Russ Winton: Sebastopol’s cool vibe

08/26/2014 12:00 AM

08/25/2014 2:58 PM

The Navigator and I hadn’t spent time in Sebastopol. We’d driven through many times but never stopped. We did recently and we both want to return. It’s a small town on the western edge of Sonoma County, known for Gravenstein apples and its quaint downtown. A stroll on Main Street will reveal a full array of unique shops, even a tiny live theater with the lobby serving as a tasting room for the Hook & Ladder Winery. Very cool.

In the past year, just a few blocks east of Main Street, a spectacular 220,000-square-foot culinary and art center opened. Called the Barlow, and created in part from repurposed apple processing warehouses, the development is striking and beautiful. Think of San Francisco’s Ferry Building, only with more artwork. It is home to winemakers, brewers, distillers, artists, a community market, street fairs, farmers markets and a soon-to-be-opened hotel.

There are four wine tasting rooms open; La Follette, Wind Gap, MacPhail and Marimar. We tasted Greg La Follette’s acclaimed chardonnays and pinot noirs for the first time, and that alone will get us back for a visit. Two breweries and a distillery are open for tasting. The Woodfour Brewing Co. has an excellent restaurant that serves lunch and dinner. Unfortunately for us, Zazu Kitchen + Farm was closed. It’s considered to be one of the best restaurants in Sonoma County and we missed it. Well, we’ll be back to taste, eat and maybe even stay in the new hotel. To find out more about the Barlow go to www.thebarlow.net.

Taste Route 116

There are 11 wineries along Highway 116 from Sebastopol to Forestville. The wineries, most very small, produce excellent wines from the Russian River appellation. It’s a bit off the beaten path so the tasting experience becomes very low-key and enjoyable. Pick up a map at the visitors center or at one of the wineries. If you get your map card signed and dated, you’ll receive complimentary tastings for two people at all of the wineries. After you read this, burn this column and let’s keep that a secret.

I suggest you pack a picnic. If you forgot, look for Andy’s Produce Market, just north of Sebastopol on 116. In business for 50 years, it’s the only produce market I’ve seen with five checkout registers. They carry everything, and I mean everything. All the wineries have beautiful picnic spots, but Hanna Vineyards on Occidental Road would be my first choice. I’m happy we spent a day wine tasting on Route 116. I think you will be too. Just don’t tell anyone.

What’s on our table: The 2012 Waterbrook Sangiovese Rosé is a steal at just $5.99 at the Grocery Outlet. A new G.O. will be opening soon on West Main in Turlock. Cheers!

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