Korbel Champagne Cellars
You might picture driving into this cool, shaded canyon of redwoods during a sweltering, blue-sky summer day. Although this is just one part of the Russian River Valley, as a viticultural appellation, when locals talk about knocking off work early to cool off at “the river,” this is where we mean. And Korbel Champagne Cellars surely sees the most visitors in peak season. But when do locals pour into this old favorite, according to my tour guide? It’s kind of a rainy day thing.
Another thing you might picture is arriving here by train, leaving the driving to the smoke-belching iron horse. Indeed, the small visitor center, where free tours begin, was Korbel’s own station on the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad. The fine-grained, old-growth redwood inside the station is original, I learn during a leisurely, informative chat with the station’s clerk while waiting for the noon tour (it’s a clear, bright winter day, so the tour group consists of me).
Now I’m picturing the absence of the dark, misty forest that surrounds Korbel’s bend in the river—there’s a reason that Guerneville used to be called Stumptown. The Korbel brothers ran a sawmill where the parking lot is today, before planting grapevines in between the massive stumps in the 1870s. Those weren’t removed until the 1960s, when the crew of the TV show Combat! blew them up in return for the use of a location that made a convincing Ardennes.
Need help picturing more? Last year, Korbel added a brand-new documentary to their free tour and tasting experience. It’s a fun little flick, screened in a theater comfortably outfitted with oak benches, full of “did you know” details: That it all started as a cigar box company? That Francis Korbel was a wild-eyed radical?
At last, the tasting room, a big, old-fashioned room where the product is chilled, bubbly, and priced within everyone’s reach. To mark 130 years of producing all of it right here in Guerneville, the Korbel Anniversary Sec ($14) has the original-style label, and a refreshing spritz of crisp pear and kiwi.
The Blanc de Noirs ($11) contains a little Sangiovese and Zinfandel as well as Pinot Noir; but at this price, why not? A nutty and agreeable sparkler. Korbel also offers still wines like Pinot Noir and sweet Alsace-varietals “Edelzwicker.” The top-tier wine is the light-bodied, ever so slightly yeasty 2005 Le Premier ($25). Easy to picture popping this by the fire at the end of a short, rainy day.
Korbel Champagne Cellars, 13250 River Road, Guerneville. Tasting Room open daily 10am-4:30pm; tours 11am–3pm. No fee. 707.824.7000.