Russian River Redux

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A region springs to life

by Courtney Cochran

Sonoma County's westerly Russian River Valley is like no other place in Northern California's storied wine country. 

One need only drive down winding, pine tree-dotted Highway 116 hugging the Russian River to feel transported to another place.  The towering redwoods and river-side clapboard cottages seem to belong to another time as well, a time when lazy days spent dangling your feet in the cool river while sipping a glass of one of the region's award-winning Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs were commonplace.   

Fortunately, these experiences are alive and well right here in the present, and not far off the beaten path from what most of us considers the heart of Sonoma's wine country.  Read on for highlights of some of the best places to stay, dine, and taste in the Russian River Valley. And whatever you do, don't forget your spirit of adventure: This is a whole new kind of wine country experience.

Stay + Eat
Travelers looking for an authentic Russian River lodging experience will feel tucked away from reality at the 100-plus year-old Village Inn. With 10 guest rooms, an on-site restaurant and bar, and easy access to nearby activities like tennis, fishing, swimming, canoeing, and kayaking, the recently renovated inn is ideally situated right on the river.  Over 100 Russian River-area wineries are located within a half hour's drive, but you may not want to leave this comfy spot that appeared in the Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire flick "Holiday Inn", now famous for Irving Berlin's classic song "White Christmas".
(20822 River Blvd., Monte Rio, CA 95462  Tel 707-865-2304

Apparently, good lodging comes in tens in Russian River - ten rooms, that is. A touch further inland from our Crosby and Astaire haunt is the well-hyped ten-room Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant. In their short tenure as owners (they bought the spot in 2001), siblings Catherine and Joe Bartolomei have created a veritable oasis of food, drink, and luxurious spa treatments in the heart of Russian River. With an emphasis on top-quality local products - many ingredients at the spot's Michelin starred-resto are sourced from Farmhouse's own organic farm - and comfortable wine country elegance, this is definitely the most haute way to enjoy the best of western Sonoma's spoils.
(7871 River Rd., Forestville, CA 95436 Tel 707-887-3300

A visit to Pinot powerhouse De Loach Vineyards' recently redesigned tasting room now includes barrel tasting and a tour of winery facilities including an organic garden and estate vineyards, which are in transition to being biodynamically-farmed. Tours are offered daily at 10am, 12pm and 2pm.  Travelers with a hankering for some eats can partake in a reserve tasting with food pairing, also offered daily at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.  And folks with a passion for yoga AND wine can sign up for DeLoach's new private Yoga Retreat Weekends, which include lodging at the winery and all sort of other perks.
(1791 Olivet Rd., Santa Rosa, CA 95401 Tel (707) 526-9111

Russian River legend Gary Farrell's winery offers one of the best intimate tasting experiences in the valley. Situated on a stunning hillside amidst a grove of ancient redwood trees, Gary Farrell Vineyard & Winery pours its award-winning Pinot Noir and other selections for small groups (those traveling with more than 10 will need to make an appointment) in order to allow ample attention for each guest. Be sure to allow adequate time, because this is a spot meant for lingering. Open daily from 11am to 4pm. (10701 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448 Tel 707-473-2900 )

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Hi - loved this! And truly appreciate your perspective on West county. Is there room for you to announce the Monte Rio Tasting Group? All are welcome. They meet monthly on 2nd Monday's 6:30-8PM at the Monte Rio Community Center. I'd love help getting the word out and can happlily provide more info. Thank you.

Thanks for this helpful and up-to-date itinerary. We thought your visitors to our very special area might appreciate the option to visit Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in historic Freestone. We're home to the only Japanese Cedar Enzyme Bath in North America and offer exceptional, 75-minute massages and organic skin care treatments. Followed by a visit to our exquisite Meditation Garden, this is the perfect end to a day of winetasting!

Not right on the river but a 10 minute drive south along the scenic Bohemiann Highway is the quaint village of Occidental. Here you will find the AAA Four Diamond Inn at Occidental. The Inn has 16 guestrooms and a two-bedroom vacation house adjacent to the Inn. This is the perfect hub for exploring the dramatic Sonoma Coast beaches, tasting at smaller, boutique wineries, and visiting Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. There are several restaurants in walking distance. Five minutes further south is Osmosis in Freestone. One of the most scenic drives in NorCal begins in Occidental at the intersection of the Bohemian Highway and Coleman Valley Road. The road ends at Pacific Coast Highway, just north of Bodega Bay.

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