Hidden Wine Country: RYME Cellars Turns Eclectic Grapes into Some of the Most Exciting California Wine You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Photos by Steve Mort

When you imagine California wine country, you probably don’t picture the Sonoma County town of Forestville.

It’s less than half an hour west of bustling Santa Rosa and the same distance south of upscale Healdsburg, but Forestville feels a world apart. Its downtown main street is only about three blocks long, hosting a handful of casual restaurants, a strip mall with a coffee shop and a laundromat, a county park with a friendly cat, a hardware store, a pharmacy, and a gas station.

Forestville Cat
Forestville cat welcoming me to town

There are also a few tasting rooms on Forestville’s main drag, but RYME Cellars is not one of them.

In this installment of Hidden Wine Country, I venture off the main street to a simple tasting room at the terminus of a dead-end road. I step inside what used to be RYME’s production facility (scroll down for a photo) and discover surprising wines made by a husband and wife team who aren’t afraid to go beyond the usual grape suspects.

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Hidden Wine Country: Napa’ School House Vineyard Keeps Things Quietly Classic

All photos by Steve Mort

Napa and Sonoma, the two counties at the heart of California wine country, are famous for lavish tasting rooms, Michelin star restaurants, and deluxe accommodations. Drive even a few hundred yards along Napa’s main thoroughfare, Highway 29, and you’re likely to pass five or six big name wineries ready to put on an impressive, pricey, and often thoroughly enjoyable show for you.

But hidden behind them, there’s another world — a place that’s more about passion than money, more about soil than manipulation, more about history than trends, and more about experimentation than safe bets. You have to look a little harder for this hidden Wine Country, drive a little farther to get there, and pay a little more attention when you arrive. But it’s well worth the effort.

Part 1 of this series takes us to School House Vineyard, a Napa stalwart making elegant wines that remain largely unknown, even to many of the Valley’s most ardent fans.

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Where to Go in Sonoma: The Blockbusters

Note: The wineries in this post followed the common industry practice of waiving tasting fees for bloggers and other media. 

Is a trip to wine country on your list of resolutions for 2018? If so, Sonoma County should be on your agenda.

Sonoma is sometimes an afterthought – nothing more than a quick stopover between San Francisco and Napa. But this diverse county is a worthy wine destination unto itself, offering everything from stunning tasting rooms with breathtaking views to flip-flop-casual samplings in out-of-the-way vineyards. Most importantly, though, Sonoma offers plenty of good wine.

In this post, we’ll explore three blockbuster wineries that hosted me for tastings on a visit to Sonoma last fall. Next time, I’ll unveil a few of the region’s hidden gems.

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Talk of Terroir in California Wine Country

“I think people make too much fuss over winemakers,” said Christophe Paubert, standing in front of an elegant fireplace at Napa’s Stags’ Leap Winery on a recent fall evening.

Some might find his words counterintuitive, given his vocation. Paubert is Stags’ Leap’s winemaker.

He’s not the only one of his kind who advocated for minimalist techniques during a recent visit to Napa and Sonoma. It was a refreshing refrain in a region where heavy-handedness was once the name of the game.

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Successful test run for Jordan Winery’s new caviar & wine tasting

Jordan Vineyard & Winery occupies a rambling French-style “chateau” in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Since its founding in 1972, the operation has been almost as much about food and hospitality as it has been about its French-inspired wines. Each tasting experience at Jordan involves wine and food pairings, and the estate even has its own executive chef.

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Wine Country faces long recovery, but fire damage largely hidden from tourists’ view

“If you didn’t know,” Patsy McGaughy with Napa Valley Vintners told a group of wine writers last week, “you wouldn’t know.”

She was addressing the tenth annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, a place many called ground zero for last month’s wildfires.

“The valley floor is just as beautiful as ever.”

She’s right.

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A Florida Oenophile in California Wine Country: Part 6 – The Last Day

About this series: After years of loving (and semi-seriously studying) wine, I finally took my first trip to Napa and Sonoma this summer. It was a wonderful week of sunny days, cool nights, beautiful views, and beautiful wines. These are the impressions, discoveries, favorites, and surprises from my journey.

Part 1: Chateau Montelena, CADE, Pride
Part 2: Frog’s Leap, Heitz, Mumm Napa
Part 3: Y. Rousseau, Antica, Failla
Part 4: Stony Hill, Domaine Chandon
Part 5: Fort Ross, Gary Farrell

Day 7, Part 2 – Friday, Aug 5

We had no more appointments after Gary Farrell, but it was our last day in Wine Country, so …

Joseph Swan: No Fountains or Gardens, Just Great Wine

I looked on the map and noticed Joseph Swan was just down the road. I’ve enjoyed their pinots in the past, so I gave them a call to see if we could come by.

“Sure!” said the nice male voice on the other end of the line. “We don’t have the views they have up there at Gary Farrell, but we’ll be here!”

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