Head for the Hills

Two-wheeled terroir: A cool ride to the Sebastopol Hills

People talk about the Russian River Valley’s several “neighborhoods,” or unofficial subregions of the wine appellation. Can I taste the difference? First, I’ll experience the difference on a bike ride to the Sebastopol Hills neighborhood.

It’s nice to start this 14-mile ride at the Balletto Vineyards tasting room on Occidental Road, west of Santa Rosa, but only the most steely-nerved cyclists might want to power up the poorly maintained “bike lane” that I take, alongside heavy traffic, to Highway 116. Alternately, ride north on the West County Trail and then continue west on Occidental Road through Green Valley, Russian River Valley’s only official sub-appellation.

I turn left at Mill Station, and soon find Cherry Ridge Road on the right. Now I’m slowly gaining elevation on a hill in Sebastopol, for sure—but the vineyards here, framed by redwood groves, are technically still in Green Valley.

Catching my breath at Grandview Road, I see that it lives up to its title. Watching my downhill speed, I glide to a brief rendezvous with Bodega Highway. A jog to the west and then south again at Sexton Road, and I’m climbing again. But this time, I feel cooler despite the exertion. In this area, low clouds are still moving in from the coast. Winding up the hill, I catch a glimpse of Balletto’s Sexton Hill Vineyard, followed by Pratt Sexton Road. There’s a scent of south county eucalyptus.

I pause at Cider Ridge, then chase shadows of clouds down Burnside Road to Watertrough. There are several routes back from here; I take bumpy little Elphick Road to 116, where the lunch options start.

Inman Family Wines Endless Crush Pratt Sexton Road Rosé of Pinot Noir ($38) My favorite of Inman’s single-vineyard rosé series, this shows chalky, saline notes of crushed sea shells, plus strawberries and a cool scoop of fresh cream. Light strawberry-raspberry flavors belie a fair bit of body.

Balletto 2017 Sexton Hill Pinot Noir ($46) This starts to say, “classic Russian River Valley” with rich aromas and flavors of mixed berries, strawberry jelly, milk chocolate and cinnamon, but a tart core of lingonberry fruit and hibiscus tea flavors ultimately say something more “coastal,” and keep the palate from feeling too lush or jammy.

Balletto 2016 Cider Ridge Pinot Noir ($44) Maybe it’s the name that’s got me thinking hot apple cider and mulled wine, but I did write “clove, cinnamon and allspice” in my tasting notes, followed by “a heady hint of balsam.” The leaner of the duo, Cider Ridge’s cranberry and lingonberry flavors slip away on a silky note. Both wines are great values—for this neighborhood.

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