When we arrive in Sebastopol on a Sunday, a lively farmers market is set up in the plaza, where local artisans and craftspeople show their wares. Music fills the air, as does the scent of the gorgeous produce: a mind-boggling array of apples, persimmons, and grapes off the vine. It’s the perfect way to start our exploration of the Russian River Valley.
The Valley sits in the heart of Sonoma County. The wine region (or AVA) of the same name spans a whopping 150 square miles and includes more than 100 growers and over 100 wineries. Join us on our journey along the accessible and convenient stretch of Route 116 from Sebastopol to Guerneville, dubbed West County, and meet the folks who make this area so special.
On the road out of Sebastopol, we stop at Lowell’s Restaurant (lowellssebastopol.com), an organic eatery serving sustainably grown ingredients from its Two Belly Acre farm. We pick up Lowell’s West Sonoma County Field Guide (localfoodmatters.org/field-guide), a pocket-size treasure map of restaurants, wineries, glorious hikes, and locally owned businesses that share its socially conscious philosophy. It helps steer the course of our day.
“Many of the apple orchards have been replaced by grapevines over the years,” says Tracy Dutton, a fourth-generation Kozlowski of the Kozlowski Farms (kozlowskifarms.com) stand just down the road. Her husband, Joe, is a fifth-generation farmer himself.
“My grandparents planted raspberries in 1949, then moved to grapes in the 1990s,” she continues. Her 92-year-old grandmother, Carmen, runs the market, offering fresh fruit, homemade jams, and pies.
The Duttons’ name blankets the area. Dutton Estate Winery (duttonestate.com), launched in 1994, is a couple miles from Dutton Ranch, now run by Joe and his brother, Steve, and founded by their parents in 1964. Joe is also a partner at the adjacent Dutton-Goldfield (duttongoldfield.com), which produces world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
“When you grow up in a family business, you have to be entrepreneurial and think ahead,” Tracy says. “You come up with an idea, and if it sounds good and feels good, you make it happen, as our past generations did.” Since opening, Dutton Estate has crafted 3,500 cases of its own wine, along with crushing 200 tons of grapes per year for custom-crush clients. Visitors can stop by its homey visitor room for a tasting and food or chocolate pairings.