It’s a clear, beautiful morning and my boyfriend and I are headed North on the 101, towards Dry Creek Valley. For the first time in weeks we can see a crisp blue sky, and this is something we know to be thankful for: just a few weeks prior, this area was closed and under evacuation order due to recent fires. Now once again open for visitors, it’s time to show support for our local industries.
Over the last several months the wine industry has had no choice other than to adjust to the ever-changing regulations that have sprung up – and to be fair, we are still very much in a pandemic, which makes regulations a must. During my recent visits, I learned that just as much as I have missed the wineries and wine tasting, so have the wine staff missed hosting visitors and patrons. Should you have concerns about visiting, please know that you are very much welcomed and desired here.
The great news is that wine tasting experiences can be done safely in Sonoma County. Wineries have approached the regulations with gusto and flare, and have found a variety of approaches to host appointments in unique ways; just be sure to call ahead and schedule an appointment for your visit, as booking in advance is now required.
With its postcard panorama of mountains, sweeping views of the Russian River Valley, vineyards, and pond, Armida Winery welcomed us into its fold. Brandon the winemaker who has been here for 10 years, greets us with a cheery smile and a wave. It’s easy to relax here. Brandon is our host for the tasting, and already he feels like a new friend. We learn that he makes it a point to stop and visit with every wine tasting appointment – making a connection with visitors is key to him, and to the wine tasting experience here.
Armida believes that wine is better among friends, and to be here, means to have a good time with good company. In chatting with Brandon, we learn intimate details about the vineyards – such as for their Tina’s Block Zinfandel, each and every vine has been meticulously recorded and color charted by varietal, and that the blocks are affectionately named after the family’s adopted rescue dogs. We also learn that the winery owner does much of the landscaping on the grounds. It quickly becomes clear that Armida takes a hands-on approach to everything here: from the vineyard blocks and winemaking, to the guest experiences.
Armida Zinfandels are sophisticated in their depth and well balanced on the palate. “Floating” is a great way to describe the note balance. Their Zinfandel wines are seriously good – which is exactly why their Poizin Zinfandel is so playful: when you’re great at your job, you know how to relax and have fun with your craft. The Armida visit felt welcoming and approachable, and their wines reflect that experience. Their Maple Vineyards Zinfandel is one not to be missed!
To be at Martinelli Winery is to be among family. Roots run deep here: the business is family run, having first planted grapes in this region over 130 years ago. Some of their Zinfandel vines are over 140 years old. Martinelli’s knowledge and passion for wine shines brightly through too, which is showcased through winemaker Courtney Wagoner’s immense talent and meticulous attention to detail.
Before our wine tasting experience begins, our host Tessa takes us through a quick tour of the grounds. During our tour, I ask Tessa the question that hangs in the air: how did they do with the recent fires? From her I learn that they out of an abundance of caution, sustained some loss. She answers my question with such elegance and heart, that I’m reminded just how much of our experience of the last several months has been a collective one – we are still very much Sonoma County Strong, and our communal support of one another is crucial to our survival.
Our wine tasting experience is hosted on a large beautiful stone terrace, shaded under an expansive pergola covered with climbing Zinfandel vines. A gargling stream adds to the relaxing ambiance, effectively reducing the traffic of River Rd to a low hum. There are lounge sectionals that nudge right up to the vineyards edge, almost placing us in the vineyard. It is hard to beat being this close to the vineyards while sipping wine. Especially when tasting Zinfandels which are crafted so beautifully. A stand out favorite is the 2017 Vigneto di Evo; a wine bursting with dark fruits and hints of milk chocolate and oak.
A cheese and fruit platter is served alongside our Zinfandel tasting, and it is a much appreciated compliment to the experience. Snacks – especially those of the cheese and fruit variety, are always welcome. Tessa tells us a funny story about the Jackass Hill vineyard and how it got its name. The vineyard, planted in the 1880’s is the steepest of its kind in Sonoma County – and due to current regulations, there won’t be another one like it, making wine from the vineyard truly one of a kind.
Kokomo Winery is a dog-friendly winery, with their own claim to fame: resident doggo Westdale has his own local book cover; something the Kokomo team is happy and proud to share. It is Westdale who is the first to greet us upon arrival, and suddenly I realize that I wish was the norm for all wineries.
Hand sanitizer is provided for each guest at the check in table. Wine barrels, which have been turned into tables are evenly scattered beneath a tent just outside the tasting room with large beautiful leafy plants that coax visitors to relax and unwind.
Our Kokomo Winery experience is personable: our menus have been personalized with our names, which was a very nice touch. Our host Kevin informs us that there is a sticker- typography game with the various Kokomo branded graphics, which he plays with us (be sure to ask about this!). While playing, it becomes apparent that I do not know my 80’s and 90’s rock bands as well as I thought. Or perhaps I need more wine?
Service is friendly without the staff hovering, and reservations are scheduled with ample time to sip and enjoy without feeling rushed. Paula’s Vineyard Zinfandel comes highly recommended. As winemaker Erik told us: “when you’re in the best Zinfandel AVA in the world, there’s a lot of pressure to produce a remarkable wine”. And, they have done that here!
Amber Lucas, founded her lifestyle website AMusedBlog.com twelve years ago to share her travels, wine tourism, and local activism within Sonoma County. Connect with her on Instagram: @AmusedBlog