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The Best Wineries You’ve Never Heard of in Russian River Valley
Ian White | Photo: Courtesy of Davis Family Vineyards | December 23, 2015
Known for pinot noir, this corner of Sonoma County is full of family tales—and Paris-busting pedigree.
Russian River Valley (RRV) is known best for elaborate, spicy, world-class pinot noir, but the chardonnay and other varietals are quickly gaining momentum. The valley is made up of deep forests, rolling hills, and vineyards; the people and wineries strike a warm balance of the pastoral and posh. An area that gained fame before the Dry Creek and Sonoma Valley regions, RRV itself was considered off the beaten path not long ago. But the valley and surrounding areas have polished things up, and reservations and waits are now often part of the game. Here are a few of the best spots that aren’t yet on the radar.
Winery: Davis Family Vineyards
Wines to try: Single Vineyard pinot noir and Old Vine zinfandel
Why it’s great: This small, family-owned operation makes around 5,000 cases each year and has become a local favorite. Founder Guy Davis and his family have been growing grapes on the land for over 20 years, and now the second generation, Cole and Cooper, is helping him make the wines. From this meticulous crew, expect wines of the highest quality that reflect the terroir. And you’ll have a chance to meet the family while you sip.
Winery: Freeman Winery
Wines to try: Cool Climate pinot noir and chardonnay
Why it’s great: Freeman begins hosting tastings by appointment on March 1, so you really can be the first of your friends to experience their wines and generous hospitality. This is definitely a family operation, and here you will relax, pop a cork with the founders, sip in the caves, and learn as much or as little about their wines and winemaking as you please. Plus, the vineyards are just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, and their high elevations, offer a nice contrast to the lower-slung reaches of the creeks and inland hills of Russian River.
Winery: Benovia Winery
Wines to try: Cohn Vineyard pinot
Why it’s great: This self-proclaimed “ma and pa winery” is all about “family, friends, and closeness.” Beloved and frequently recommended by locals, Benovia has two cottages that they rent out for overnights and gatherings (and they even welcome bachelorette parties). The interplay between cool ocean air from the Pacific and warm inland temperatures creates what many consider the perfect conditions for pinot noir and chardonnay—the only wines this by-appointment-only winery makes.
Winery: Scherrer Winery
Wines to try: syrah and grenache
Why it’s great: This small family winery makes award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay, but their syrah and grenache are what make them stand out in this valley. Everything here is handcrafted, and owners Fred and Judi Scherrer are involved in every step of the process. As a teenager, Fred began making wine (and beer) at home from the family vineyard. When you visit this small family winery, know that a lot of experience and fun has gone into the wine you’re sipping.
Winery: Bacigalupi Vineyards
Wines to try: chardonnay and pinot noir
Why it’s great: Perhaps more well-known than the others on this list, Bacigalupi has been around for 60 years (vintnerds will recall that the winery grew 40 percent of the grapes for the Chateau Montelena chardonnay that won the historic 1976 Paris tasting—you know the one). Twin sisters Katey and Nicole and their family are regularly on hand to tell stories, but you can also call ahead to schedule a private tasting or tour.