Forestville’s motto is “where the river meets the redwoods,” but it may as well be “where the river and the redwoods meet the vineyards.” The road out of town leads directly into an empire of redwood forest and the Russian River recreation area. But tucked away here and there are some of the Russian River Valley appellation’s top vineyards and historic wineries.
Main Street is Front Street
Forestville is a mostly rural town, with neighborhoods and small ranch properties spread out from the banks of the river to the vineyards of Green Valley. The compact “downtown” consists of one main drag called Front Street. While it may look like a pit-stop on the way to the river, for gas, snacks, or coffee, slow down and take a closer look: Pinot passion lives here — Zinfandel, too. Several newer operations have set up shop on Front Street, while venturing a mile or two out of town in any direction will turn up a few of Sonoma County’s best-known, best-loved, but also less-traveled wine tasting opportunities.
In Town Tastings
On the main route through town, the decor in this former gas station that was converted into an art gallery, and then tasting room, finds images of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-headed deity, alongside Grateful Dead and jazz posters. Find spicy, ripe Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Syrah-based “Raja Cuvée” from Jigar Patel and winemaker Josh Bartels here.
Another art gallery-turned-wine tasting room that doubles for an art gallery, Wine Guerrilla is your vinous comrade in the struggle against counterrevolutionary wines. Specializing in Zinfandel, the winery still displays the Picasso-esque work of artist Sean Colgin that some Zin lovers might recognize from older labels, while newer vintages sport designs by Miranda Byk, daughter of new winery owner Andy Railla. Hearty Zins, fun brand, and a hidden patio in the back.
New Pinot Noir-focused tasting room with a rustic-chic look on Front Street, opened by two friends who have experience working for some of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir greats. Picnic lunches and helicopter tours, too!
American Winery Building
An incubator for up-and-coming and offbeat wineries, the restored American Winery building was built in the 1920s and produced wine after Prohibition in the 1940s. Hidden just downhill from the main road, it is of historical interest but wineries here may not be able to accommodate tastings.
Classics South of Town
Our little “Champagne” region in Sonoma County just might be the cool Green Valley of Russian River Valley, where this family-owned sparkling wine producer makes fancy bubbles in a rustic setting. Top quality bubbly, made in the traditional method just like Champagne, married with rural West Sonoma County charm are the hallmarks of this spot, which can be reached by a drive down a one-lane road off Highway 116. Watch for vineyard cats. (Note: Although this winery has a Sebastopol postal address, it’s only two and a half miles from the center of Forestville.)
This is among the very few wineries in Sonoma County, and all of California, that has the “grandfathered” right to operate a restaurant on the premises. Styled as a hybrid of a hop kiln from the days when the “Russian River” area was a big name in the beer business (imagine that!) and Russian architecture at historic Fort Ross, the winery building has been remodeled as a comfortable tasting lounge that still retains some rustic character. The Restaurant at Russian River Vineyards, featuring garden-fresh produce grown onsite, and the upgraded back patio are more inviting than ever.
West of Highway 116
This is a Jackson Family Wines property, and they operate a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. But if you’re in the area, the Forestville estate is a special place to visit — not least because the drive (or bike ride for the more adventurous) down quiet Martinelli Road affords fine views of some historic vineyards, including the wickedly steep Jackass Hill Zinfandel vineyard. Acclaimed Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel from a Russian River Valley “sweet spot” are on offer here.
Iconoclasts to the East
Most everyone who’s familiar with Russian River Valley Pinot Noir knows the name Joseph Swan, yet the winery doesn’t have the trappings of a venerable estate that’s built an empire upon its reputation, nor of an overnight sensation that’s built glamour around its name. No, the cellar at Joseph Swan looks just about the same as when late founder Joe Swan worried over his barrels in his meticulous way, in the late 1960s and into the 1980s. And that’s what’s special about this place.
Although it bears a Santa Rosa postal address, the tasting room in this rambling, remodeled house is perched right on the edge of the Forestville area. It’s got a comfortable vibe and a dog-friendly deck overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Head on in, and get your nose in a glass of lushly fruited Pinot Noir and Zinfandel here; start with the surprisingly distinguished sparkling wine made from French Colombard from just down the road.
Restaurants and Lodging
The local favorite for brunch and beyond is Backyard, a casual spot with garden seating and a menu that features Sonoma County-sourced eggs, pork, and chicken — plus vegetarian-friendly options.
The place to really splurge is the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, which offers gorgeous guest rooms, a farm-to-table restaurant that earned a Michelin star, and a spa with farm-to-table signature treatments like using heirloom cider apple’s from the inn’s home ranch for facials, or herbs grown in its kitchen garden for a sumptuous “body melt.”