Discover Arista Winery in Healdsburg
You wouldn’t say that Al McWilliams is all hat and no Cabernet. Cabernet Franc, that is. McWilliams, a retired orthodontist from Texarkana, Texas, got a hankering for world-class wine bigger than the Lone Star State could slake, so he picked up and moved the whole family to Sonoma County.
Since founding Arista Winery here in 2002, they’ve been as happy as gophers in soft dirt.
Arista is named after the Greek word, “Aristos,” meaning “the big enchilada.” Not to be confused with Healdsburg’s Armida, or Napa’s Artesa or Adastra — which people do all of the time, of course.
The whole McWilliams family is involved in the vineyard and winemaking operation, including winery dogs, three goats, and tree sheep. While the winemaking is offsite, the picturesquely rolling hillside is now planted with Arista’s own grapevines.
Take a sip
Arista makes more single-vineyard Pinot Noir lots than you can shake an armadillo at, and the 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, El Diablo Vineyard ($50) with its juicy white peach, pineapple and pear flavors, will bring joy to the lips of any lover of not-too-oaky Chardonnay.
But the dry, rich and spicy Alsatian-style 2012 Ferrington Vineyard Gewürztraminer ($28) is a special treat, and the Chianti-like 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Smokey Ridge Vineyard ($36), with its firmly rounded, Bing cherry finish, only heralds more great Zinfandel in the next few years: the McWilliams purchased the historic Martinelli Road Vineyard in April, 2012.
If the tasting room looks more like a Japanese tea house, that’s because the original owners of this property flew in a Tokyo architect to make it so. Choose a pathway, and explore: leading up to the top of a rocky hillock, discover a burbling “brook” and a Japanese water garden.
Visitors are welcome to enjoy a picnic and a bottle of Arista wine on widely dispersed, nicely shaded picnic tables overlooking Westside Road and the Russian River Valley. Chef-prepared food and wine pairings in the pavilion are available with advance reservation.
Hit the road
If you’re continuing south on Westside Road, you’ll find that two roads diverge in the redwoods. Take Wohler Bridge to get back to Santa Rosa, or stop for your reservation at the Farmhouse Inn. Keep on the road, and you’ll pop out on River Road on the way to Guerneville’s resorts, restaurants, and beaches.