most likely want to pull over and take a long look around...but you can't.
Be patient and continue on and soon you'll come to an area where you can park. Here you can either take a trail or aimlessly wander through the woods (pictures 2 & 3).
Korbel is one of the most notable American champagne producers. Come to the cellars to sample all sorts of deliciousness, but be aware of its aftereffects. I am not responsible for your stupor, only my own. There is a delicious deli with sandwiches, salads, fruits, etc. available to soak up that alcohol in your belly.
Armstrong Redwoods is a beautiful reserve of California Coastal Redwoods. These Giants are one of California's most popular tourist attractions and Armstrong Redwoods park offers an easy, friendly place to visit. There are camping and picnic areas and the park offers a variety of hikes and walks ranging from just under a mile to just over 10 miles. Occasional naturalist and docent programs are held to educate visitors about the history and ecology of the Coastal Redwoods. Coastal redwoods are the oldest living things, with some of these trees up to 2,000 years old. The tallest in the park is 310 feet.
Stop in town and pick up a picnic and a bottle of local wine. Enjoy a quiet picnic next to the creek under the Dogwoods. It's a stop that can't be beat!
Visitors who park outside the entrance kiosk may walk into the park for no charge. There is a $6.00 per car fee to drive into the park
In a region just loaded with wineries and wine making tours, Korbel is a must stop. The sparkling wine maker lives in a beautiful and historic building with beautiful gardens and landscaping. Gaze across the road at the vineyards, stretching out across to the Russian River.
The tour starts with a brief film about sparkling wine making and then you will join a real person who will take you through the wineries and past displays and demonstrations.
You'll finish your tour in the tasting room where your guide may take you out into the garden and lead you in the tasting of 5 or 6 different bottles of sparkling wine.
Some visitors eschew the tour and go straight to the formal tasting room. There you can taste, and purchase, the wineries offerings. The gift shop has a host of interesting and clever items for purchase. You can also purchase picnic supplies and there are picnic areas on the grounds.
Tours are free and offered daily from 10 am until about 4 pm.
I love destination Jazz festivals and have been to some of the best; Montreux, Winter Park.... But to me, the best of the best is "Jazz on the River" , or what we commonly refer to as The Russian River Jazz Festival.
Imagine floating on an inner tube in the cool cool river among the redwoods, listening to Dave Koz and his cool group? Dig your toes in the sand, sip a Pinot Noir and sway to the cool vibes of Craig Chaquiso. Or jump up and dance to Jeff Golub and Mindi Abair!
The festival also has craft and vendor booths and an area for wine tasting. My only complaint is that no glass is allowed into the closed off beach area. So it's necessary to "decant" that Pinot Noir into a plastic bottle.
Parking can be tricky but there are frequent shuttles that run from the distant parking lots.
There are two levels of tickets: Gold Tier and regular. Gold Tier buy you a reserved seat in low beach chairs right in front of the stage. Regular means you bring your own seat and find a place wherever. We got gold tier seats for one day of the weekend performance and found it was a little to loud up their in the front. We had a lot more fun the next day when we mingled with the concert goers and met fun people.