Paradise Ridge Winery has two tasting room locations, one in Santa Rosa (Russian River Valley AVA) and one in Kenwood (which has a $15 tasting fee waived with two-bottle purchase). This article focuses on the Russian River Valley location.
When you turn off Thomas Lake Harris Drive in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood and begin ascending the curved road up the hill, you’ll immediately sense a separation from the surrounding city landscape. It’s like a hidden world, all its own—and it’s literally a trip to paradise. It’s a realized vision that founders Walter Byck and Marijke Byck-Hoenselaars (who moved to Santa Rosa from New York in 1965) began in 1978, when Walter discovered the property.
The first thing you’ll notice among the rolling hills of the 156-acre estate are its vineyards (there are 15 planted acres), of course, but there’s something else: art. Your first glimpse will be of Paradise Meadows, an open field featuring large-scale sculpture installations. One is a replication of David Best’s Temple of Remembrance, the original version of which was built of wood for the annual Burning Man event. There are flags and pens you can use to write something in remembrance of someone and, each year, they’re removed and taken to the temple at Burning Man, which is burned to release emotion and create community. Another (which you can see from the tasting room terrace and which is popular for people celebrating weddings on the property) is the LOVE sculpture by Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg, which was originally displayed at Burning Man in 2007.
Further up the hill is Marijke’s Grove, which is an outdoor sculpture garden that’s nestled in a four-acre grove of ancient gnarled oaks connected by easily walkable footpaths. Exhibits there change annually and the current exhibit, “Conversations in Sculpture,” features 11 artists and is curated by Debra Lehane of the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation. Adjacent to the grove, in the Nagasawa winemaking building, there’s an art garden with even more sculptures displayed among the trees. (There’s also a historical exhibit on the downstairs level of the winery’s tasting room about Kanaye Nagasawa, a Japanese immigrant who was given 600 acres of Fountaingrove land by Thomas Lake Harris and who cultivated grapes there.)
An amphitheater, built along a ridgeline, overlooks Santa Rosa and its surrounding areas. Built this year, its first performers were the extremely talented and engaging folks from Transcendence Theatre Company.
The property’s art displays are all part of the experience when you visit, so be sure to take time for enjoying them close-up. “There was never a grand plan to use the art to drive people here,” says Rene, son of Walter and Marijke, who co-owns the winery with his sister, Sonia Byck-Barwick (her husband, Dan Barwick, is winemaker). “Dad proposed in a sculpture garden in Holland,” says Rene Byck. “His plan is to share the property with as much of the community as possible. He always has projects going on and acts on his thoughts quickly.”
When you do reach the tasting room, you’ll certainly be ready for some wine. The entryway features a European-style courtyard, which leads you to the tasting room’s expansive veranda, where you’ll find an indoor/outdoor tasting bar. From June through October, you can also enjoy “Pizza in Paradise,” Fridays through Sundays from noon until 3 p.m., with pizzas made by Rosso pizzeria, topped with local ingredients and fired in the winery’s outdoor pizza oven. There’s seating in the area near the oven as well as all sorts of other areas around the winery and on the veranda. In May through October, the winery hosts “Wines and Sunsets” on Wednesday evenings from 5:30 p.m. until sunset ($8 in advance, $5 for club members, $10 at the door), where you can enjoy live music and gourmet food while you take in the amazing view. This is a popular event that sells out in the middle of summer.
Other experiences include vineyard tours, which are self-guided or can be arranged to be hosted by a guide. The winery features a sustainability program, uses all organic materials in the vineyards and is working toward becoming certified sustainable. Estate vineyards include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel grapes (the winery also uses grapes from the Rockpile area, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel).
During harvest, you can enjoy a harvest vineyard tour and tasting by appointment.
When NorthBay biz visited, we enjoyed a crisp Sauvignon Blanc (tropical nose), The Posse (a blend of Syrah, Petit Sirah and Zinfandel that’s rich with dark fruit and minerality), and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (cedar nose, bright acidity). Each was a true taste of paradise.
“Everybody can enjoy it here,” says Byck, “even if they don’t drink wine.” Bottom line: This is a place that not only offers outstanding wine and food experiences, but also embraces art and its beautiful natural surroundings. There’s definitely something here for everyone.
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