A fine harvest of wine experiences for every taste can be found along “the Boulevard,” that is Petaluma Boulevard, running roughly north and south through downtown Petaluma.
Wine has long been a part of the Petaluma weekend life. The town is the perfect distance up from San Francisco for a stop along the routes to other wine locales up the road or further along the bay.
“Can you say some of the geeky stuff you said about geology?” I ask at the bar of Black Knight Vineyards’ downtown Petaluma tasting room (155 Petaluma Blvd N).
Sonic Youth plays on the house speakers as proprietor Lexine Black pours out a flight for my wife (I’m not much of a drinker). Black was a geologist before making wine professionally with her father. “So [Black Knight Vineyards is] on Taylor Mountain, which is an extinct volcano that last erupted three and a half million years ago,” she says, speaking about the vineyard property in Bennett Valley.
“[That vineyard] is pumice, volcanic, ash, lots of petrified woods and loamy clays, which are all soils that vines respond really well to.” She adds, “They have a good porosity to permeability [ratio]. So they retain water without giving wet feet and vines, which makes them rot.”
More than a waypoint along the highway, Petaluma is a recognized winegrowing region in its own right, with the official AVA appellation of “Petaluma Gap,” which straddles southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties. Brooks Note Winery (426 Petaluma Blvd N), which produces its wine along the Boulevard north of downtown, specializes in wines from the Gap.
“The wind is really what was the defining factor when they drew the wines of the [Petaluma Gap appellation]. AVAs are basically drawn by soil maps,” Reed Kinnek, assistant winemaker, tells us. “[Here the wind blows] always the same direction.” The wind, it turns out, is what has the greatest impact on grapes from the Petaluma Gap.
Describing the unique way the appellation was defined, Kinnek tells us that surveyors “put up little devices to measure the wind speed you know, and all these different locations.”
Really this whole Boulevard thing is about the vibe. And the vibe-iest wine place in town is still La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge (151 Petaluma Blvd S).
“At La Dolce Vita, we endeavor to create a place for people to experience ‘the sweet life,’ whether that’s touring the world via our selection of international wines, or as simple as enjoying prosciutto and melon paired with a locally-made rosé [on the patio] in the warm summer breeze—we hope you find your ‘sweet life’ here,” says owner Sahar Garhai.
This is a delightful nook of a wine bar, located in the Theatre Square along the Boulevard, where one can chat with refinement to the background hum of Felinni’s 8 1/2 on the discrete movie screens placed about. Garhai and staff are intuitively either friendly or reserved as the customer requires.
The fact that any number of classic movies are playing in the background is a perfect example of the unique atmosphere of each of these locations.
Black Knight takes its name from the game of chess, much loved by the family who runs the winery. The tasting room doubles as a chess space; each coffee table has a lovely chess set ready to play. A magnetic set hangs mounted on a wall. Black promises they love to see two kids sitting down to a game, “just not at the bar.”
Avinage (15 Petaluma Blvd N), a wine shop next to the Mystic Theater, offers a chance for one to quickly grab a favorite bottle. “Avinage focuses on European-style wine from around the world, featuring small producers that farm organically and use low intervention techniques in the cellar,” says Damien Carney. “We don’t yet have a tasting license, but we should have in-store tastings by mid-summer.”
So there you have it, a four tasting stroll through the heart of Petaluma, the city right at the very start of wine country, welcoming eclectic tastes along the river that was once the main travel hub of the North Bay. Now a tourist hub, let this be the constant: fabulous wine to drink.