I have a bit of an obsession with driving along Westside Road in the Russian River. Once an open and expansive road through the southern parts of Dry Creek Valley, the road starts twisting and turning, diving ever so deeper into the heart of the Russian River. Large swaths of trees flank both sides of the road, all the while patches of vineyards dart out from time to time. Deep in the Russian River along Westside Road is where we find Thomas George Estates. Welcome.
Thomas George doesn’t want you miss the winery. Literally, they have 4 different signs on both sides of the road to let you know where they are. At one point they even had an a-frame letting you know the winery is about 500 ft. down the street. And through the bronze gates we go.
Upon entering the grounds you feel like you are transported to a garden that is mixed with the local flora and a concerted and focused effort to put specific flowering plants around. A bubbling fountain greets you at the base of the road. But alas one can only really spend so much time admiring the lower parts of the grounds for the wines are up top.
Once you get to the top of the hill, take any parking spot you can grab. It’s not a big parking lot and it’s almost a one-in, one-out on the driveway so take a bit of caution leaving the winery. But hold up, we need to do some wine tasting.
At Thomas George Estates, you have two places in which to taste from. The first is their tasting room. The other, as long as the mercury holds below 85 degrees, is in their wine cave (tip: don’t go on a warm day if you want to taste in the cave). Both spots will feature the same wine so don’t fret if one of the spots is closed. Just means you have to come back.
During my tasting here, I was fortunate to taste in the cave. A makeshift bar sits between you and the barrels stored in the back. A few leather-back sofas can be reserved in advance. The tasting is a great sampling of what you’ll find in the Russian River: two Chardonnays, two Pinots and a Zinfandel. Yes, the almighty Zinfandel has slowly been making inroads within the valley.
Despite tasting in a cave with no windows or easy sense of direction, the staff did a great job of describing where in relationship to the property the grapes were grown. Pinot Noirs are sensitive grapes and there can be a drastic change in taste even just 100-200 feet up a mountain compared to valley floor grapes. Speaking of growing locations, you can find soil samples sitting on one of the pieces of furniture in the cave.
If you have some free time, take a look at the different soil samples. Note, they are not the most fertile. Grapes really do their best work when they are stressed, much like Rocky Balboa. He wouldn’t be the great fictional fighter if he was lounging on a beach in Costa Rica. Plus who would go see a movie if he did that for 2+ hours?
The tasting staff at Thomas George is incredibly knowledgable on viticultural in general. I bantered with them for what seemed like 30 minutes or longer. Or was that the time I lingered over the Cresta Vineyard Pinot Noir? (the second of the two Pinots featured on the sheet)
In an ever increasing Pinot world clamoring for grapes grown in the Sonoma Coast / Petaluma Wind gap, it was refreshing to find a cooler-climate Pinot. Pinot grapes in specific regions are referred to more as a cooler climate wine or grape because the vineyard is more exposed to the morning fog that hugs the Russian River (the actual river, not the overall AVA) like a blanket sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean.
Thomas George Estate wines is a mixture of vineyards located throughout the Russian River. Out of all of the wine regions of Sonoma County, Russian River is probably the most diverse, temperature-wise. And it translates to a great variety of aromas and flavors amongst a handful of varietials.
$25 gives you a flight of 5 wines, either in the tasting room or in the wine cave. The winery also has a few other tasting experiences, including a private tasting, a seated outdoor tasting with a boxed lunch, and a tour with tasting.
The tables outside are on a first-come, first serve basis. If you do decide to pack a lunch and head out to Thomas George, be aware it really takes about 15-20 minutes to drive from any major market. I’d recommend grabbing an ice chest to keep the food chilled down while you spend the first part of your time there wine tasting.