The magic of Guerneville rests in its great outdoors, even as this sleepy river hideaway evolves into a hip dining and shopping destination in Sonoma Wine Country. A jewel in the 5,683-acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area (17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, 707-869-9177), it’s smack dab in the heart of superb Wine Country, it’s got a main drag called Main Street, and yet the half-mile long stretch still has no official wine tasting rooms.
Oh, you can taste wine at the hip yet retro Big Bottom Market (16228 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295), and at restaurants like boon eat + drink (16248 Main St., Guerneville, 707-869-0780). But for an official tasting experience, you must head to the nearby wineries, and one of the very best in the land is found directly on the land, at Porter-Bass Winery (1150 Mays Canyon Road, Guerneville, 707-869-1475), where owner Luke Bass works among an eclectic collection of Chardonnay, chickens, and a coonhound dog.
The tiny, 1,000-case winery and cellar is built into the side of the earth, and when it comes time for tasting, we gather beneath a walnut tree next to the vines, on a gentle slope overlooking breathtaking views of vineyards and forest. The bar is a slab of wood resting on two barrels, the menu is hand drawn on a board tacked to the tree, and when we’re done, Bass politely — almost shyly — says it’s up to us if we want to pay a tasting fee or buy a bottle.
The estate is mere minutes from downtown, but a whole other world in a private canyon. Winemaker-earth child Bass bottles and corks all of his excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel by hand. There’s a striking, architect-designed glass-and-concrete home next to the cellar, where his father (the architect) lives, while Bass, his wife, and children live nearby in a hand-crafted trailer (built by his father in the 1970s), to be closer to the land.
Bass leads the hour-long tours personally, sharing details on his certified biodynamic practices, and introduces us to his heritage chickens and tail-wagging Coonhound and Saluki dogs. Tastings are by appointment only, and when you call, it’s Luke who answers the phone. Tastings are free for groups up to seven people; groups of eight to 12 are $10 per person, which can be applied toward a purchase; and the winery cannot accommodate groups larger than 12 people.
Glance at some of Northern California restaurant’s wine lists, and you’ll find Porter-Bass, if you’re lucky. The wines are highly acclaimed, and available nowhere else but Guerneville.