The drive from San Francisco to the lower reaches of Sonoma Valley is easy – about 80 minutes or so. Our first stop was Dutton-Goldfield in the Russian River Valley (RRV). Amid the 1400 acres and 80 vineyards managed by The Dutton Ranch, Dutton-Goldfield crafts wines from the fruit of 12 of those vineyards, most of which are in the Green Valley subregion. While all the vineyards benefit from the cool marine air, with fine Goldridge sandy loam under foot, there are some outliers: Freestone Hill, in the southwest corner of the RRV, is the coolest, producing lean, sleek wines with cherry/cranberry lushness; while McDougall Vineyard at the northern end of the Sonoma Coast holds chalky soils that deliver black cherry fruit with fine minerality.
The range of varietals at Dutton-Goldfield is impressive: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc. Go for the sit-down Wine and Cheese Tasting; it offers the best way to sample these excellent wines and receive expert commentary from Tasting Room Manager, David Hewitt. We particularly liked the Walker Hill Chardonnay, the Freestone Hill Pinot Noir and the Green Valley Gewürztraminer. There is no better way to grasp the climate diversity of the Russian River Valley than a visit to Dutton-Goldfield.
Just up the road in Forestville, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Backyard and enjoyed excellent food and service.
Our second winery stop was Hartford Family Winery. The winery is in a beautiful setting just north of Forestville on Martinelli Road. Unfortunately we were unable to have the tasting there as it was Easter Sunday. The Hartford team accommodated us by holding the tasting in their gorgeous new tasting room on the square in Healdsburg. The photo on the left doesn’t quite capture the beauty of the space nor the gracious hospitality served up by Doug Hartford, Becky Craig and Morgan Overholt.
Hartford makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from an impressive collection of vineyards throughout Sonoma County – some of which are Dutton Ranch-managed properties; others are leased. But the range of terriors is impressive: from Far Coast Vineyard near Fort Ross in the north, to Marin Vineyard in the southwest, to Sevens BenchVineyard near the Napa border in Carnaros.
We tasted 3 Chardonnays, 4 Pinot Noirs and 1 Zinfandel. While all were great, I was partial to the Chardonnay from the Fog Dance Vineyard in Green Valley and the Pinot Noir called Land’s Edge, a blend of the Far Coast vineyard with a bit of the fruit from the Seascape Vineyard near Bodega Bay.
Hartford’s approach to Pinot Noir is very traditional in the use of fully destemmed fruit, fermented with native yeasts and judicious use of new French Oak (40-50%). All the wines possess great fruit, minerality and balance. but they differ slightly in weight, intensity and acidity. Having the opportunity to taste these subtle differences side-by-side is what made this tasting so great for me personally. It was all about the vineyard locations. We urge you to visit this tasting room. It’s a lesson in the terrior of Sonoma County.
That night we stayed at the very contemporary H2 Hotel in Healdsburg. If your tastes are more traditional when it comes to décor, we suggest the Hotel Le Mars. In either case, have dinner at Dry Creek Kitchen. Superb food, service and ambiance by Charlie Palmer, of Aureole fame in NYC. Next stop: Anderson Valley.