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Russian River valley day trip - picnic spot, help to narrow winery list?

We're taking a day trip to RRV from SF tomorrow (Super Bowl Sunday). Been to Sonoma town area / Napa so many times but never visited wineries in RRV. Primarily interested in tasting pinots, but tend to drink whites on a daily basis so open to that, and to be honest, I like sparkling as well. Here are some options, but we need to narrow it down to 3 or 4 that are driveable in a day trip:

Lynmar Estate
Twomey Cellars
Dutton Estate
Joseph Swan
Gary Farrell

We also want to picnic, and have seen Hop Kiln and Arista mentioned as good spots. Any other suggestions? And where to get supplies, beside Whole Foods in Sebastipol?

One more criteria is price - since our budget is somewhat limited, a better quality-to-price ratio, and wine in the $30 range, is better if we're actually going to buy anything. But we're happy just to taste, if the winery is a little larger, and not making a special effort just for us.

Thanks so much for your thoughts!

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  1. Rochioli has a very nice picnic area overlooking their vineyard. I think you can buy wine by the glass there, too.

    1. If you're coming out here then start at Swan and then fixate on Westside Rd seeing you already mention Gary Farrell and Rochioli. Also don't miss Arista.
      Across the river on Eastside Rd Copain offers exceptional pinots and a nice picnic area with incredible views of the valley. have a great time!

      1. I know you have your RRV list, but if you have time, I'd add Merry Edwards and Dehlinger for your next excursion:

        1. I work in the wine industry in Healdsburg. If you want to stick in RRV and at a reasonable cost I would suggest staying away from Lynmar, Twomey, and Gary Farrell.

          My favorite picnic winery in RRV is Arista or Thomas George. If you head up 116 I would stop at Andy's Market for picnic supplies (bread, cheese, meats etc) It is on 116 just before Occidental Road.

          If you enjoy sparkling, I would say make Iron Horse your first stop. Enjoy the view and some bubbles and then move on to Joseph Swan. Then make your way to westside road and taste and picnic at Arista or Thomas George. Don't miss Porter Creek!

          Hope that helps!

          1 Reply
          1. re: airn323

            Yeah, Andy's is great. If you don't mind taking a little detour, stop by Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone.

          2. I would skip Hop Kiln - their wines were markedly two steps below the others on your list - and they were still in the $20-40 range.

            Lynmar is very "Napa" (expensive - swanky grounds) but I really, really like their wines, and it was a really nice visit.

            1. This is great, but hasn't narrowed my list much! We're going to stick with the RRV appellation, so we're not driving all over. And we've decided to keep the focus more on pinots. The only one I feel committed to is Joseph Swan, for great pinot and QPR. And a nice setting is worthwhile too. So my question now is, which two offer the best combination of excellent, balanced pinot and nice setting between:
              Lynmar (we supposedly get to taste free w/ Visa Signature)
              Hartford Family
              Gary Farrell
              Dutton - Goldfield
              Porter Creek
              Thomas George (also free w/ Visa Sig.)
              (Merry Edwards is closed Sundays in winter)

              4 Replies
              1. re: leeinsf

                These have little to no ambiance:
                Porter Creek - Tasting shed - cool roosters/hens. Very delicate, subtle wines.
                Dutton Goldfield - Basic tasting room (no pretty vineyards etc.). Really love their Devil's Gulch Pinot; it's complex and rich.

                These have ambiance:
                Lynmar - well manicured, posh grounds. If it's not too busy, you get to sit out on the patio it's very nice - Pinots also very nice fruity but balanced and complex. Wine is markedly expensive.
                Rochioli - Pretty grounds - typical Sonoma. Nice outdoors and indoors. Pinot may or may not be available. They only have one available to the public. A very nice Pinot if it is available.
                Arista - A long time since I'd been there. Their grounds are nice - typical Sonoma - can't remember if there's room outside or only an indoor tasting room. Can't remember their Pinots.

                Haven't been to:
                Hartford Family
                Gary Farrell
                Thomas George

                1. re: leeinsf

                  Have you been to Joseph Swan? I really like them and tasting there, but the setting is very downscale. I didn't realize you were looking for a "nice setting" whatever that means.

                  1. re: wally

                    I'm good with downscale, funky, chickens and a shed. "Nice setting" was too vague, and not every winery has to check off every box. But we want a little of the bucolic winery experience, whether elegant or more farm-y, and seeing a range would be good. Lynmar sounds good, as long as elegant doesn't also mean uptight. Given we want to relax, and enjoy the countryside, Dutton-Goldfield may not make the top 3. The westside Road options seem like a good fit, if they'll pour a nice pinot or two.

                    1. re: leeinsf

                      Then you'll be all right with Swan and Porter Creek, both of which I enjoy.

                2. Dear Lee: I'm going to chime in since there has been no mention of Woodenhead or Martinelli, and both make veyr highly rated pinots. Besides that, they taste good. Both are located on River Road, in the heart of the RRV. By the way,Woodenhead's tasting room is on the second floor, and there is a nice deck associated with it. I don't know whether it would be as "pretty" as say Rochioli, but I think a lunch on their deck would be fun.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: pinotho

                    You're missing out if you pass on Copain. just sayin'

                  2. RRV TRIP REPORT
                    We had a great time. First stop was Joseph Swan. Rather wish we didn't stop here first, as I drank coffee the drive up, and didn't feel I had a good frame of reference for the tasting, but gotta start somewhere! please forgive my uneducated notes that follow. The two pilots we tried were very different from each other, and had a hard time deciding which to purchase. Trenton View (I think, and can't remember the vintage) was a lighter wine, much more Burgundian, as the pourer put it. The 09 Cuvée de Trois, which I bought a bottle, was more fruit, and to me an interesting dark note in the middle, I really want to try it again.
                    Second stop was Rochioli, as they were pouring a newly released estate Pinot, and I thought it was a good picnic option. Frankly, to me the wine was soft and round and elegant and fruity, but not layered. The server assured me that it needed a few years, but I couldn't get excited. A 2010, the youngest red we tried. At their pricing, nothing called to me, so though they seemed a good picnic option, we moved on.
                    Third stop was Thomas George Estates. The cave is cool, and the pourer nice enough. First pour was an unoaked chard that tasted like apple juice, odd. Then the 09 estate Chardonnay, with vibrant fruit and very restrained oak, which I ended up buying. The two pinots poured were both tasty, but at $60 beyond my budget. Particularly liked the Campbell-----(ranch?). We had a great picnic here after tasting, sparkling water only but great food, and had the area to ourselves.
                    Last, and best,stop was Porter Creek. At first there was only one other couple, but unfortunately it quickly became crowded with more folks than at any other winery, despite having the smallest space. However, an assistant winemaker was pouring, and he was fabulous. Would love to return and ask more questions. Loved the reserve elegance of the reserve Pinot and the old vine Pinot, but due to price, purchased the Fiona hill. Everything I tried was tasty and interesting. Trying the juicy chewy tannin Carignan was fun. Trying the low acid, butter oak viognier was fun, especially in comparison with the chard, but struck me as a little heavy.
                    To sum up, loved the low key Shaw and Porter Creek, probably at least partly because they felt more approachable. And I also had they sense that they were letting their wines' individuality come through a little more, but that could be just my imagination.
                    Stopped at Andy's on the way home, for some good coffee. (hubby hardly tasted at all, and manned the wheel.)
                    Thank you all so much for all your good tips. Can't wait to return and educate myself some more with the places we missed!

                    1. Sorry for the poor editing- typed that on an iPad!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: leeinsf

                        Thank you for the report back! Much appreciated.