Monday, May 9, 2011

A Russian River Junket

February 26, 2011
I took a tour of Sonoma and Napa counties during a weeklong stay in the town of Napa at the end of February. With our good friends Debbie and Ken McKenzie joining us, we took a trip into the past. The past for us was our previous excursions together along the Russian River beginning in the late 1980’s and reacquainting ourselves with wineries we’d enjoyed then along with exploring newer ones now. That began with trying to remember which back roads we were supposed to take.

The late winter in Sonoma still brought a chill to the air, but sampling some wonderful wines along the Russian River and Dry Creek regions warmed us up considerably. Our first stop was Arista Winery, the newest winery on Westside Road. Westside Road and Eastside Road are on opposite sides of the Russian River, which ends at the Sonoma Coast and meanders east and west and then north and south as it wends its way through some of the most fertile soil in the whole county.

Many years ago the Westside Wineries, as they’re known, sponsored “An Evening at the Westside Wineries”, which began after the normal serving hours. I believe there were up to ten participating wineries at one time and each offered two or three wines paired with dishes prepared at each winery. A movable feast indeed, but as word got around and the numbers increased, liability became an issue and the program was discontinued. That evening each year held some of my best memories of touring Sonoma, and now I was reliving them, albeit in broad daylight.

Arista Winery
We began at Arista for some Pinot Noir tasting. I’d previously purchased a half case of their 2008 Sonoma County Pinot Noir and was eager to try more. Pinot Noir is Arista’s main passion, although they also make excellent Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Gris. Artisa specializes in single region and single vineyard Pinot Noir wines from Sonoma, Mendocino and the Monterrey Peninsula.

The winery is located on Westside Road, an area I’ve traveled more times on bike than car. Davis Bynum, one of the early pioneers of Russian River Pinot Noir had a winery here at one time. My love of this area’s Pinot began there and continued with Rochioli just down the road. This is also home for Gary Farrell and Williams Selyem, all iconic producers of premium Pinot Noir.

To my great satisfaction, Arista continues that heritage with exceptional Pinot Noir. Due to the popularity of their wines, one has to join their “A” list to insure access to all the enticing varieties of this grape they offer, which topped ten unique Pinots at my last count. That’s what I mean about a passion for Pinot.

Arista Winery is a family affair with multiple generations of the McWilliams clan getting into the act. The photo above is by Al McWilliams. Ben McWilliams, the tasting room manager, gave us good background on the winery and poured us increasingly wonderful Pinots and other choice wines. It appeared that my 2008 Pinot was only the tip of the iceberg of what Arista produces. This may become my go-to winery for Russian River Pinots, the wines are that good.

I did grab a bottle of their Smoky Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel, sourced from the Dry Creek Valley, which was also excellent. The winery and its grounds are a great place to decamp, sample the wines, bring a picnic and open a bottle looking over the vineyards and distant mountains. The Japanese gardens and waterfall are inviting and make it hard to leave. It will have you saying,” Maybe just one more glass.”

No comments: