Where to Wine and Dine in Russian River Valley, California

Northern California has many things to offer. Wine tasting, of course, is top-of-mind for many locals and tourists alike. However, not many venture off from the usual Napa/Sonoma wineries. When I visited Healdsburg a few months ago, I was surprised to find a quaint downtown winery called Williamson, serving complimentary wine tasting together with cheese pairing. They even only sell their wines in that same shop with no other distribution channel.

When I learned that my friends booked a paddleboarding session up in Russian River Valley, known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnays, I was on another mission to discover what this neighboring town has to offer.  

Porter Bass Winery ($10 wine tasting)
In the middle of a winding Mays Canyon road, we found a hidden gem on top of a hill called Porter Bass Winery. This is not a run-of-the-mill winery so don't expect a crowd here nor a good mobile phone signal. By the time we arrived in the early afternoon, our outdoor, unique wine tasting area was all set up under a tree, which we later discovered is a walnut tree. With an impressive history - the Italians first planted the grapes here in the 1800s, Porter Bass prides themselves as the best place to purchase sustainably farmed Russian River wines.  

Tip: Call in advance before walking in.
At the quiet Porter Bass Winery, providing a unique outdoor wine tasting area under a walnut tree.
This is what an unripe walnut looks like.
Lovely scenery.
Take your pick on Chardonnay 2012 or 2013, Pinot Noir 2013 or Zinfandel 2013 for $10 tasting.
Korbel Delicatessen and Market
Our first stop was at Korbel. Sounds familiar? Well known for its champagne, Korbel has a winery and a deli market as well. My buddies and I gathered here not for the wine or the garden tour but for the food. We had a light lunch before heading out paddleboarding at the delicatessen. It is also a good pit stop for picnics by the river.

Loving the red brick walls at Korbel.
Greeted by this water fountain.
Tri-salad for the hungry: wild rice, fresh kale salad with blueberries and walnuts, chicken apple salad. Yum!
Korbel's grand entrance.
Lyn Mar Estate ($15 wine tasting)

A contemporary winery that boasts an impressive not-so secret garden (read the plant's labels). Once we got to the main tasting room, we were greeted with an expansive view of the winelands and beyond. My friends and I all agreed that this estate could be a perfect wedding venue!

Outdoor seating with large, floppy umbrellas. Very squeaky.
The entrance to Lyn Mar.
Happy and tanned after paddleboarding.
Cheese plate and a sip of their chardonnay.
The not-so secret garden.
Macphail ($20 wine tasting)

All the places I mentioned above are dog-friendly. Situated downtown Sebastopol, Macphail is super dog-friendly. All patrons had a dog or two, distracting my friends and I from our wine and cheese plate. We even wanted to rent one from the 'Tinder for Dogs' (yes, it exists!) so that we won't feel left out from all the doggie owners at this establishment. 

When this huge (!!) Great Pyrenees started wagging its tail, it felt like sitting beside a giant electric fan.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs are also the norm at Macphail.
Simple architecture for this downtown spot. Across from Macphail is another winery where they had a live band but, alas, our time ran out.
Walter Hansel Wine and Bistro
For dinner, we made reservations at a french bistro called Walter Hansel, a local's favorite I gathered. They have a good selection of seafood and meats that suited everyone's food preferences. This restaurant also showcased some of their dishes with vegetables from their own garden.  And yes, the owner, who I assumed is Walter, went about his rounds to ensure that everyone was enjoying their food. Excellent service!

Fresh vegetable garden.
My friend's creamy halibut.

My other friend's lamb chops nicely plated.
Presenting my entree. Duck breast with roasted peaches and potato gratin. I complained that my requested medium well meat was too tough to chew. The server politely apologized, and the kitchen staff gave me another plate- this time with medium rare duck meat. The second one was better but still on the rubbery side. Please cut this duck breast up like what Bouchon did. 
Profiteroles with pistachio ice cream and a shot of complimentary dessert wine (not shown). A good end to a great day trip adventure in Russian River Valley.

For more tips and inspiration on where to go outside of San Francisco, read up on:
- Where to Eat in Healdsburg, California 
- Best Brunches Outside of San Francisco

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