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Russian River Vineyards

Author: Luke Straub
July, 2019 Issue

Russian River Vineyards
5700 Hwy. 116 N. 
Forestville, Calif. 95436
(707) 887-3344

Sunday - Thursday: 12-5 p.m.
Friday - Saturday: 12-6 p.m.
Tasting Fee: $20 and up/per person
Parties limited to 14 guests
Wines Offered: 2018 Peterson Vineyard Chardonnay, 2018 Gianna May Rose´, 2015 Horseridge Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2015 Pinot Noir, 2015 Landy Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Reservations: Required for parties larger than six
Picnics: No
Pets: Yes, well-behaved dogs on a leash

Did You Know? Russian River Vineyards’ origins date back to 1890. The site was used primarily as family farmland. In 1930, new owners took control and started to offer food at an eight-seat roadhouse restaurant. There was a ready clientele from travelers using a nearby railroad. The restaurant remains and is still used today to provide local cheeses, charcuterie plates and vegetarian options for wine tasters. The spirit of sharing freshly prepared hot food is still a tradition at the winery. Today, a brick oven is used to churn out pizzas on Sunday afternoons starting in June.

[Photos courtesy of Pat Garvey]

Just over a decade ago, Sonoma County native Giovanni Balistreri and an ambitions team restored a neglected piece of land in the picturesque Russian River Valley, near downtown Forestville. Balistreri worked alongside business partner and fellow vintner Anthony Austin to hone his craft and bring Russian River Vineyards back to prominence.

Today, Balistreri makes limited production wines that capture the essence of their point of origin. Nearly every vintage features grapes from the Russian River American Viticultural Region, and as a collection, Balistreri’s work highlights the region’s complexity.  “The diversity of the Russian River Valley, it’s unparalleled,” says Balistreri, who also serves as winemaker. “That’s why I make different Pinot Noirs made exactly the same way, but from different vineyards throughout the AVA. You taste the terroir. You taste the vineyard.”

Balistreri’s journey began in his hometown of Freestone, when he planted Pinot Noir grapes with his father on family land. Those grapes serve Russian River Vineyards’ operations today, along with estate-grown Pinot and Chardonnay. Balistreri does business with small-yield growers to acquire the remainder of his grapes, and he visits every site often to ensure the fruit’s quality is excellent. “I start with the best possible grape I can, and it makes the process so much smoother,” he says. “You start with a great product, and you can have a great product in the end. You just let the grape express itself.”

The winery’s Chardonnay is allowed to sing. Its 2018 vintage was aged in a stainless steel tank, rather than oak barrels. The result is a wine that’s crisp, with a bright acidity. “This is the Sauvignon Blanc lovers’ Chardonnay,” says Balistreri, who adds he has a fondness for acid driven wines, since they pair well with food.

For our next taste, Balistreri pours out a bit of his heart with the 2018 Gianna May Rose, named after his 14-month old daughter. Balistreri’s affinity for using the best fruit is highlighted here. “I’d rather not pick beautiful Pinot Noir when it’s unripe to make rose,” he says. He uses a portion of his ripe Pinot Noir yield to make the wine, resulting in a rose deep in color and big on flavor.

Next, we try two of the winery’s treasured Pinot Noirs. For the first taste, Balistreri pours a 2015 vintage, made with grapes grown on an east-facing hill at Horseridge Vineyard. The flavor is spicy, and the wine is silky on the palate. For an encore, we try an estate-grown Pinot, also from 2015. It’s rich and fruity, due to dry farmed, low-yielding vines that produce grapes concentrated with flavor, providing Balistreri with a quality canvas for his work. “My Pinot Noir style is very feminine—complex and soft. It’s still strong and has body, but it’s elegant.”

Our last taste is a double-gold medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon. A winner at the North of the Gate Wine Competition at the Sonoma-Marin Fair, this 2015 vintage features grapes from Landy Vineyards in Healdsburg. It’s softer and more delicate than a traditional Cabernet. Balistreri pumps juice over the fermenting grapes to soften the tannins, but the fruit is grown in volcanic soil, forcing the vines to grow a richly-flavored grape that produces a Cabernet with optimal balance.

Balistreri and his team have come a long way in the last decade. Russian River Vineyards offers beautiful, sweeping views of distant terrain, plenty of shade from enormous, old growth redwoods and award-winning wines. Plus, downtown Forestville is just minutes away, making this an ideal place to enjoy the best a diverse valley has to offer.



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