Wine Touring on Russian River Valley’s Olivet Road
Going to the Russian River Valley? Want to find a place to visit several family-owned wineries, be surrounded by lush vineyards, and not have to drive or walk too far to get to each? I offer my day on Olivet Road as a template, a lovely stretch of “Wine Heaven” road between Windsor and Santa Rosa, west of the 101 freeway. There are 1.2 miles between Harvest Moon Estate Winery (where we began) and DeLoach Vineyards (where we finished the day)— a very short drive, a pretty quick bike ride, or a brisk, twenty minute walk.
At 10am I met up with Wendy Hilberman and Sara Soergel from the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association. We were promptly welcomed with a glass of estate dry sparkling Gewürtztraminer. Proprietor and winemaker Randy Pitts soon met us for the tour, wearing a shirt made by one of his wine club members. It read, “My wines are balanced. I never said that I was.” – Randy Pitts
Randy is a passionate grower with enthusiastic opinions regarding his own fruit and the fruit that he sells: No more Round Up! Drop fruit and leaves for lower yields and better flavors!
He also explained that Zinfandel is the most uneven ripening grape in the winegrower’s arsenal. But Randy is not one to shy away from a challenge. He produces lots of Zin, and when he discovered the astronomical price tag on the custom wood doors he wanted for the winery, he and his father built them themselves.
He favors lower alcohol, lighter-bodied Zins and wines of that nature in general. When Randy produced his first wines in the mid-aughts, this was not a popular style. Fortunately for him and the rest of us, it now is. Harvest Moon also produces other sparkling wines. I loved each that we tasted and can’t pick a favorite between the sparkling Gewürztraminer, Pinot, or Zin. I brought the Zin to a Fourth of July party and it disappeared quick.
My favorite still wine of the tasting was the 2013 Russian River Valley Estate Zinfandel. The fruit and spice is couched in an elegant body with 14.2% abv. That alcohol level may not sound low, but it is for California Zinfandel. He has a pretty extensive library and a lovely outdoor patio and enjoys providing visitors with the opportunity to taste older, well-stored wines—a treat not often found these days.
Our next stop was 0.4 miles away at Hook & Ladder Vineyards and Winery. Cecil and Christine DeLoach started Hook & Ladder in 2004 after they sold their eponymous brand and vineyards. As well as stewarding DeLoach Vineyards since 1970 and producing their own label since 1975, Cecil had been a longtime San Francisco fireman, Christine a Sonoma County probation officer. Hook & Ladder Vineyards and Winery honors that history with a sporty, laid back tasting room and beautiful surrounding scenery to drink, play, and picnic in.
Their son, Jason De Loach, is their current winemaker and he’s also established their higher-end label called Four Rows.
The Hook & Ladder wines I tasted were super accessible and easy-drinking. The Four Rows Pinot Noir and Cab Franc offered more complexity. Our host Devon had a friendly, infectious spirit and the spacious tasting room, bocce court and picnic tables call out for parties with friends. Go see Devon and crew. I’m sure they will take great care of you.
For lunch: Eat at nearby Farmstand @ Farmhouse Inn. This is food truck eating in a luxury parallel universe. 4.5 miles from Harvest Moon Winery, it’s an 8 minute drive/28 minute bike ride.
For our final stop after lunch, we went to DeLoach Vineyards, the full 1.2 miles from our starting point. Vineyard manager Sophie Drucker was kind enough to show us around the estate vineyards and explain their biodynamic farming practices and introduce us to the sheep they house for grazing. It’s important to note that all of Sonoma County vineyards will be certified sustainably-farmed in 2019, which is great, but has some controversy around the significance of the definition due to its allowance of the use of Round Up and other pesticides.
The epitome of casual luxury, DeLoach offers ample outdoor and indoor space to chillax in style. They also have an exquisite swimming pool and pool deck attached to their old-school hunting lodge-esque tasting room and banquet area, complete with antler chandelier.
They produce wine from other local vineyards, and clearly have great relationships with them. In the hour or so we toured the property, we ran into two separate growers and their families enjoying themselves in the sun. I’m sure they value the additional banquet room lined with photos and stories of DeLoach growing partners, fondly known as the Grower Appreciation Room.
Pedro Martinez took us through a tasting of old and new releases. The 2016 DeLoach Estate Chardonnay made from Old Wente, Montrachet, and 809 clones was delicious: concentrated flavor with a solid acid backbone.
They also have library wines available for tasting. I particularly enjoyed the 2010 van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot, full of dark fruit, ash and spice.
All in all, it was a day to remember … and to replicate! Highly recommended for laid back fun, on a sort of fairy-tale lane.