The Russian River wine region holds for about one-sixth of all the vineyards in Sonoma. Defined by towering redwood trees, little was known about the Russian River Valley (as far as winemaking) until about 30 years ago. Thanks to its unique cool and sunny climate, it has become one of the most notable wine areas in California. Grape varieties that are very difficult to grow, such as those that make Pinot Noir, thrive here. Thanks to the scenery, some great accommodations and accessible wineries, the Russian River AVA is the perfect place for a wine-themed vacation or for staying amongst Northern California’s iconic redwoods. Culture, dining and nature mean that you can have a well-rounded holiday in this region of Sonoma.
The Russian River sits near Highway 101. From the Golden Gate Bridge, the drive to hub of Guerneville takes about an hour and a half. Sonoma County airport has non-stop service from Seattle, LA and Portland. Good resorts and guest wineries in the area will offer ground transportation from the airport. These venues will also have tours of the nearby wineries, meaning a car is only a necessity if you want to explore on your own. Using Golden Gate Transit and Sonoma County Transit, it is possible to reach Guerneville and smaller hamlets along the river. Bus riders have to change in Sonoma’s largest city, Santa Rosa, which is worth a short visit itself.
One reason to bring your car is so that you can drive the scenic River Road, which stretches all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It’s also possible to use the Russian River itself for a sightseeing cruise. Kayaks and canoes are available (a good resort will have their own for guests to use for free). Some sections of the river can even be traveled by inner tube.
Iconic champagne brand Korbel is based in Guerneville. Even for non-wine-enthusiasts, this is a good stop. A tour and tasting can be enjoyed free of charge. Also in Guerneville, the Stumptown Brewery is a quaint little brewhouse that is perfect for people who want to enjoy some suds instead of fine wines. Nature-seekers, meanwhile, can immerse themselves in the redwoods and ferns of Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. You’ll find plenty of hiking trails and redwood stands here. The most iconic tree is the 1,400-year-old Armstrong redwood.
The Russian River area was a favorite of Charles Schultz, the creator of the famed Peanuts comics. A museum dedicated to Charlie Brown and Schultz's other characters is located in Santa Rosa. The Redwoods Empire Ice Rink is also in this city. It is a worthwhile stop either to skate or to watch the Snoopy on Ice show that is staged there.
50% of the grapes grown in the Russian River AVA are chardonnay grapes, so people who like tasting white wine will enjoy themselves immensely here. Russian River is also a haven for pinot noir grapes. 1 in 5 bottles of California pinot noir come from Russian River vineyards. Winery tours are available and almost all the wineries in the area have web sites so that you can see information about varieties and tasting times. For obvious reasons, bus and limo tours are often more pleasant than driving yourself to the wineries. The extra cost is worth not having to worry about having a designated driver. Good resorts can also help you organize wine tasting tours.
One of the best resorts for both exploring the wider Russian River AVA and appreciating the redwood-dotted landscapes is the Dawn Ranch. Sitting on 15 beautiful acres, this vacation estate has private cottages and cabins that can each sleep between 2 and 4 people. You can easily take winery tours and trips on the river from here. And when you return from your Russian River tasting tour, you will be treated to a farm-to-table gourmet meal with more local wines and specialty cocktails.
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