Forestville Airbnb Porch

30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 0: How and Why

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Welcome to the beginning of our journey – 30 Wineries in 30 Days!  After spending many long weekends in California’s Wine Country in 2018 and 2019, I realized that I was only allowing myself enough time to visit my favorite wineries (to restock) and finding one or two new wineries.  It just wasn’t enough time!

It was around that time I learned that I may be forced to take a two month break from my employment.  We won’t get into those details!  However, I hatched a plan to immerse myself in the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma County and absorb as much information as I could about my favorite varietal – Pinot Noir.  Ultimately, I wasn’t made to take off those two months.  But I’d gotten so excited about the idea that I put my immersion into motion anyway!

I’m fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to work anywhere.  Why not work from California for a few weeks?  So, I began the search for housing by turning to Airbnb.  I wanted my own private space, not just a room in someone’s home.  I needed a full kitchen.  I needed a washer and dryer.  I needed a good workspace.  I wanted it to be in the heart of the Russian River Valley.  And, I found it!

Forestville Airbnb PorchTucked away up a windy one-lane road in Forestville, I found my oasis – and for the right price!  When I travel, I’m slightly afraid of commitment.  I love flexible cancellation policies.  However, due to the extended stay nature of my reservation, my oasis was 100% non-refundable and payment was due at the time of reservation.  Warning bells went off everywhere, but I pulled the trigger.  The trip was happening!  I’m more of a last-minute girl.  Fully committing to a trip five months in advance is not in my nature.

The Planning

Two to three months before the Adventure began, I started to plan.  It was then that I stumbled across PinotFest.  It was there that I had the opportunity to discover a large variety of new-to-me wineries – all of whom are well respected in the industry.  You may laugh when you read the list and think – duh, Kristin, where have you been?  I was just living under a rock and pretty new to the world of Pinot Noir.  I’d visited many of the popular, open-to-the public wineries in the Russian River Valley and surrounding areas.  But I craved more – something more intimate.

I had a goal when I attended PinotFest – try some of these harder to acquire wines and make connections.  And, I did.  While chatting with the wineries and winemakers, I explained my goal – to try them and visit my favorites in January.  One winery in particular (which shall remain nameless) flat out told me they would not allow me to do a tasting at their winery.  Their tastings are restricted to their members.  And I wasn’t a member.  Period.  I guess I should have been grateful for the opportunity to taste at the event.  But it was late in the day and I’d been sampling Pinot Noir for two hours straight.  I can’t tell you a single thing about their wine – except that I didn’t hate it and I was determined to schedule a tasting.

Spoiler alert – I will be tasting at that winery on this journey!  I didn’t take “no” for an answer.  I reached out after the event anyway.  I’m persistent.  And it’s paid off.  Granted, it didn’t work in every instance.  There are a few who still remain on my list of “to visit” wineries.

The Wineries

Where am I headed?  I debated sharing the list in advance and keeping you in suspense.  But, I’m terrible at keeping secrets!  Here’s the list, generally in the order in which I’ll be visiting them.  Plans may change.  I may get a stomach bug that wreaks havoc on my body causing me to postpone a tasting (it happened).  Who knows.  Another winery also threw a wrench in my plans by calling me last week to reschedule my very first appointment of the trip.  I just laughed when they wanted to move it to the next day.  My calendar is a well-choreographed masterpiece!  Ha Ha!  However, I’ve purposefully kept some days open for some suggestions that I’ll surely receive along my journey.  As we get to each winery, I’ll explain the “why” behind how they made my list.  I hope I can remember them all!  I realize now that I should have made some notes.  Oh well!  And, yes, there are 31 listed.

  • Williams-Selyem
  • Gary Farrell
  • Flambeaux
  • Hanzell
  • Merus
  • Quintessa
  • Joseph Phelps
  • Failla
  • La Jota
  • Matthiasson
  • Laurel Glen
  • Lewis Cellars
  • Tor
  • Kistler
  • RAEN
  • Talisman
  • Paul Hobbs
  • Dehlinger
  • Littorai
  • Smith Story
  • Goldeneye
  • Stewart Cellars
  • Adobe Road
  • Kosta Browne
  • Viader
  • Keller Estate
  • Ramey
  • Stonestreet
  • Hirsch
  • Occidental
  • Aubert

Lessons Learned

If you’re planning a trip such as this, here are some of my lessons learned (some of which may be obvious):

  • The majority of my tastings are at “by appointment only” wineries.  Do NOT contact them all at the same time!  Know when you want to visit.  Have a plan.  Reach out to two or three at a time.  Wait for them to respond.  Lock down the appointment.  Then reach out to the next on your list.  It took me about three weeks to compile my list.  Every day for three weeks I emailed and called many of these wineries.  Some had the option to schedule your appointment directly online which made it easy.  Most of them did not.
  • Don’t plan tastings every single day.  I love nothing more than striking up a conversation with other folks in the tasting room.  We were both drawn to this winery for a reason.  We may like similar wines and styles.  Find what some of their favorites are and add them to the list.  A few of mine fell into this category from previous journeys.  I kept an entire week at the end of my trip for such referrals I expect to receive over the next month.
  • While I’ve been known to visit 8-10 wineries in a day, don’t pack your schedule too full.  You’ll possibly experience palate fatigue.  Even if you’re spitting and dumping and taking notes, you’re not going to remember them all.  I chose to visit one winery per day after I finish my work day.  I planned two to three on weekends.

Castelli Vineyards

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I stumbled upon a little pamphlet somewhere along the way during one of my trips to Sonoma County.  It’s called the West Sonoma County Field Guide.  It lists 20 “Wineries with a Thoughtful Approach”.  It claims that these wineries use hand-harvested grapes and a gentle touch to craft wines with memorable flavors, true character, and great depth.  Well, doesn’t that sound like a “to-visit” list???  And that’s exactly what it became.  On my next trip I knocked off six of those 20 wineries and Castelli was quite possibly the most memorable one.

Castelli Wines

It’s easy to drive by this little family owned winery.  I sure did – about four times before building up the courage to drive up the unmarked driveway – the one with the “Private Road No Trespassing” sign.  It’s otherwise completely unmarked.  It offered absolutely zero indication that a winery could be found at the end. 

What caught my eye about this winery was that not only were they making Green Valley Pinot, but Emilio was also growing Nebiollo in the Green Valley.  The brochure claimed he was “an expert in Nebbiolo”.  For a region that produces such amazing Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, I just had to taste this Nebiollo – and of course his Pinot Noir!

I pulled in and just sat in his driveway.  There was a large, window-less barn to the left and a house and a few vehicles.  But it didn’t look anything like a winery!  If I had spent just a few more moments on Emilio’s website and read about the barn, I would have immediately known I was in the right place. 

A few minutes later Emilio emerged from the house and we headed into the barn for a tasting.  It was obvious from the first moment that he was passionate about growing grapes and making wine.  His wife popped in for a visit a few minutes later.  I soon learned that it was at his wife’s suggestion that they put their name in the little West Sonoma County Field Guide and that it has brought them a nice amount of visitors. 

There are small production wineries and then there’s Emilio!  He produces around 500 cases of wine “on a good year”.  That’s cases.  Not barrels.  That’s only 6,000 bottles of wine – per year!  He’s sitting on five acres of land in the Green Valley which he dry farms all by himself.  We spent the next hour chatting about his land and vines and his history.  I could have spent the entire afternoon learning from him.

The makeshift tasting area was a small cart in the middle of the barn.  I was able to taste just a few of his wines – remember he only produces 6,000 bottles per year.  We tasted his 2014 Estate Pinot Noir from the Green Valley, his 2013 Estate Nebbiolo from the Green Valley, and his 2013 Nebbiolo from the Paso Robles area.  I definitely preferred his Green Valley Nebbiolo. 

Because I was wearing a rose wine themed t-shirt, he gifted me a bottle of his rose which he doesn’t offer for sale.  He makes it just for his family from grapes that run along the boundary of his property – his neighbor uses “different” farming techniques so these vines provide a barrier between their land and his vines.

I highly encourage you to reach out to Emilio and plan a visit to Castelli Vineyards the next time you’re out that way!  You can look forward to a relaxed and educational journey through his history and wines while enjoying some tasty wines.

Castelli Vineyards
9760 Green Valley Road, Sebastopol, CA, 95472 USA
+1 707-827-3048
Tastings by Appointment Only