If Napa Valley is the only thing that pops into your mind when you think of California wine destinations, this article is for you. Guerneville, located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, exudes all the charm and culinary sophistication of wine country, minus the pretentious vibes.
Unique and eclectic, Guerneville has something for everyone: for the ocean-lovers, there’s Johnson’s Beach; the adventurous can do a number of activities on the Russian River such as boating, kayaking, rafting, and fishing; hikers have a number of trail options courtesy of the Armstrong Woods State Park; the foodies can munch at numerous locally sourced eateries and cafés; and of course, there are plenty of picturesque vineyards for the wine enthusiasts.
[big bottom market]
After a drive up to Guerneville you’re going to want to have a bite before your day of exploration. There’s no better place to relax and unwind over artisanal food and drink than at [big bottom market]. The big bottom market’s warm and welcoming atmosphere will have you feeling right at home.
One step in to the teal-framed entrance and you’re surrounded with the smell of its famed biscuits. With wooden communal tables, stools to sit by the window and people-watch, outdoor seating, and a rustic-yet-modern interior, the market is a modern day general store with “lumberjack chic style.”
The menu offers a mix of gourmet deli sandwiches, salads, and quality bites — all of which use sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. You can’t come here and start off with anything but freshly baked biscuits with options that include butter and jam; mascarpone and honey; cream and berries; gravy; and BBQ pulled pork. Or opt for one of its house-favorite biscuit sandwiches such as the Sea Biscuit with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, capers, and pickled onions or the Ham + Cheddar biscuit with black forest ham, melted cheddar served warm.
One of the best sandwiches I’ve had is the muffuletta which is packed with salami, coppa, mortadella, ham, provolone, mozzarella, and giardiniera-olive spread with garlic aioli on a toasty ciabatta. The combination of cured meats and the vinegary-pickled flavors of the spread is perfection. For something on the lighter side, the prosciutto + fig sandwich with provolone, fig jam, and arugula pressed on ciabatta is a great choice.
Also on the menu is a variety of salads that include curry chicken with spiced pepitas and a chickpea artichoke option. There is a fantastic selection of specialty meats and cheeses, along with fresh breads, to create any sandwich you fancy.
Those in a hurry can grab box lunches (complete with your choice of artisan sandwich, chips, and a house-made cookie). Don’t forget to check out the shelves of unique items that include everything from jams, chocolates, and honey, to a variety of locally made products, coffee table books, wines, candles, and more.
Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery
Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery offers an intimate, laid-back wine tasting session with the husband and wife duo of Luke and Elana Bass. While sipping wines made from their estate biodynamic grapes on the property, Luke and Elana are more than happy to answer any and all questions about the wines.
Though there’s no tasting room, you’re offered the opportunity to sit under the shade of lovely, deep-rooted tree, to take in the scenery of the surrounding vine-covered hills and billowing redwoods in the distance.
The three wines they specialize in are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel — my favorite was the Poco a Poco Sauvignon Blanc (Poco a Poco is one of their other labels). An afternoon tasting at this family-ran vineyard makes apparent how much the vines, grapes, and farming of the land is cared about. Guests can expect gracious hospitality, a welcoming environment sans any pretentiousness, interesting conversation, and delicious wines.
Marimar Estate: Tapas & Wine Pairings
Marimar Torres is the daughter of famed Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres. After traveling to California in the mid-70s, she later began planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals. Since her first wines were released in the 90s she has continued to make some of the area’s best wines and has added some Spanish varietals including Tempranillo and Albarino. Today there are 30 acres planted with Chardonnay and 30 with Pinot Noir at the Marimar Estate.
This winery was built in 1992 to resemble a Catalan farmhouse. Unique to this property is experiencing its Spanish tapas and wine pairings lunch on its unbelievable stone terrace — the terrace faces incredible views of the surrounding redwoods, coastal forest, and an array of wild flowers.The wine and tapas pairings included the following sips and bites: 2014 Chardonnay/ Albariño; 2013 ‘La Masìa’ Chardonnay; 2013 ‘Dobles Lìas’ Charfonnay; ‘Mas Cavalls’ Pinot Noir; and the ‘Earthquake Bock’ Pinot Noir; and on the tapas side, zucchini cake Cristina; prawns in a garlic sauce with sweet red peppers; cabbage dumplings stuffed with pork, chorizo, pine nuts, and raisins; and figs stuffed with chocolate and nuts in a chocolate sauce. The authentic recipes came from Marimar Torres’ cookbooks and certainly didn’t disappoint.
Paul Mathew Vineyards
Located in “downtown” Graton is the charming Paul Mathew Vineyards which is known for truly artisan wines by winemaker, Matt Gustafson. His wife Barb Gustafson — who is wonderfully knowledgeable of the wines — manages the tasting room and the business while her husband often is out in the fields carefully selecting and farming the grapes that go into his barrels.
Treat yourself to a tasting of five wines that include: Bohemian Pinot 2013 with flavors of bright red fruit; Ruxton Pinot 2013 with touches of black berry, cherry and plum; HSB pinot with cherry flavors; TnT pinot with hints of cinnamon and clove; and the Cabernet Franc with floral notes and a touch of bell pepper.
Iron Horse Vineyards
Everyone loves sparkling wines and gorgeous views, right? Located in the heart of Green Valley, Iron Horse Vineyards face stunning views that span from across Sonoma County to Mount St. Helena.
Think: rolling hills, wild flowers, and over 160 acres of lush vines. Known for some of the best sparkling wines in the world, they pride themselves on premiere vintage quality, of which theirs belongs to the category of “Grower Champagne”.
Iron Horse produces 12 different cuvées — all estate bottled—ranging from the Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, to the bright, bold, and very dry Brut Rosé. The Wedding Cuvée (aged three years) is absolutely refreshing and delicious.