Wine Tasting in Guerneville
Many a thirsty traveler has undoubtedly emerged from a winding, redwood-shaded drive up Highway 116 to cross the Russian River and arrive in downtown Guerneville, only to wonder, 'So, where are all the Russian River Valley wineries?'
A sleepy hideaway on the Russian River, Guerneville has surged with crowds of vacationers every summer for a century - and lately has gained buzz as a hip wine country dining and shopping destination for weekenders. But although it's technically situated on the western edge of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), until recently there's been nary a wine tasting room to be found along downtown Guerneville's half-mile stretch of Main Street.
That changed with the opening of the tasting room for Inizi Wines. Co-founded by A.J. and Jen Filipelli with John and Kirsti Harley, Inizi (which means "beginnings" in Italian) produces an eclectic mix of Italian and regional French styles: a Sangiovese blend, a rare Tocai Friulano (an Italian white grape), and the very rare, typically deeply hued but food-friendly red varietal Charbono. The tasting room is located in the remodeled interior of the 1921 Bank of Guerneville building. Now called the Guerneville Bank Club, the building was designed in classic, solid style by a renowned architect of the day. The building takes its name from an old bar once located across Main Street, the 'Bank Club.'
While on the main drag, you can also taste wine at the retro, foodie-friendly Big Bottom Market, and at restaurants like the contemporary bistro boon eat + drink. Around the corner is Equality Vines, featuring a limited release collection of wines to benefit the Human Rights Campaign and the nonprofit, One Glass for Equality. Stop in for a tasting at their Main Street tasting room.
Just outside of town, two more wine tasting opportunities reflect Guerneville's eclectic mix of mainstream tourism and alternative paths: American's favorite sparkling wine producer, Korbel Champagne Cellars, and little Biodynamic and family-owned Porter-Bass Winery.
Free tours of Korbel Champagne Cellars start at the visitor center, which was formerly a station on the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad. Inside the iconic brick winery building you'll learn all about the property's redwood logging days and get a tutorial on the champagne method; see a short, fun film; and end up at the old-school tasting room for sips of sparkling brut, extra dry, and winery-exclusive brut premier sparkling wine. There's a deli onsite and you can picnic under the massive, second-growth redwoods.
At Porter-Bass Winery, owner Luke Bass works among an eclectic collection of Chardonnay, chickens, and a coonhound dog. 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.
The tiny, 1,000-case winery and cellar is built into the side of the earth, and when it comes time for tasting, guests 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, and the menu is hand drawn on a board tacked to the tree.
And after wine tasting in Guerneville, you won't have to travel much farther to enjoy your wine in the great outdoors: tuck a chilled bottle in your knapsack to enjoy on the beach while watching the canoes go by, or slip a few nips in a canteen for a hike through the redwoods in the 805-acre Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve or exploring the adjacent 5,683-acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight