Ravenswood Delivers Fun in a Bottle

The  Ravenswood Winery is a fun place to taste wine, perched on a pretty hillside  just outside Sonoma.

It’s an easy drive from the Bay Area and, if the weather is nice, walking the 1.6 miles from the town square to the winery is an easy trek. Head east on Spain Street about 2/5ths of a mile to Fourth Street and turn left.  Proceed about two more blocks,  passing the historic Sebastiani Winery, and take a right on Lovall Valley Road.

Cherrybloc Vineyard

Cherryblock Vineyard

If it’s hot, take a breather at one of the olive tree-shaded picnic tables on your right and admire the views of Sebastiani’s historic 90-year-old Cherryblock vineyard across the street. Continue on Lovall to Gehrhicke Road,where you turn left onto a eucalyptus tree-lined thoroughfare that leads uphill to the winery.

At the edge of the parking lot, just below the winery, sits a vineyard with numbered rows of well-tended vines. Rising in the distance are more vines on a hillside where green leaves protected green fruit during a sun-splashed visit earlier this month.

Ravenswood’s motto — “No Wimpy Wines!” — should be taken seriously. Founder and winemaker Joel Peterson has been at the helm since 1976, when the winery was started on a shoestring. I’ve never had a faint-hearted experience with any of his wines, including a long-time favorite blend called Icon.

Icon isn’t cheap, but it’s very good. The current release (2006, $70) is made from carignane (39%), petite sirah (38%), zinfandel (22%), and alicante bouschet (2 %). The intoxicating combination shows rich, spicy fruit  with the deep, delicious scent of dark cherries rising from the glass.

Winemaker Joel Peterson

The winery is best known for its lineup of zinfandels, which include up to 10 single-vineyard wines (like  the  heavy-hitting 2005 Todd Vineyard  at $35 a bottle), along with regional bottlings (from Sonoma and Lodi), plus the vintner’s blend, an everyday quaffer that’s widely available and always a great value.

At the winery, I discovered a new favorite, the vintner’s blend petite sirah ($9.99 at Beverages and More in Oakland).

This deep purple concoction is from the 2007 vintage. Unlike many other reasonably priced California petite sirahs, this one shines with a peppery bite that balances a surprisingly smooth finish.

The wine cries out for a plate of barbecue ribs, burgers, sausages or other grilled meats, but it also worked just fine with a chunk of cheddar cheese and a slice of sourdough bread.

The winery’s tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tasting fees run $10-$15 per person, unless you have a tattoo of the winery’s famous three raven logo. Then, the tasting is free.ravenswoodlogo

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