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Be the First to Discover Petaluma Gap, Sonoma’s Next AVA
Ian White | Photo: Courtesy of Pfendler Vineyards | May 10, 2016
When wine country’s newest region becomes official, the crowds will follow. Here’s where to go before the tourist crush.
Still a whisper among wine lovers, Petaluma Gap is named for a 15-mile-wide break in the coastal mountain range. Wind and fog are pulled through the vines on their way from Bodega Bay to San Francisco Bay, creating a climate that’s cooler than nearby Russian River Valley and Sonoma Valley. The chilling effect of the fog translates to a longer growing season, which in turn produces delicate, fruit-driven wines with typically lower alcohol and sugar. This spring the Petaluma Gap Winery Alliance completed the first of five steps to become its own American Viticultural Area, or AVA, an arduous process that can take months or even years. And when Petaluma Gap goes legit—it shouldn’t have a problem clearing all the hurdles—tourists will surely follow. Here are seven wineries to visit before the hordes hit the Gap.
Winery: Sonoma Coast Vineyards
Wine to try: Freestone Hills pinot noir, $40
What makes this place special? This vineyard on the Bodega Bay coastline is best known for its pinot, but the sauvignon blanc and chardonnay also benefit from the lower sugar content and higher acidity produced by the weather patterns and soil here. You won’t miss the tannins and high alcohol levels because the flavors are full, and the bright acidity of the wines make them ripe for food pairing.
What else? The winery hosts local food tastings and pairings with oysters, cheese, and charcuterie on the patio. Plus, the Bodega Bay hiking trails are close by.
Winery: Stubbs Vineyard
Wine to try: chardonnay, $35
What makes this place special? Stubbs Vineyard produces only two wines, and a limited quantity at that. The organic vineyards are run on solar (with biodiesel machinery), so they are truly off the grid. The wines are bold and full of fruit, but balanced by a nice acidity that gives them a bright, refreshing quality.
What else? Mary and Tom Stubbs offer vineyard tours by appointment only—this is family-operated winemaking at its finest.
Winery: Pfendler Vineyards
Wine to try: rosé of pinot noir, $18
What makes this place special? Some might call me crazy for picking the rosé over Pfendler’s celebrated chardonnay or pinot noir, but it’s almost summer and I couldn’t resist. The rosé is packed with red berries, sweet melon, and citrus, but you can also find stone fruit and other hints of summer in this salmon-colored wine. Wines of this quality and scarcity are often overpriced, so it’s a bit of a surprise that they are all under $50, and well worth the splurge if you don’t often break the $25 barrier.
What else? The winery lacks a tasting room, and the staff is minimal, so it’s a challenge to visit. But Kimberly Pfendler has offered to host vineyard tours for those that mention this story. Who’s an insider now?
Winery: Keller Estate
Wine to try: Rotie, $65; Casa red blend, $22
What makes this place special? The Keller family has been farming their 650-acre ranch for 25 years and, like the folks at Sonoma Coast Vineyards, they do everything in their power to feature the unusual Petaluma Gap conditions in their wines. They have a bevy of well-made wines to try, including limited releases and fun blends of Rhone varietals like syrah, so this is a great place to bring picky sippers and newbies alike. Tastings (by appointment) are private, so you can take your time looking out over the olive grove, vineyards, and views of Mt. Tam.
What else? Keller puts on a Sunday brunch with wine pairings the first weekend of every month.
Winery: Three Sticks Wines
Wine to try: Gap’s Crown pinot noir, $65
What makes this place special? Three Sticks is rapidly gaining attention as a cult favorite for their pinot noir. The cabernet and chardonnay are also hitting the hot lists. You can book a tasting at the Adobe, the winery’s historic Mexican building on Sonoma Square.
What else? When you book, you can request a tasting paired with cuisine from local favorite El Dorado Kitchen.
Winery: Barber Cellars
Wine to try: Zinfandel field blend, $25
What makes this place special? Barber is fun and cheesy. They have a field blend—an adventurous style of wine made by fermenting all the grapes together rather than blending the wines later, meaning you really don’t know what you’re going to get. Barber Cellars also has offsite tasting room in Petaluma, where they host weekend game competitions, cheese tastings, and even silent movie nights.
What else? The Petaluma tasting room has one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches on the planet, plus monthly cheesemaker nights where you can meet and learn from local cheesemakers.
Winery: Adobe Road Winery
Wine to try: pinot noir, around $48
What makes this place special? Adobe Road’s down-to-earth winemaker, Garrett Martin, has a knack both for making wine accessible for newbies and nerding out with the wine geek crowd. Until the new tasting room is finished later this year, the winery is hosting guests in the home of a motorsport team garage—so you get to sample their slew of small-production wines surrounded by Lamborghinis and Porsches.
What else? The Petaluma Gap pinot noir is still in the barrel, so if you go soon, you’ll get to sample it before bottling.