Iron Horse Vineyards
“Iron Horse is tucked away in western Sonoma County,” begins Joy Sterling’s classic 1993 paean to the wine country lifestyle, A Cultivated Life. “You can’t see it from the road, and we don’t put out any signs.” While some things have changed in 20 years—they’re now open daily for tasting, for one lucky thing—there’s much that hasn’t. Owned and operated by the Sterling family, Iron Horse remains both a top-tier producer of méthode champenoise sparkling wine, and a laid-back slice of west county rusticity.
Don’t wait for the train
As recently as 80 years ago, you could have taken an electric passenger train trip here. Today, your options are to motor carefully down the one-lane drive at the end of Ross Station Road, or walk or ride a bicycle from Sebastopol on the scenic West County Trail, following the former railroad. As the driveway climbs round a bend, lined with tall palms and olive trees, a lovely vista of Iron Horse’s rolling Green Valley vineyards opens up.
Take a sip
The tasting room is an open-air shack on the side of a barn, like some beachfront cantina. The bar is a slab of wood on barrels. Keeping cool for the road? Spit your sip on the gravel road behind your feet.
There is nothing rustic about the product, however. Iron Horse’s 2008 vintage of their beloved Wedding Cuvée ($38) is tinted lightly with copper, is somewhat austere despite a sweetly alluring aroma. The creamy mousse is the thing: rising to the top palate as if toasting the bride. Since 1986, the Russian Cuvée has also been an Iron Horse classic; the 2008 ($40) is a tad drier than vintages past. But they’ve created new classics, too, like the New Year’s celebration 2004 Chinese Cuvée ($98), and the 2007 Ocean Cuvée ($40), which not only has floral, grapefruit, and sugar cookie aromas, but benefits sustainable fisheries.
Prefer red? Much of the sparkling is made from Pinot Noir, naturally, so they’ve got red grapes on hand. The 2011 Estate Pinot Noir ($50) is scented like baking spice and sandalwood, and lolls over the palate luxuriously.
The 2004 Chinese Cuvée was recently released to celebrate the Year of the Snake, 2013. Beware of the boar.
Stick around for appetizers
Tucked away on the other side of the cellar, there’s a shaded gazebo with tables where visitors can enjoy a full glass of sparkling wine with their picnic. Every Sunday in April and May, Iron Horse hosts Oyster Sundays with traveling oyster bar The Oyster Girls, noon-4pm. On Earth Day, Sunday, April 21, 2013, “Eat, Drink, and be Green,” featuring a talk by author Jared Diamond.
Iron Horse Vineyards, 9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol. Open daily, 10am–4:30pm. Tasting fee, $15–$20. 707.887.1507.