A 2005 trip to Alexander Valley
At the top of Sonoma County sits around 15,000 acres of prized vineyards. Within a total of 76,000 total acres, Alexander Valley has a variety of microclimates, which can support a magnificent range of grape varieties. On the gravelly terrain of the valley’s floor, Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme, as well as producing laudable Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Because enough coastal fog finds its way up the Russian River creating cool evening and morning conditions, Gewürztraminer and Riesling, have found a niche in the shadow of Mendocino. Overall the area is a warm growing area.
Lower Alexander Valley features small and splendid family owned wineries. The mixture of unique wineries and beautiful rolling hills of vineyards is hard to match in any wine country. It’s recommended that you pick up a picnic lunch at the famous Jimtown Store, located on Alexander Valley Road. From the Healdsburg Square, travel north along Healdsburg Ave for 3 miles, about 1 mile past Simi Winery. Turn right onto Alexander Valley Road. Jimtown store will be on your left about two miles, or so, on Highway 128.
After buying your picnic lunch at the Jimtown store, backtrack a little way to the first intersection. The Alexander Store will be on the west corner, turn right and travel north, after a mile and a half you will find the drive way for Styker. This winery’s tasting rooms give you a fabulous view of the Alexander Valley Vineyards. Here is the perfect place to have your picnic lunch while enjoying a delicious dry white wine. Styker’s Semillion boasts, with reason, an excellent quality. The Styker Sonoma Winery tasting rooms are open daily.
From Styker, go back past Jimtown store, following the winery signs, the Alexander Valley Road heads you toward Calistoga. Sausal Winery will be your next stop. This winery is owned by the Demostene Family, and the vineyard was once a ranch property by the name of Sausal. After the Demostenes bought the property in 1956, the winery began its operation in 1973. This is truly a family-operated winery, as Dave and Ed Demonstene are the growers and the winemakers, while their two sisters run the tasting room. Their premium Zinfandel is of the finest quality. They also produce a private reserve Zinfandel and a Century Vine Zinfandel from a vineyard that is 120 years old. The winery has planted a significant amount of Sangiovese, the predominant grape of the Chianti region in Italy.
Your next stop is just down the road from Sausal, on the opposite side. White Oak Vineyards and Winery was first established in 1981 as a small winery producing just a handful of wines from a single vineyard. In the years following, owner Bill Myers, brought in partners and purchased additional vineyards. The winery opened a new Mediterranean tasting room in 1998. Today the winery is making a line of excellent wines. The Zinfandel and the Syrah are incredible.
In the nineteenth century, Northern Sonoma County was explored and settled by a pioneer named Cyrus Alexander. He chose the most pristine acreage for his own family. In 1962 The Wetzel purchased the homestead, and populated it with varieties of premium grapes. Today this homestead is known as the Alexander Valley Vineyards. With 150 acres of carefully cultivated grapes, the Wetzel’s are a prominent family owned vineyard and winery. The property reaches from the Russian River to the surrounding foothills. The first vintage was in 1975, the Alexander Valley reputation has grown thanks to the wine maker Hank Wetzel. The Alexander Valley Vineyards can boast of their impressive Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the principal varietals, along with limited bottling of Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Zinfandel, Syrah and Pinot Noir. If available, don’t pass on the Sin Zin. Their tasting rooms are open daily -except major holidays- although tours are by appointment only.
Only a mile away is your next destination, Hanna Winery. Located on a hillside their tasting rooms give you an exquisite view of the lower Alexander Valley. The winery, owned by Dr. Ellis Hanna, produces outstanding wines. The Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are worthwhile.
The last stop for the lower Alexander Valley wineries is a mile down the road. Field Stone Winery is carved into a hillside of oak woodland vegetation. Their small tasting room is located inside of the wine cave. The Sauvignon Blanc has a spicy flavor, while the Petite Sarah is from 100 year old vines. Field Stone’s Sangiovese is heavier than most, still an incredible wine. They also produce a reserved collection of wines.
The upper Alexander Valley route guides you to an interesting array of wineries. You will find high caliber wines that will surely interest your palate. The gorgeous scenery of the area is something that you will not soon forget.
Traveling north on Healdsburg Avenue, you will find Simi Winery on the left side. It is one of the oldest wineries in California. Beginning operations in 1881, founded by Guiseppe and Pietro Simi. During the prohibition until being sold in 1970, the winery was run by Guiseppe’s daughter, Isabelle. The Simi Winery is one of the few wineries that offer daily tours giving you a historic look into wine making. Simi is on prime acreage in the Alexander Valley and is able to produce a variety of wines. There is a tasting fee that can be applied towards purchase, and they also charge a small fee for the tour.
Going back south on Healdsburg Avenue to Dry Creek Road, take the freeway north. Exiting at Independence Lane, turn right and then a left on Geyserville Avenue to Trentadue Winery. This is an incomparable, small winery owned and operated by Leo and Evelyn Trentadue. They purchased the land in 1959, then in 1984 they bottled the first Sangiovese, other wineries followed their lead. Trentadue produces a variety of excellent red wines, including Carignane, which is a grape known as filler and rarely bottled as a wine.
Crossing under Highway 101 on Independence Lane will lead you to the next destination, Coppola Winery. This use to be known as Chateau Souverian, but as of March 1st, 2006, they moved to a new location. Francis Coppola winery is a temporary name. The area is beautiful and has an awe-inspiring view of the Alexander Valley.
Back on the highway, you will want to take the Geyserville Avenue turnoff. Inside the town of Geyserville we find the Meeker Vineyards Tasting Room. You will see signs pointing the way. The tasting rooms are located in an old bank, equipped with the old teller windows and counter that is used as a tasting area, on Main Street. Meeker does not own a single vineyard; instead it buys grapes from selected vineyards in the region.
Continue along Geyserville Avenue after leaving Meeker Tasting Rooms, until you reach Canyon Road. Passing underneath the freeway, you need to turn right onto Chianti Road. Here is our next stop, Geyser Peak Vineyards. Established in 1880, it is now owned and operated by Peak Wines International, a division of Jim Beam Brands. Geyser Peak has won several awards for its wine, making varieties under four different labels.
Rezonja Wine Cellars is a very unique winery and perfect for those adventurous types. This winery is open by appointment only. Should you be wishing to visit, you will have to call ahead and talk to the owner and winemaker, Steve Rezonja to make plans and receive driving directions. Rezonja Wine Cellar is located in the northernmost section of Alexander Valley AVA, at an elevation of 2000 feet. It’s a long journey, but well worth the time. Not only will you be treated to some wonderful red wines, but a formidable view of the Russian River and the Alexander Valley. Mr. Rezonja makes his wines from the vineyard on Sky Pine Vineyards. Because of the mountain terrain and the high altitude, the grapes are severely stressed. The result is a fruit that is complex and intense.
Whether you decided to take the lower or upper roads of Alexander Valley, you are sure to find a wine, or wines that suit you. Be spirited on your travels, and discover new wines. Most of all enjoy your travels and take in the beauty that is the Alexander Wine Valley.