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Russian River Vineyards

Russian River Vineyards

How does the promise of “mosquito free dining” all summer long sound? On an enchanted patio, under redwood trees and a charismatic structure built in 1969 as an architectural mashup of the Russian settlement at Fort Ross and Sonoma County’s historic hop kilns? What if the reason is, the attic is filled with 1,000 furry, winged insectivores? Remember, they don’t bite. The mosquitos do.

Don’t call it Topolos
Every day, people stop in who remember the Topolos days. While the winery has had a tough time rebooting after the departure of its former owners, with a new partnership of four owners, things are looking up in 2013. Key to its appeal is that it’s one of only five California wineries allowed to operate a restaurant on-site, due to “grandfathered” zoning. Also grandfathered, the right to use the name itself: Russian River wasn’t even a legally recognized appellation when the winery was founded.

Corks Restaurant is a place where people come and have lunch for hours, says co-owner Giovanni Balistreri, when the weather’s good. In the summer, live music is planned for Saturdays and Sundays. And here’s a brand-new pizza oven made from local clay, for—you guessed it—Pinot and Pizza days.

Take a sip
Named for a pooch that part-owner Chris O’Neill adopted from the streets of Baltimore, the 2009 Chester Chardonnay ($25) is no dog. Speaking of underdogs, the 2009 Charbono ($34) is a rare varietal wine, made from a Slow Food USA-declared “heritage grape.” Remember Topolos Zinfandel? The 2009 Sack Vineyard, Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($38) may please you with a fresh, focused beam of boysenberry. But why do they keep that patch of run-down, tired old vines at the entrance? It’s some of the first Merlot planted in Sonoma County, in 1967, and the 2008 Merlot ($70) earns its keep in plush, flavorful appeal.

Nerd out
There’s no need to be squeamish about the bats. Did you know: Bats can eat thousands of mosquitos per night, and look like miniature pug dogs, except that they’re cuter and definitely more useful? Fun facts.

Hit the road
After the wine, feel the need to boost your wine descriptor vocabulary, vis-à-vis blueberry jam, fig preserve, or apple butter? Just down the road, Kozlowski Farms has just about every jelly, jam, and preserve imaginable, plus picnic supplies.

Russian River Vineyards, 5700 Hwy. 116, Forestville. Daily, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee, $10. 707.887.3344.

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