Long before the Russian River became synonymous with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it was a river…and of course it still is. As the Russian River approaches the Pacific through Sonoma County, it is quite a beautiful river, at that. It begins in Mendocino County and flows south, flowing pretty much along Route 101 (or vice versa, we suppose). As it enters Sonoma County, the river runs between Route 101 and Route 128, the main drag of Alexander Valley. At Chalk Hill, it hangs a right and proceeds southwest to the ocean. For those who come to Sonoma County for wine tasting and would like to do some touring as well, it’s this last stretch of the Russian River that’s the place to visit.
If you proceed south down Westside Road, you can catch occasional glimpses of the river, although you may be more attentive to the wineries that are there. As Westside turns west and becomes River Road, you’ll see and pass over the river often. In fact, it is the bridges that are for us the main attraction.
One of these is the Wohler Bridge, where Wohler Road crosses to meet Westside Road. It looks pretty rickety, but it must be pretty secure since it’s been there for 100 years. It’s a one-lane bridge so you have to be careful that no one is coming the other way before you cross it. Also be on the lookout for tourists (they could be us) having their picture taken while standing next to the bridge. Nearby wineries include Gary Farrell, Moshin and Rochioli.
The Hacienda Bridge is at the point at which River Road merges with Westside Road. You may see swimmers or boaters in the water. We’ve always been there for the purposes of wine tasting, so we’ve never dived in ourselves. There are many resorts in this area as well. Korbel and Porter Bass are wineries in this area.
It’s likely you’ll want to visit in nice weather, which is a generally good idea. It’s particularly important for the Russian River. That pleasant waterway, well used for boating, rafting and swimming, can become a raging torrent in the winter months. Flooding occurs frequently, roughly every other year since 1940, according to the San Jose Mercury. There’s a lot to be said for going wine tasting in winter, but it’s probably not a good idea to plan on an excursion along the Russian River.