Don’t use the word “experience” when you’re talking about wine tasting with Teri Rolleri, chief “hospitalian” at Orsi Family Vineyards in Healdsburg.
“It’s about the difference between service and hospitality,” says the former financial industry consultant (among other careers) and a 15-year wine industry veteran. “Service is doing something for you, and a hospitalian — I made up that word — is concerned with how we make you feel.”
And we’re feeling pretty good right about now.
We’re parked in one of Orsi’s roomy cabanas sampling a few of its 11 Italian wines, soaking in the bit of Italy that has come to Northern Sonoma County.
Earlier, Rolleri escorted us about Orsi’s expansive grounds — dotted with 200-year-old, recently transplanted olive trees — where visitors gather for annual summer concert series.
There’s plenty of Italian in the gift shop and a newly painted passenger wagon painted in the colors of the Italian flag.
“We are unapologetically Italian here,” Rolleri declares.
Orsi is one of more than 200 vineyards and wineries on Northern Sonoma County’s Wine Road, and one of eight we visited in late March.
Over time, we’ve developed a preference for the smaller enterprises because owners, family and staff never fail to be dedicated, passionate and engaging teachers.
They are genuinely happy to talk about the wines of the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander valleys, and even answer the same ol’ questions innumerable times about growing grapes, producing wines and putting out the product.
I’ve never attained expert status, but I’ve learned my preferences and met many interesting people in the process. You’ll find these wineries, as well as area lodging and restaurants, along the Wine Road:
DeLoach Vineyards — This winery takes biodynamic agriculture and the lessons of French vintners “beyond organic.” Flamboyant owner Jean-Charles Boisset “gets in touch with the earth and looks for energy in the field.”
Wander the bucolic grounds and generous signage explains the DeLoach philosophy and cultivation methods.
Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery — Save this one for the end of the day. Once seated near the millpond under the redwoods with a view of the vineyards complemented by the music of the nearby water wheel, your motivation to move will be gone. Host/owner Yvonne Kreck can recount her family’s journey in the wine business, how and why it owns the trademark to the “blush” name and the particulars of each wine.
Moshin Vineyards — Surprisingly, math teacher-turned-winemaker Rick Moshin says he doesn’t use numbers when it comes to making decisions about the winemaking process. “It’s more of a creative process,” he says, “(and) the vineyards are where the wines are made. If the grapes have no flavor, the wines have no flavor.”
Enjoy his wines in the comfortable, renovated tasting room, thanks to Moshin’s carpentry skills. Don’t miss the colorful hummingbird sculpture out front.
Porter Creek Vineyards — Paco the dog greets visitors who arrive at this vineyard and winery, which somehow cultivates some of its grapes on extremely steep patches of a nearby hillside.
Unassuming owner Alex Davis, who studied viticulture and oenology in France and South Africa, clearly loves this work and the setting, which includes “the last stand of redwoods in Sonoma County.” The experience here is heavy on hospitality and light on pretense.
Russian River Vineyards — Time your visit to this winery in Forestville (Northern Sonoma County) so you can enjoy lunch (fresh food, locally sourced) and wine in this spacious, outdoor, Old World setting.
An animated Giovanni “Gio” Balistrere, a founding partner, often makes the rounds to chat with guests, spread his infectious enthusiasm and tell the tale of RRV’s resurrection — “it was a dive” — after buying it in 2008.
Williamson Wines — An Australian making French wine in California. That’s how former tech company owner Bill Williamson describes himself. Whatever the mix, it works.
Throw in a gourmet food pairing when you visit the wine tasting room in downtown Healdsburg, and you have the full experience plus dinner.
For more photos and discussion, visit facebook.com/elouise.ondash.