Off the Beaten Path – Russian River Valley


Written by:

Joe Becerra

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off the beaten path wineries in russian River valley
Near Martin Ray in the Russian River Valley

Hidden Wineries in Russian River Valley

The Russian River Valley is a cool-climate wine region. The fog layer in the photo is a morning occurrence during the summer. The marine influence is one of the key reasons why Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from this area are so popular. There are many popular wineries in the region, bringing in many tourists. We have some suggestions for getting away from the crowds. We have four off-the-beaten path wineries to recommend. If you like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is the adventure for you.

How do we get there?

For this wine country getaway, we select the city of Sebastopol for lodging and dining. Sebastopol is in the heart of the Russian River Valley and is a very artsy and laid-back place to stay. To get there from San Francisco, take Highway 12 in Santa Rosa into Sebastopol. From San Francisco, with no traffic, the drive time is a one-hour plus.

We also like the town of Occidental, about 20 minutes west of Sebastopol. Occidental has two famous Italian restaurants and one great old hotel.

Where do we stay?

Where do we dine?


We have four fantastic wineries to enjoy in the backroads of the Russian River Valley. We start in Sebastopol. Pack a lunch.

Martin Ray Winery

Take HY 116 North in Sebastopol to Guerneville Road. Take a left at Laguna Road and then look for signs to Martin Ray. We love this winery because of its fantastic vineyard view and laid-back atmosphere. The picnic area is inviting and certainly one of the better picnic wineries in the area. Courtney Benham, a wine entrepreneur, is the owner of Martin Ray. Wine old-timers may recall that Martin Ray was a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Courtney revived the winery and relocated it to this location. The wines are well made and reasonably priced, when compared to other wineries.

The tasting room is open 10am to 5pm daily.

The lovely Martin Ray tasting room

Joseph Swan

The Joseph Swan winery is unique and interesting. If you are a wine buff, this is a “must” stop. The legendary Joseph Swan was a winemaker of significant influence. On the advice of Andre Tchelistcheff Swan ripped out old vine Zinfandel and replanted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Swan was a self-taught winemaker who was able to craft Burgundian-style wines that were exceptional. In other words, one of the first to pioneer Pinot and Chardonnay in the Russian River Valley. Watch carefully when you approach ?????; the tasting room is on Trenton Road and can easily be missed.

The tasting room is open on Saturdays and Sundays between 11 and 4:30 pm. No big crowds are welcome here.

Joseph Swan Pinot Noir vineyard
Famous Joseph Swan Pinot Noir vineyard

Russian Hill Winery

The Russia Hill Estate Winery is a family-run operation. Ed Gomez and his wife Ellen Mack own and run the winery. The winemaker, Patrick Melley, is Ed and Ellen’s nephew. It is Pinot Noir at the forefront at Russian Hill; There are four different Pinots, each from a different vineyard or area of the Russian River Valley. These wines are expressive of this great Pinot Noir wine region. There are other wines as well, including two Sauvignon Blancs and a lovely Chardonnay. What we love about this winery are two things. The passion of the family and winemaker are most apparent throughout the winery. Secondly, the gorgeous view from the patio. We hope you can enjoy a picnic lunch here and take in the fantastic beauty of the Russian River Valley.

The tasting room is open Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. 

Phone: (707) 575-9428

La Crema at Saralee Vineyard

off the beaten path in Russian River Valley
The Old Barn at La Crema at Saralee Vineyards

Our last winery on this trip, while off-the-beaten path, still manages to get a good number of visitors. La Crema is a part of the Jackson Family of wineries. In 2012, The Jackson Family purchased the Saralee Vineyards, 200 acres, from Saralee and Richard Kunde. This sale included the Old Barn, which now serves as the tasting room. The Old Barn sits in the middle of this spectacular area of the Russian River Valley. The tastings are rather elaborate. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the mainstays here. There are picnic lunch tables on the property, so think about La Crema for picnicking. 

The La Cream at Saralee tasting room is open daily, from 10am to 5 pm.

Wine Map

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  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.