Climbing the steep hill to visit a friend at Christopher Creek Winery, I stood up on my bike pedals to get the leverage needed to reach the top. Once the road leveled off, I stopped to rest and enjoy the view of the Russian River Valley.
A head-pruned vineyard sloped downward toward the valley floor with leafless vines creating a chaotic thicket of sticks. Between the rows grew yellow mustard flowers, reminding me that even though the sun is shining now, we are still in the midst of our rainy season. At the bottom of the hill, vineyards, oak trees and farm houses blanketed the valley floor until the coastal range on the far side pushed skyward. There is so much to see here in Sonoma County that I wondered if I’d ever experience it all.
With my breath now even, I set my bike down near a picnic table with its folded patio umbrella standing guard. Walking around the grounds, I noticed zig-zagging vineyards on a far hill that, from this distance, reminded me of a Zen sand garden. As I stepped back from the view, I found a good spot to sketch the winery, rolling hills off to the left. I pulled out my drawing pad and travel stool and began to paint.
After packing my art supplies, I entered the tasting room, expecting to see my friend Al. Instead, Jerry and Carry warmly greeted me. I asked how Al was doing, and Jerry said Al had called in sick.Â Sorry to hear this, I made a mental note to check on him later.
Jerry asked if I was interested in tasting. I’d come not only to say hi to Al, but to find a bottle of Zinfandel for an upcoming tasting party in Napa, so my answer was yes. Even though I had Zinfandel on my mind, I couldn’t help starting off with Catieâ€™s Corner Viognier. The grapes are grown here in the Russian River Valley and I love the wineâ€™s crisp pear, lemon and floral aromas.
Then I asked to try some of their Zinfandel, and Jerry set down a second glass in order to taste two wines side by side, one from the Dry Creek Valley and the other from the Russian River Valley. In simply swirling each one by one, my nose noticed differences. Jerry pointed to the importance of terroir as factor differentiating the wines. I found the Dry Creek Zin tasted of raspberries and cherry jam, tobacco, vanilla, and spices of black pepper and clove. The Russian River Zin showed darker fruits like blackberries and plum, and had a long finish. This is a good food wine, I thought, especially with pasta. I enjoyed both wines but chose to purchase a bottle of the Dry Creek Zin for my tasting party.
Then I asked permission to sketch the tasting room and got the okay. I drew Jerry and Carry while they worked on taking inventory. After finishing my drawing but too tired to add watercolor, I took a couple of pictures so I could finish in my studio.
After thanking my hosts for the tasting, I packed the wine in my backpack and stepped out into the cooler outdoors. The sun was inching closer to the horizon, hinting it was time to get back before sunset. Hopping on my bike, I coasted downhill and toward home.