And if you’re in the Russian River Valley, there is really only one winery based option to choose from if your answer is “yea” and that is Cork’s, the storied restaurant at the equally storied Russian River Vineyards.
The Russian River Valley has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a primarily agricultural area up until the mid-to-late 1960s. That said, long before the Russian River Valley even became an appellation in 1983, Russian River Vineyards was already leading the way.
Nearly two decades earlier in 1963, Russian River Vineyards hadn’t just already come into being, its then owners had already planted the very first Merlot vines the Valley would know in what was formerly a hay field. Most interestingly, they did so at a time when their neighbors were busy planting apples and prunes.
Nowadays a tall, wooden winery structure stands at the heart of the rustic property as a powerful reminder of from whence the Valley has come.
A far cry from its simpler beginnings, Russian River Vineyards has today become almost as well known for the menu at its stellar Cork’s restaurant as it is for the stellar selection of highly praised wines it produces. On a recent afternoon, I drove up Highway 116 to Forestville to sample both.
First off, it’s worth noting that the drive up to Russian River Vineyards alone is a treat in and of itself. However pulling off the highway into the rocky driveway leading up to the venerable 1890s’ farmhouse that is home to Russian River Vineyards’ restaurant and tasting room feels like the real beginning of the adventure.
At the risk of sounding cliché, at first glance I was reminded of the movie Sideways. Yes, feel free to groan if you must.
Given its history and reputation, you might expect a bit more flash from Russian River Vineyards, but what you get instead as you approach that old farmhouse is a real sense of both the winery’s rugged appeal as well as its commitment to and respect for the history of the region.
Before lunch, my companion and I popped into the tasting room to sample some wine – of course. The vineyard’s extraordinary history with red wines assured some pretty spectacular standouts like the 2010 Pinot Noir (a real steal at $25) and the 2009 Petite Sirah Guido, both of which left us raving.
However it was the 2009 Charbono that really sealed the deal. If you only try one wine at Russian River Vineyards make it the Charbono because, given that there are only 86 acres of this grape variety grown domestically, it is unlikely you will find it many other places in the U.S. It really is a beautiful and unique small production wine that fans of Rosé will most assuredly celebrate.
With the weathered winery structure in full view and the vineyards just over the horizon, we sampled chef Todd Davies creative menu designed to be paired with Russian River Vineyards selection of wines which is particularly special because, as I mentioned earlier, Cork’s is the only winery-based restaurant in the Russian River Valley.
We ordered the Butter Lettuce Salad with Radicchio and Wild Arugula, the Pan Roasted California Sea Bass with fingerling potatoes and the Gio Burger and each plate further demonstrated why Cork’s has been awarded so many accolades recently.
(For the record, the restaurant was just voted “Best Outdoor Dining” by the readers of Bohemian.com and lauded as one of OpenTable.com’s 2012 Diner’s Choice winners). The setting, the food and the wine created the perfect trifecta for a memorable afternoon of revelry and escape.
For a romantic lunch with your partner (proposals anyone?), a big birthday bash or just as an excuse to get together a gaggle of your best gay friends, an afternoon or evening dining among the vines at Russian River Valley Vineyards’ Cork’s restaurant is certain to guarantee that a gay old time will be had by all.
Find out more about Russian River Vineyards at www.russianrivervineyards.com.
[Hint: Go to the website and print out a coupon for a complimentary wine tasting if you’re going to be in the area]