Wine tasting in Graton in western Sonoma County is a town-in-the-country experience.
Tucked away out of sight of Highway 116 — the main road running from the Highway 101 freeway to the Russian River recreation area — Graton was a farming town in the heyday of Sonoma County’s apple boom. Today, it’s a wine tasting and restaurant destination that retains a quiet, rustic vibe.
Graton is still a fairly sleepy residential town with a one-block-long main street, where one or two storefronts even remain boarded-up from sleepier times. Many of the buildings on Graton Road sport the “false front” architecture popular in 19th century western towns. In 1995, the popular breakfast, lunch and brunch spot Willow Wood Market Café opened, followed by dining and cocktail hotspot Underwood Bar and Bistro.
Following an old railroad, the West County Regional Trail runs on the street through town, before picking up the trail once again. It makes its way through vineyards, a still active apple processing plant, and brambly riparian thickets in the middle of the Green Valley of Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA). The trail is popular with cyclists and amblers alike, while the occasional equestrian may be seen slow trotting in this quiet, tree-shaded area of town.
The balance of Graton’s shops include a regular market, antique shops, and the organic Harmony Farm Supply — a good place to find a sun hat, if you’re not in the market for a flat of organic tomato plants.
The newest winery in town anchors the block with a garden, tasting room, and a styled Airstream trailer serving as a small bites “food truck.” The family operation makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a bit of bubbly.
Just a block away, looking out over the western corner of town, Pinot Noir is the main event at Paul Mathew. Prior to making wine, Mat Gustafson did just about everything else in the wine and hospitality business, including developing hobby vineyards for owners of small estates, thus securing exclusive “handshake” deals for prime Pinot Noir fruit from vineyards that you won’t find elsewhere. Sideline varietals include Gewürztraminer. This comfortable spot offers cushions and pillows by the bay windows for lounging.
Located at the corner of Graton Road and Highway 116, this tasting room pours wine born of a lasting partnership formed in the 1990s between outdoorsy chemist-turn-winemaker Dan Goldfield, who has made Pinot Noir at La Crema, and grapegrower Steve Dutton, who farms over 1,000 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County. Single vineyard Pinot Blanc, Zinfandel, and Syrah, too.
Neighboring Dutton-Goldfield, Red Car has turned a former tractor supply shop into a spacious and stylish tasting room with many decorative details. The focus here is on Pinot, Chardonnay, and Syrah from what vintners call the “true” Sonoma Coast — and even a rare Cabernet Sauvignon from the coastal Fort Ross-Seaview wine region.
The signature tasting at international wine consultant Paul Hobbs’ Katherine Lindsay Estate may be pricier than the rest of town, but not out of reach for collectors of Hobbs’ luxury Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
Heading west out of town, Graton Road passes through a narrow, less-traveled valley lush with apple orchards and vineyards. Just past the farmhouses of the Dutton clan, you’ll find the Catalan-styled winery of Marimar Torres, cookbook author and scion of a Spanish wine dynasty. The tasting menu features the key varietals of this region, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also the Spanish varietal Albariño — a rare treat.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.