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On The Russian River Valley Pinot Trail

It has become a family tradition to celebrate each Thanksgiving in the Russian River Valley. Being from Southern California, our family is exposed to little change of seasons. Most days the sun is out, rain is a rarity, and the evergreens that dominate the landscape never change color.

The Russian River Valley in November is a glorious refuge of heaven on earth. It is a time when wine tourists rarely visit, making the region’s roads less traveled and the area’s wineries easily approachable. The fields of vines are colored rust with the dying leaves of spent vines that are hunkering down for the winter and the remaining vine leaves offer a chorus of psithurism. There is a nip in the air, frost in the morning, billowy clouds in the sky, and welcome rain. Winemakers have caught their breath after a hectic harvest and are relieved to have barrels of Pinot Noir tucked away for the winter.

My wife, Patti, and two sons, Garrick and Dane, gathered for a Thanksgiving feast in the Russian River Valley. The centerpiece was a smoked turkey from Sebastopol’s WillieBird, a legendary purveyor of turkeys in the Russian River Valley.

The wine I choose was a special magnum bottling honoring the 30th Anniversary of the iconic Russian River Valley Williams Selyem winery - the 2010 Williams Selyem Burt Williams Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Needless to say, this was an exceptional wine.

I took the opportunity to hit the Pinot Trail and renew old friendships and acquire new acquaintances. The following pages summarize some visits with Russian River Valley producers including Paul and Kathryn Sloan, proprietors of Small Vines, Kent Humphrey, proprietor of Eric Kent Wines, Pete Soergel, winemaker at Lynmar Estate, Theresa Heredia, winemaker at Gary Farrell Winery, Denise Selyem, proprietor and winemaker at WesMar, Robin Jackson, Director of Operations at Benovia Winery, and Trini Amador III, proprietor of Gracianna Winery. At my last stop on the trail, a magnificent rainbow appeared.

Bread is my favorite among the many artisan foods that are famous in Sonoma County. After Pinot Noir, bread is my paramour and I will seek it out with devotion whenever I am on the Pinot Trail. Sonoma County is the epicenter of artisan bread production in California and there are multiple bakeries offering superb baguettes, sourdough loaves, levain white, seeded white, ciabatta, and Pain d’epi loaves.

Bakeries to seek out for their breads when visiting Sonoma County include Red Bird Bakery in Santa Rosa, Village Bakery in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, Goguette Bread in Santa Rosa, Downtown Bakery & Creamery in Healdsburg, Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg and Wild Flour in Freestone.

There is nothing better than a slice from a great sourdough loaf spread with Straus’s Salted Butter or Clover’s Organic Unsalted Butter, both regional kinds of butter from Sonoma County favored by gourmands.

Bread is actually enjoying a revitalization of interest in the US after 20 years of carb-slamming. Even among non-professional bakers, homemade, naturally fermented sourdough has become hip and sourdough bread baking hobbyists are proliferating.

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Pinot Trail Diaries

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