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Russian River Wine Road - Barrel Tasting Event

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The 28th Annual Russian River Wine Road Barrel Tasting event is this weekend March 3-5th. Has anyone been? Is it worth going? Wine straight from the barrel and stuff? Any input would be helpful. I'm going to be in the area for two nights and maybe it's a fun time? Thanks.

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    Claudette Wyms

    I went last year and it's a great event!

    Many of the wineries serve appetizers to go along with the wines. Some also offer discounts during this weekend.

    Just plan which wineries you want to visit so you don't waste time with driving and/or indecision.

    1. I usually try to make this event but can't this year. It's a lot of fun. One downside is that the wineries can get very crowded. I recommend getting an early start. It's also worth doing some research to determine which wineries to visit. I usually try to hit the ones that make wines in the styles I like or that aren't normally open to the public.

      1. I have not gone, but we gave my parents tickets to this last year as a present. It is great in terms of the tasting since the one ticket price lets you taste so many different wines that you might normally not be able to taste. Some of the places also serve food that compliment the wine that they have for tasting. I have also found that when you go as part of this event, they winemakers and people working at the wineries are much more helpful and friendly. Plus they sometimes have really good specials on their wines for those that have the tickets. Go online and look at who is doing the tastings and map out a plan ahead of time.

        But an even better bet to plan for later this year, is to look into their Tasting Along the Wineroad that happens in early november. it is a great foodie experience in which you get to taste many wines from about 100 different wineries if you choose, and each winery makes one or two of their speciality dishes that goes with their wine, and you get to take home a cookbook of the items you have tasted... in years past they have had lamb shanks, osso bucco, halibut ceviche, pulled pork sandwiches, fondue, coconut shrimp soup.... Have fun!

        5 Replies
        1. re: Mel

          The Barrel Tasting event is free ---- there are no tickets required--- just a wine glass. Are you sure you have the right event?

          1. re: Earl Monroe
            Melanie Wong

            Yep, no tickets, just a $5 fee for a wine glass.

            Best to go on Friday if you can before the rush.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Mel's probably thinking of Winter Wineland that happens in January, which I have not attended. Good tip about Friday, I had forgotten that I did that one year, it was fantastic.


              Link: http://www.wineroad.com/events/winter...

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  just went last weekend and had a great time. Actually it cost 10.00 per person, you pay this at any of the wineries in the area and you are set for the rest of the day.

            2. I'm going to this event Friday and Saturday. I've searched previous posts and come up with a list of wineries reccomended here: Simi, Christopher Creek, Sunce, Meeker ,J wine, Limerick, Unti, Siduri. Any one have thoughts on the current status of these wineries? As we plan our route, which are worth going out of the way for? My favorite varietals are pinots, zins and sangiovese, but there will be a group and various tastes involved.

              Also, since I enjoy wine but am in no way a connoisseur, I'd like to hear about which places offer the best food at this event.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sfeater

                there were a few in downtown that we really liked.. selby, franciscan, rosenbloom.... geyser peak and good reds and ports this past year.

              2. I've been several times - I have found that I'm able to avoid most of the crowds if I start my crawl as far north as possible (I usually stay up there the evening before). Since most people head up from the south to start their day the northern end is pretty quiet until well into the afternoon.

                2 Replies
                1. re: brokergal

                  How do you avoid crowds at the southern wineries? Or do you?

                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                    I don't - the ones at the south end are pretty much hopping from open to close.

                2. I've been going to this event for at least 10 years, and it is much more crowded and much less enjoyable these days. All good things must come to an end, I suppose, and it goes along with the article recently on the morphing of Sonoma county into "Napa-west".

                  As to the wineries you listed:
                  * Christopher Creek makes good wine, but is usually crowded. They tend to have food to go with the wines, they sell futures, and are a good value. No pinot, but zin, syrah and petit are all good.
                  * J is not officially participating, but the tasting room offers great food and wine parings. They charge $12, however.
                  * Siduri (and their other label, Novy) makes great pinots and other wines, and a lot of it. Usually crowded, but the space can handle it (not so much the parking lot, though). Last year they had some of the growers signing bottles.
                  * Unti is a good stop, a bit under-the-radar, but that means less crowded and less expensive. Syrah and grenache are quite good, and sangiovese as well. They are working on temperanillo.
                  * Davis Family makes a nice pinot (and cab), and they sell futures. Across the street is Holdredge and Sapphire Hill, both of whom make decent pinots as well.

                  A note about 2007--the ads say "no tickets required", but they also say a $10 glass is required. If a place is tasting and selling futures, I don't know how they can prevent you from trying and buying. Or that they would want to. Bigger places, though, may have barrel tasting in a different area and enforce the glass purchase. In the past, they suggested you bring your own glass if you don't want to buy one, so I plan to do that. I'm also going on Friday to try to beat the crowds.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Bryan Gros

                    They say "No Tickets Required!" in their promotional literature and website but in the very next sentence they say

                    "To taste, everyone must purchase our tasting glass and event wristband for $10.00 at the first winery they visit, each weekend. "

                    which is kind of strange phrasing.

                    This event has been "The Last of the Mohicans" for many years in the sense that it was the last <i>free</i> event in the wine country. You had to bring your own wine glass but that was it. Then a couple of years ago it was still free but I noticed they started to put on the pressure to make you buy their logo glasses for $5. This year, for the first time, they are forcing you to pay $10.

                    This event, usually held on the worst-weather-of-the-year weekend, used to attract a true-aficionados crowd and the wineries loved it. In the last few years, however, it's become much more popular and now it's a real zoo. Similar to what happened to another extremely popular weekend event, held in April, The Dry Creek Pasport. That event too, started many years ago charging a modest fee and now it's $110 for the weekend!

                    I get a feeling that the wineries resisted charging for the Barrel Tasting event but the costs of running it probably got too high. Hence the strange wording of "no ticket, but must buy wristband."


                    1. re: Bryan Gros

                      Thanks for the more detailed info on specific wineries. Unfortuate that this one time low pro event has been discovered, but then i probably wouldn't have heard about it otherwise. I've spent a couple rainy days winding up and down dry creek road hardly seeing another soul, so at least that's still possible on non event days. To be honest i'm looking forward to a celebratory atmosphere. FYI for crowd avioders I highly reccomend super bowl sunday. Did alexander valley this year and were usually the only ones around. great opportunity to chat up the staff, though i suppose the winemaker isn't always present. Anyway, i'll be sure to report back on the state of the Russian River Barrel Tasting weekend next week!

                      1. re: sfeater

                        Another piece of advice to avoid crowds - go to the small wineries. For example, check out Moshin, Benovia, or Inman Family -- they are all in the Russian River area and the focus on Pinot Noir. If you like Zinfandel, drive up to the Dry Creek Valley and try Nalle, Quivira, or Unti.

                        1. re: nowhineelite

                          the crowds come in flows, super crowded the within 15-20 min. clear again. just experienced this two weekends ago.

                    2. I went up to the Russian River Valley on both Saturday and Sunday to maximize the $10 spent on the event. They do enforce the $10 fee by giving out a logo glass plus a blue wristband (for this first weekend, so I suspect they'll have a different color next week). Although I can't say I'm an expert in wine, I've drank a good deal to know what I like, so here's my two-cents about the wineries...

                      1) Sbragia Family Wines - They poured one red wine at the bar (forgot which) and a 2006 Zinfandel barrel tasting which was really good. They also had some sort of garlic bread to pair with the wine. The tasting room is relatively new and has a spectacular view of the Dry Creek Valley on the terrace.

                      2) Yoakim Bridge Winery - It has more of a family feel because the tasting area is inside of a barn-type space. The people here are very friendly, but it was pretty crowded. No food here...

                      3) Armida Winery - This place was overrun with people when we arrived at almost 5pm... seriously, I've never been to a winery with this many people who were, I think, mostly half-drunk. I believe this is because they have a very nice picnic area overlooking a pretty lake and the valley. They were pouring 5 different wines, a Chardonnay, Zin, Poizin (a special Zin they say is "to die for"), Cabernet Sauvignon and something else... not my favorite place though.

                      1) Francis Ford Coppola (yet unnamed) Winery - The terrace with seating area at this winery was just heavenly, they had two jazz musicians playing here to enhance the atmosphere as well. From the barrels, they had their zinfandel paired with polenta bolognese and a chardonnay paired with porridge (sorry, forgot the name but it had some chickpeas in it I think). We were there when they opened up at 11am, so couldn't tell if it would be crowded.

                      2) Ridge Vineyards / Lytton Springs - Ridge is actually located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but they own some vineyards in the Sonoma Valley as well. In their barrel room (where you have to walk through the cool passage lined with walls of barrels), they have a Zinfandel, but the main attraction is the 2006 (or was it 2005?) Monte Bello first assemblage they have outside. This is the Cabernet Sauvignon which won the Tasting of Paris last year and many years ago... and it usually retails for $130 and up (depending on vintage). It really is that good. No food here, but they offer free tastings of two other wines as well.

                      3) Dry Creek Vineyard - They still checked my ID here even though I already have on my wristband (but I should be happy about that I guess). In their barrel room, they have a barrel tasting of the Zinfandel and the Cabernet Sauvignon... these were not really my favorites, but they had a special tasting of the Regata (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and something else) which was crisp and fresh and was only $10 a bottle. They also had a special 2003 Merlot which was $33 per bottle but only $99 a case (weird!! but they said it was their special) No food here either.

                      4) Passalacqua Winery - This winery was right across the street from the Dry Creek Vineyard so even though I hadn't planned on going there, we crossed the street and went anyways... but I was really glad that we did because they had AMAZING chicken paella which was cooked in a very very large (about 3 feet in diameter) round skillets by Gerard Paella. Gerard and Tim were the ones cooking there and they seem to specialize in traveling around and catering to events (they say about $22/person is the usual price). The chicken drumsticks and wings were surprisingly moist and tender without being undercooked, we went back for thirds cuz we just couldn't help it!

                      5) La Crema Winery - Their winery is usually not open to public, because they have tasting room in Healdsburg. However, the winery itself was unremarkable, wines were served in a lobby-sort of space... their Chardonnay from Russian Creek Valley was not bad.

                      6) Siduri Winery - Now this place was recommended by many Chowhounds and it really is in a really big warehouse. Food was just edible, it was two kinds of pizza-breads, one was pesto and the other was tomato-based. First, they had a barrel tasting of the 2006 Novy Van der Kamp Vineyard Blanc de Noir which is a grape usually used to make champagne, this is quite refreshing and has lots of fruit flavors. The most interesting thing about this wine is that they are producing only ONE barrel of it, going for $29 per bottle. Most other wines were different Pinot Noirs with different blends of grapes from various vineyard. For the Siduri Keefer Vineyard Pinot Noir, they had an interesting DNA comparison test going on... it is a wine blended with four different strands of pinot noirs, so you get to taste each of the blended pinots on its own and then the final product. Another plus about this place is how enthusiastic and how friendly everyone is... very enjoyable tasting in a warehouse.

                      7) Sunce Winery - They had BBQ ribs and caesar salad but you had to purchase a plate for $3 to actually eat, and it didn't really seem all that great, so I didn't have any. They had a variety of less common varietals such as Barbera, Malbec, but they also had Zinfandels and Merlots and such... however, I am very skeptical of their practice of using the same device to get wine from different barrels of wines, it is definitely a strange thing and I've not seen any other vineyard do that.

                      This is a long review and my first real posting on Chowhound, so I hope it is helpful to some of you. If I had to pick four to recommend visiting for this event, it would have to be Passalacqua for the food, Sbragia for the wine and view, Francis Ford Coppola for the atmosphere and Siduri for the variety and quality of wines.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: liujenny

                        The "device" is known as a THIEF and I am curious what you are skeptical about -- the fact that a miniscule amount of the previous wine might get mixed into another barrel? It IS alcohol after all so there are no germ issues.

                        Trust me - I have worked at a number of vineyards and we do it all the time.

                        1. re: Carrie 218

                          I'm skeptical that I might not be able to distinguish between the different wines because the amount they give you for barrel tasting isn't a whole lot, so even a little bit of the previous wine mixed in might make a difference. Of course, I'm no expert, it just seemed a little bit weird to me as it was the only winery doing that.

                      2. Hey, I am staying in Russian River this weekend. Does anyone know of an area where there are a couple wineries within walking distance from eachother. I have never been before and I was wondering the average distance between them. Thanks.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: vickivale

                          The wineries along alexander valley are pretty tightly packed.

                        2. Two wineries across the road from each other are Dry Creek and Passalacqua, not far out of Healdsburg. That said, you really need a car to "do" the wineries in the area.



                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Mick Ruthven

                            A number of the tasting rooms around the plaza in downtown Healdsburg are participating in barrel tasting. Those would be easy to hit up on foot.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Do you think the World of Pinot Noir event in Shell Beach (Mar 2-3) might have had an impact, or is the competing schedule the norm?

                              1. re: PolarBear

                                Yes, that's one of the theories. WOPN has been on that date for the last few years, I think, but is growing into serious competition for the same audience. Did you go to Shell Beach? A couple years ago one friend drove down to Shell Beach for the parties Saturday night, slept in her car, then drove back to Sonoma County first thing in the morning for barrel tasting!

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Now *that's* dedication! Yes, a group of eight of us went this year, after missing out on tickets last year. It was a great event, more vintners pouring that ever, even a nice little side tent for international entries. We only attended the Saturday afternoon tasting but very pleased to see some quality folks that had been missing in the past, Gary Franscioni was pouring a couple of his Roar vintages, and got to meet the Jeff, the son of the other Gary (Pisoni) who was pouring their Lucia bottlings. The Carmel Cheese Shop was there with their mega-spread of wonderful cheese and the catered snack food was definitely above and beyond all previous efforts. I mentioned some of it in my report:

                          2. I'm volunteering at my friends' winery in RRV today (friday), taking a break from thief'ng with a sandwich in the office. They said that last weekend was as big for them as prior years, but most of the other wineries they've had a chance to talk to this week said that business was down quite a bit, some as much as 50 or 70% below expectation. This weekend (March 9 to 11) will be a big unknown as this is the first time the event spans 2 weekends as well as charging $10 per head. So far this morning has been slow, mostly members of the trade dropping by and locals. Last weekend had more folks from out of state, makes sense as they plan to return for the first weekend in March each year and make their plans way ahead of time. Wineries are hoping that the locals and the wine geeks are holding back for this weekend as the big dollar sales didn't happen last week. The sun's just starting to break through the clouds after a light sprinkle this morning, should be gorgeous this weekend for a visit to northern Sonoma County. B&B's and motels are reporting they're full for the weekend.

                            1. I went last Friday and Saturday (March 2 and 3). Friday's attendance was about the same as in previous years. Saturday was not a mad house like I expected. It was crowded but not crazy. Parking was never an issue at any winery, whereas in years past cars would be spilling out on the roads and blocking traffic. The most crowded place I was in was the Family Wineries place in Dry Creek where they have something like 8 different wineries (Armida, Papapietro, etc.) sharing the same facilities and parking lot. But even that was quite manageable. I expected big crowds at Siduri, but when I got there around 2 pm Saturday -- prime time -- it was fairly active but nothing like "three-deep" as in years past.

                              I don't know what to attribute this to. The weather was absolutely perfect. One thing I noticed this year was a lot more people using limos than in years past. This is probably a good trend -- fewer drunk drivers, but maybe people who come by limo don't buy as much. Maybe they just want to get a buzz with their limo friends and move onto the next winery?

                              It'll be interesting to find out how this weekend will have fared. If you find out, please post next week.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: svL

                                Sorry, that Family Wineries place (Family Wineries Tasting Room is their full name) has Amphora, not Armida.

                                1. re: svL

                                  34 of the 78 participating wineries requested "no limos or buses".

                                  Things picked up at the winery in the afternoon, but not the elbow-to-elbow crowds I've seen before. This was my first time working on a friday, usually I take a Saturday or Sunday.

                                  It's my understanding that there will be a big rehash at the wine road association. It was somewhat controversial to make it two weekends, and it will be interesting to see if sales were much more than when it was a 3-day affair or just spread out over a longer period of time.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Whoops, there are 112 wineries participating. 34 request "no limos", leaving 78 where limos and buses are ok.