If you love talking (and tasting) about wine, take this route

Don’t use the word “experience” when talking about wine tasting with Teri Rolleri, chef “hospitalian” at Orsi family vineyards in Healdsburg.

“It’s about the difference between service and hospitality,” says the former financial industry consultant (among other careers) and 15-year wine industry veteran. “The service does something for you, and a hospitalist – I coined that word – cares about how we make you feel.”

And we feel pretty good right now.

We park in one of Orsi’s spacious cabins and sample some of its 11 Italian wines, soaking up the part of Italy that has come to North Sonoma County.

Earlier, Rolleri escorted us to the sprawling grounds of Orsi – dotted with recently transplanted 200-year-old olive trees – where visitors gather for a series of annual summer concerts.

There are lots of Italians in the gift shop and a newly painted passenger car in the colors of the Italian flag.

“We are definitely Italian here,” says Rolleri.

Orsi is one of over 200 vineyards and wineries in North Sonoma County Wine Routeand one of eight we visited at the end of March.

Over time, we have developed a preference for small businesses because the owners, family and staff never fail to be dedicated, passionate and engaging teachers.

They are genuinely happy to talk about the wines of the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys, and even answer the same questions countless times about growing grapes, producing wines, and making the product.

The architecture of Russian River Vineyards lends an Old World feel to visitors looking to dine alfresco in North Sonoma County’s wine country. Photo by Jerry Ondash

I never achieved expert status, but I learned my preferences and met many interesting people in the process. You’ll find these wineries, as well as local accommodations and restaurants, along the wine route:

DeLoach Vineyards — This estate is inspired by biodynamic agriculture and the lessons of French winegrowers “beyond organic”. Jean-Charles Boisset, flamboyant owner, “gets in touch with the earth and seeks energy in the field”.

Stroll through the bucolic grounds and generous signage explains the DeLoach cultivation philosophy and methods.

Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery “Save this one for the end of the day. Once seated by the pond under the redwoods with a view of the vines complemented by music from the nearby water wheel, your motivation to move will be gone. Hostess/Owner Yvonne Kreck can share her family’s journey in the wine industry, how and why she owns the ‘blush’ name brand, and the quirks of each wine.

Moshin Vineyards — Surprisingly, math teacher-turned-winemaker Rick Moshin says he doesn’t use numbers when it comes to making decisions about the winemaking process. “It’s more of a creative process,” he says, “(and) the vineyards are where the wines are made. If the grapes have no flavor, the wines have no flavor.

Enjoy his wines in the cozy and renovated tasting room, thanks to Moshin’s carpentry skills. Don’t miss the colorful hummingbird sculpture on the front.

Porter Creek Vineyards — Paco the dog welcomes visitors to this vineyard and winery, which somehow grows some of its grapes on extremely steep plots of a nearby hill.

Humble owner Alex Davis, who studied viticulture and oenology in France and South Africa, clearly loves this work and the setting, which includes “the last stand of redwoods in Sonoma County.” The experience here is heavy on hospitality and light on pretension.

Russian River Vineyards – Plan your visit to this winery in Forestville (North Sonoma County) so you can enjoy lunch (fresh, locally sourced food) and wine in this spacious, outdoor Old World setting.

A lively Giovanni “Gio” Balistrere, a founding partner, often makes the rounds to chat with guests, spread his infectious enthusiasm and tell the story of RRV’s resurrection – “it was a dive” – ​​after buying it in 2008.

Williamson Wines — An Australian making French wine in California. That’s how former tech company owner Bill Williamson describes himself. Whatever the mix, it works.

Add in a food pairing when you visit the Downtown Healdsburg Wine Tasting Room, and you’ve got the full experience plus dinner.

For more photos and discussion, visit facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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