The Russian River wanders through Cloverdale to Santa Rosa, then flows out to the Sonoma Coast and the Pacific Ocean.
This is a lush, fertile grape growing area containing 100 wineries and three wine districts: Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley.
A route known as the Russian River Wine Road takes you to all three districts, where you'll find wine tours, lodging and special events, such as:
2nd Saturday Along the Wine Road--every month
Barrel Tasting-early March
Crab and Fennel Fest-early March
Passport Weekend-end of April
Pick of the Vine-towards the end of April
Taste of the Valley-early June
Sonoma County Showcase and Wine Auction-third week of July
Grape to Glass-mid-August
Sonoma County Jarvest Fair-early October
A Wine and Food Affaid-early November
For more information on these events or more, see: www.wineroad.com or call 800-723-6336
Our road trip took us from the lively streets of San Francisco to the quiet beauty of Bodega Bay. We traveled the winding Russian River Wine Road from Healdsburg to Guerneville.
Three separate wine districts sit in the northwest corner of Sonoma County:
The Dry Creek Valley, which contains 10,000 acres devoted to vineyards and runs parallel to and west of Alexander Valley from Lake Sonoma to Healdsburg.
The Russian River Valley, which contains 11,200 acres of vineyards and lies in a flat plain running south and west of Healdsburg and follows the Russian River to the Pacific Ocean.
The Alexander Valley, where 16,000 acres of vineyards thrive and which follows the Russian River from Cloverdale on the north, to Healdsburg, where the river turns west.
Two smaller districts within the Russian River Wine Road area are Chalk Hill and Green Valley, whose climate is cooler and where grapes, apples and pears are produced.
Both Sonoma and Napa Counties produce many world class wines. Most Californians who are familiar with California wines know that there is no difference in general quality between the two counties. There are fabulous wineries in both counties. The difference in quality is found from winery to winery within each County, but it is not accurate to say that Napa has better wines than Sonoma. However, people from out of state and particularly out of the country generally want to visit Napa County because of its bigger name recognition outside of California.
I prefer Sonoma over Napa - and this is based on dozens of wine country trips to both counties. See below for my take on 15 differences between Sonoma and Napa:
Fondest memory: 1. Sonoma is more beautiful, scenery-wise. It has beautiful valleys nestled in between rolling hills covered by pine trees. Napa has some of this too, but Sonoma is greener and more pastoral.
2. Napa is pricier - more wineries in Napa will charge you to taste - sometimes as much as $10 or $15 per person. At most Sonoma wineries, tasting is free.
3. Napa is more crowded. It's all those out of state and out of country tourists.
4. The town of Napa is industrial and commercial. The town of Healdsburg in Sonoma is charming and smaller.
5. The pace is more relaxed in Sonoma.
6. Tasting rooms in general are far less crowded in Sonoma. In Napa, you sometimes have a hard time finding a few inches of space at the counter.
7. Wineries and tasting rooms in Sonoma tend to be smaller and more rustic.
8. Napa has more of the huge, ostentatious wine tasting rooms with ultra-expensive art galleries and pricey gift shops. In Napa, you can even ride a tram up to the very crowded tasting room at Sterling Winery, modeled after a Greek town.
9. In Sonoma, the winery staff pouring the wine will be more relaxed and more likely to take the time to tell you about their winery and its history. You are more likely to meet the owners behind the tasting counter.
10. In Napa, the tasting rooms are less personal - the staff will have less time to talk to you. You almost feel like they want you to finish tasting, buy some wine and make space for the next people.
11. Napa has more wineries that are owned by mega-corporations.
12. The town of Napa has more upscale restaurants. Some are very, very good. Healdsburg has a few - just not as many as Napa.
13. Napa County gets more traffic -- foot, cars, buses and bikes.
14. Napa County has more B&Bs. Sonoma has some, but not as many as Napa.
15. If you are taking a picnic lunch, it is tougher to find an unoccupied table for your lunch in Napa. In Sonoma, that has never been a problem.