Northside SF
The Weekend Traveler
Sebastopol and the Russian River Valley
Enjoy tapas and wine at Marimar Torres
Planning a trip to wine country? One advantage of living in the Northside is you can go in any direction and discover some of the best wines in the world. This particular weekend, my husband and I drove northwest to the friendly farming community of Sebastopol and the lush Russian River Valley. Typical of the weather in this region, we were in fog and mist in the morning and warm, sunny skies by afternoon.

First settled in 1812 by Russian explorers (hence the name) who planted Gravenstein apples, now you’ll discover award-winning wines, great chefs using artisanal products, and a beautiful landscape as well as a vibrant local scene. Sustainable farming practices have prevailed for more than 150 years.

Deep in the separate Green Valley AVA and among its rolling hillsides, find the Spanish-influenced Marimar Estate. We sampled house-made tapas from Marimar Torres’s Catalan cookbook paired with recent releases. From the rustic country dining room, we had the perfect view of the budding Don Miguel Vineyard, named for Marimar’s father. Favorites among her cool-climate wines are the 2006 “Cristina” Pinot Noir (named for her daughter), and the 2007 “La Masia” Chardonnay. Before you leave, pick up a bottle of their El Silencio extra virgin olive oil.

Back on Highway 116, we headed north a bit to the Dutton Estate tasting room. The owners are from longtime Russian River families with rich farming histories. The current generation, including young great-grandchildren, is involved in every aspect of the family businesses. The Pinots are hot, but don’t miss the 2008 My Father’s Syrah and 2008 Kyndall’s Reserve Chardonnay.

Visit Peter Lowell’s
Watch the sunrise from Bliss House
Whimsical art on Florence Avenue
Don’t miss Iron Horse
Delicious paella risotto at K&L Bistro
Next up was Quail Hill and Lynmar Estate. Enjoy their luscious 2008 estate Quail Hill Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the comfort of the modern tasting room. And when you think it’s time to leave, don’t — stay at Bliss House overlooking the Lynmar vineyards. This stunning three-bedroom, three-and-a half-bath treasure is just as the name implies, blissful! It’s the ideal place to unwind, enjoy the wine, and take in the view of the Laguna de Santa Rosa and acres of vines from the privacy of your own house.

Later we declined the allure of the beautifully appointed kitchen and our own cooking, instead opting for dinner at Peter Lowell’s. Just on the edge of downtown Sebastopol, this local hot spot is a food-lover’s dream. The cuisine is traditional Italian and showcases organic produce from their own farm just two miles away and from farmers who incorporate organic and biodynamic farming practices. The wines are chosen for these same reasons. Whether you decide on the antipasti, a sizzling pizza, or one of the many nightly specials, you’ll savor every bite of the creative food. Save room for one of the yummy desserts.

The next morning we lingered with coffee and watched the spectacular sunrise over the lagoon and vineyards. Before our first winery visit we cruised through the center of Sebastopol. Just a few blocks long, the main street is classic — full of locally owned antique stores, restaurants, boutiques, and a book and music store. Drive down Florence Avenue and see the whimsical junk-art sculptures from artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent.

From here it was back to the Green Valley area and Iron Horse Vineyards. Taste through delicious sparkling and still wines and enjoy knockout views and the most casual, fun atmosphere around. Lots to choose from here, but don’t leave without the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir and from the 2006 vintage, Brut X (only available at the winery) and the Russian Cuvée.

After a beautiful, winding drive across the Russian River countryside, we arrived at Thomas George Estates. They specialize in small-lot estate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The tasting room is a converted 1920s hops kiln. The delicious 2009 Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are each rich blends of three estate vineyards.

Continuing on our big loop through the valley, we circled toward Healdsburg and J Vineyards. Try both sparkling and still wines in their hip tasting room and lounge, especially the J Brut Rosé NV and the 2007 J Vineyards Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Before heading back to the Northside, our final stop was at local favorite K&L Bistro in downtown Sebastopol. They serve great food in a casual setting. Seats at the cozy bar gave us a bird’s eye view of the dining and kitchen action. We chose the grilled calamari salad with white beans, red onion, arugula and a mint olive vinaigrette and the “paella” risotto loaded with chorizo, shrimp, clams, squid, and mussels. The perfect accompaniment was Sonoma wine. Happily we saved room for the decadent butterscotch custard.

Sebastopol and the Russian River Valley area are made for foodies and wine lovers. It’s an easy getaway from the day-to-day routine. Kick back and take the time to explore — this is a rich region well worth the trip.


Getting There
Sebastopol, Calif.: About 55 miles north from San Francisco on Highway 101.
Tourist Information:,,,,

Where to Stay
Bliss House: 3909 Frei Road, Sebastopol, 707-829-3374, One night $750 (weekly specials available).

Where to Eat
Peter Lowell’s: 7385 Healdsburg Avenue, Sebastopol, 707-829-1077, Antipasti sampler $14, pizzas from $14, entrées from $16, desserts from $5, wines by the glass from $7.
K&L Bistro: 119 South Main Street, Sebastopol, 707-823-6614, Appetizers from $10.50, soups/pasta/risotto from $7, desserts from $8, wines by the glass from $9.

Don’t Miss
Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery: 11400 Graton Road, Sebastopol, 707-823-4365, Tapas & wine pairing $35/person.
Sebastopol Vineyards & Dutton Estate Winery: 8757 Green Valley Road, Sebastopol, 800-292-8339,,
Lynmar Estate: 3909 Frei Road, Sebastopol, 707-829-3374,
Iron Horse Vineyards: 9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, 707-887-1507,
Thomas George Estates: 8075 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-8031,
J Vineyards & Winery: 11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, 888-594-6326,

Must Try
Skin by Monica Olsen: Natural ingredients condition skin. Use the Nighttime product and nourish and hydrate skin while you sleep. $33.

Zensation Hydrating Moisture Cream with SPF 15 PA+: Moisturizes as it protects against sun damage (with advanced UV protection) and aging skin. $85.

Follow Patty on Twitter @pattygb, or email at

March 2012
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