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Monday, December 14, 2009

Places to visit in Duncan Mills, CA

Winter is a time when the earth lays down its bounty and settles into a cocoon of replenishment and rest. The season brings much needed rain to Sonoma and so far the prospect looks good. The record breaking frost that came early this year hit our garden with a vengeance, knocking out our datura, lavender and jasmine plants. We are keeping our fingers crossed that Jenner’s healthy soil and its hardy root stock, will help them come back in the spring.

During this season, the joyous time of the holidays brings out the best in everyone. And with no exception, the small quaint town of Duncan’s Mills is as hospitable as ever, offering home baked cookies to visitors browsing the shops. Duncan’s Mills is an interesting town. It was named after brothers, Samuel and Alexander who established a lumber mill here in the early 1870s. The 1906 earthquake leveled most of the buildings and was rebuilt after the turn of the century for vacationers who rode the train from Sausalito to picnic and enjoy the Russian River. The depot showcases a regional museum with a restored Northwestern Pacific railway coach, two box cars and Caboose #2, which was the last train to Duncans Mills in 1935. Across the street at the Blue Heron restaurant and bar, you will find a placard dedicated to stagecoach robber and poet, ”Black Bart”, who allegedly visited here.

We stroll through Antiquarian/Florabunda, where twigs and cuttings lie about the most beautiful flower arrangements artistically prepared and freshly designed for your holiday table. We continue through the village, the valley hills donning the last of their tan summer grass for the green imagery of an Irish seascape and stop off at Christopher Queen Art Gallery. Their collection of 19 and 20th century plein-air paintings is one of the most extensive and impressive in Northern California. We highly recommend visiting, for it is as if you are stepping back in time to a private collector's personal salon. The stunning and beautiful 19th century burled, book matched antique walnut piano on display is a very rare piece, its closest match we found out is located at Stanford University.

We visit our friend, Andrea, at Studio Nouveau who offered us homemade Turkish candies and tea. Her store is a haven for artists and those with a discerning eye for quality hand crafted jewelry. We ran into one of our favorite waitresses shopping there who works at the Underwood CafĂ© in Graton and she gave us a tip to try their mac and cheese with romaine salad on the side recession special. The topic of food, wine and art took over our conversation. The bounty of Sonoma is truly a gift that we sometimes take for granted. The farm to table freshness of the food here, along with the award winning wines, makes it difficult to return back to the city. We purchased a couple of holiday presents for friends and with the thought of food and drink in our minds, we make our way to Guerneville and Dawn’s Bar and Grille.

The bar is decorated in festive holiday ornaments and the sitting room foyer fire glows on the faces of a couple enjoying their fireside chat and cocktails. We always enjoy our visits here, for the staff is friendly, the drinks stiff and the food a great value. We speak to Donald the bartender and find out that they are planning on bringing their piano back to life by adding music on weekends. A great idea, for the river is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the cozy surroundings with friends and family. We glanced at the menu and surprisingly find specials for each night of the week. Here is yet another reason to visit the coast off season and to enjoy the peaceful nature of the country without the hustle and bustle of the city and the stress of tidying up year end business.

We step out into a brisk night sky filled with the glow of brilliant jeweled stars, they flicker with the wishes for a fine holiday season and a new year of health and happiness. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Wine Tasting on the Russian River

We are excited about adding central heating into our home this week. With winter coming and the freakish threat of snow today, the idea of having to start a fire to keep warm is no where near as comforting as the idea of turning a thermostat instead.

So, begins our journey in Jenner this weekend, with the ethereal sounds of French composer, Olivier Messiaen's "Vocalize" scoring the flight of the hawks and turkey vultures that soar our valley. Messiaen was an ornothologist and the flow of his compositions take you on a musical journey to the skies, climbing and descending, riding the charts of the stars.

Today is a bit overcast and a fall storm looms over Cazadero, our hillside neighbor to the east of Jenner. We make a quick dart for Shell Beach for a morning hike, one of our favorite Sonoma Coast paths that leads to a cove by the ocean. It is brisk this early December morning and a slight drizzle begins to fall as we make our way to the beach cove. We search for whales along the bluff, but the rough rise of the seas sends whitecaps spouting in all directions, making it difficult for viewing the great grey beasts.

We circle the cove, the waves breaking close to shore hammering the rocks that sends a spray of white foam exploding thirty feet into the air. Quite impressive for this time of year. We beat the heavier rain, as we reach our car and set off to Bodega Bay to visit Sammy, our favorite fisherman who has caught and cleaned two Dunganess
crabs for our dinner this evening. They are smaller then usual this year, for this season is low in abundance and we are in year two, of a seven year recovery cycle.

A crab dinner would not be complete without a fine bottle of wine, so we decide to explore a couple of newer wineries near Sebastopol and Guerneville. We drove along River Road, the grapevines bare from this years harvest and the change of the seaons. Their knotted roots lie exposed in a tangle of branches and rustic colored leaves, soon to be shed like tears to the earth, as we settle into winter.

Our first stop is Woodenhead, a small boutique winery that defines the term, "cult" wine. Their tasting menu consisted mainly of reds, a wonderful list of Zinfandel's, Pinot Noir's and a fine and delicious Carignagne. The fruit was well balanced, without the harsh tannins that often accompany wines of this varietal. The style is in the manner of the French, very earthy and full bodied with a lingering and mellow aftertaste that captures the essence of the fruit and soil combination.

Their tasting room overlooks a beautiful valley and their vineyards, where consequently, they sell their fruit to other wineries in the area. The reason we find out, is that the winemaker prefers to use grapes from cooler climates to produce the reds he has crafted and imports them from a number of areas, including Mendocino County, a great Pinot region along the north coast. We were taken by the Carignagne, and with our limited budget for wine these days, couldn't pass up the $22price. A great blend, earthy and organic with lot's of complex fruit and sensuous aftertaste. This wine is a winner.

We drove northeast towards Windsorand came across Eastside Road where we discovered the winery, "Copain". Originally formed in Santa Rosa, the owners developed and completed this wonderful piece of property and tasting room in 2008. Tucked into the Windsor hills, their tasting room was spacious, with a rustic/modern sensibility that lent itself to the special wines they were crafting. We were greeted by our server, Chris who took us down the menu to one of my favorite wines of the day, a Syrah that had the impact of a full bodied Malbec. It had a great finish that would be the perfect compliment to steak and or, lamb. The price was a little steep at $45 a bottle, but for those who are flush, I highly recommend it for a special occasion celebration. This wine rocks, as well as their Pinot's, crafted in the French style like Woodenhead, that seems to be purveying the Russian River valley these days.

With our crab beckoning our arrival home, we thought a nice Rose would be a good candidate to serve for dinner. Luckily, we found out that Copain offered a limited production Rose that turned out to be superb for the price of $15 a bottle. Needless to say, we were pleased with the fruit pallete and the dryness of the blend and it took our imaginations back to the small cafe's along the Seine, where we enjoyed a glass of Rose with our lunch each day while visiting Paris. Who says Rose is only good for hot summer days, we found this wine to be the perfect compliment for a fall afternoon tasting!

That in itself, was worth the price of admission and the start of a wonderful winter season.