Exploring new wineries is one of our great joys. A full day of visiting previously undiscovered wineries was before us on this gorgeous autumn day in the Russian River area. We were “Tasting Route 116” and our next stop was Graton Ridge Cellars!
This was stop number three on our Wine Club Appreciation tasting tour. We had already enjoyed tastings at Balletto Vineyards and the Taft Street Winery and couldn’t wait to visit Graton Ridge. Our favorite Balletto wine guide, Richard, had recommended Graton Ridge and that was all the encouragement we needed.
Graton Ridge Cellars felt like a family farm from the instant we drove in. There were baskets of fruit for sale along the parking area and fruit trees and grape vines everywhere. We picked out some persimmons to take home before we even entered left the parking lot. The tasting room was full of happy people, but had far fewer people than we expected based on the number of cars in the parking lot. The mystery was solved when we learned that most of the wine and food was being served on the back patio.
We started in the tasting room, with their 2014 Bella’s Blush, a Rosé of Pinot Noir. This was a home run! Starting with sour apple on the nose, we tasted cherries and strawberries, with just the right amount of sweetness. With a smile and a splash of wine still in our glasses, we found our way to the back patio.
The patio was a very exciting place: lots of wine, poured by the owner himself, amazing meatballs and (best of all) an amazing winery dog just aching to chase tennis balls. So much to do, so little time! First things first, we met Art Paul, the owner, and refilled our wine glasses. Art poured his 2012 Pinot Noir and described himself as an “amateur winemaker who hired a professional when he opened a winery because he couldn’t afford mistakes.” The story was fun and the Pinot was, too. Crisp and clean, somewhat light for a Pinot Noir, with interesting tobacco notes.
The next thing to catch our attention was their meatball station. Not to lie, this station received a lot of attention from us, but the servers pretended not to notice. Great meatballs in a luscious BBQ sauce. Perfect pairing for the Pinots and Zins in our future! As a clumsy eater, I appreciated that the meatballs were small enough to take in as one bite, reducing the chances of adding some BBQ sauce to my already wine-decorated shirt. Thanks, guys, for preserving what was left of my dignity!
As we sipped on some 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir, we noticed a sheltie/border collie mix cavorting through the grape vines and chasing tennis balls. Big fans of this type of dog, we couldn’t help but pitch in (see what I did there?) with some tennis ball tosses and a lot of scratching behind her ears. We learned that her name was Bella (the inspiration for the Rosé?) and that she was a fixture around the vineyard.
We tasted their 2011 Zinfandel, full of plum and cherry notes and their 2014 Petite Syrah, with its interesting anise finish, before returning to the tasting room for our final pour, a 2014 “A+” Apple Dessert Wine. We learned that they had operated an orchard sine the 40’s, so this blend of Graventsein, Jonagold and Golden Delicious apples made a lot of sense. We loved the spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. This was deemed the perfect after Christmas dinner beverage by all.
We paid for our wine, some olive oil and our persimmons and set off toward our next exciting new winery. Thanks to Art and his staff, and especially Bella for a fantastic first visit!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?