Romancing the Farmer Side of Wine Country

The Agrarian Lovers Ball -- not your grandparent's barn dance.

By Guest Blogger Evan Wiig

Between rolling hill after rolling hill of sprawling grapevines there simmers in Sonoma County an insurgence of agrarian romance, thanks to the Farmer's Guild. Nodding to yesterday’s traditions but also beckoning a future that’s within reach, these green-thumbed guerrillas and carbon cowboys gather to speak not only of tractors and the price of alfalfa, but of using soil to reverse climate change and collaborating towards a system of true food justice. And on behalf of visitors to Santa Rosa and its surroundings, this same community is working hard to assure that you’ll have something to eat alongside that glass of Chardonnay.


Each February, brought together by The Farmers Guild, aspiring ranchers, well-seasoned farmers, local food advocates and more all converge in Sonoma County. Attracting crowds from across the state, their annual “Farmers Guild-Raising” concludes with an open invitation to the general public: come stomp some boots, share the bounty, and show your love for a new generation of sustainable agriculture: the Agrarian Lovers Ball.

IMG_6806Three years running, this month, on February 20, the ball takes place at the pavilion of Shone Farm, the gorgeous outdoor educational facility of Santa Rosa Junior College. A homegrown meal, local beer and wine, plus swingin’ live music to keep the crowds moving, this amorous celebration welcomes lovers of the soil, food-centric families, farm-bound couples ready to rekindle a post-season romance and yes, plenty of single young ranch-hands looking for love.

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This isn’t your wine-country Pinot Noir tasting stuffiness that some associate with Sonoma County, but a down-to-earth, DIY, dirt-under-your-fingernails kind of crowd. And while you’ll certainly find epicureans among them, the collective vision forged at The Farmers Guild and the upcoming Agrarian Lovers Ball is one in which good, honest food is a basic human right, one that is threatened each day by global warming, monopolization and the simple yet dangerous fact that America’s farmers are aging faster than we young clod-hoppers can fill their boots. So to preserve that right, that legacy and that basic human necessity, we must work hard, fight for food system reform… and, yes, make some love while we’re at it. Come celebrate with us!

For more information, visit

evan wiig headshotEvan Wiig is the Director of the Farmers Guild, a statewide organization promoting the next generation of sustainable agriculture headquartered in Sonoma County.

Can You Keep A Pinot Secret?

The meteoric rise of Pinot Noir’s popularity in recent years has led to some misguided efforts with the wine world’s most temperamental varietal.

Consequently, the good stuff is hard to come by. Mostly because Pinot Noir is notorious for its intolerance. To make premium quality Pinot requires nothing short of perfect growing conditions. That means that finding the ideal site for a vineyard is like striking gold.

IMG_9319For decades, Sonoma County has attracted its fair share of prospectors searching for the mother lode. Some wine producers were lucky enough to have staked their claim early, long before the rush of recent years. Those producers’ names are known the world over, but good luck getting your hands on any of their coveted fare. They all tend to share one thing in common: they’re tiny. When you find a great one that’s yet undiscovered, don’t go writing about it on the internet if you plan to keep some for yourself.

Take Fogline Vineyards for example…

The team at Fogline launched their label in 2009 and only recently opened their tasting room in northern Santa Rosa on River Road, a stone’s throw west of Highway 101 (just past the Vintner’s Inn). You won’t find a well-appointed chateau there, but you will find the Pinot Noir you’ve been looking for. Don’t tell anybody.

Each one of their offerings is distinctive, ranging from elegant and bright, to complex, structured, and earthy. They focus on single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and produce just around 1000 cases annually, so there’s not a lot to go around. They have a beautiful Chardonnay and a rich, ripe Zinfandel as well, but the Pinots are the highlight and the reason to keep going back.

zzdata-FogSiteLOGO2_BRANDCOLOR_SM0If you must share this find, feel free, but know that once word gets out about Fogline, we’ll be fighting to get on that list. Best to go soon and get ‘em while you can.


Little Italy is alive and well and making great wine.

A palatial French chateau of the Entre-Deux-Mers, flanked by the Dordogne to the east and the Garonne to the west. Not so much.

D’Argenzio Winery is a classic Italian American winery of Santa Rosa, flanked by Highway 101 to the east and an abandoned railroad track to the west. It is urban wine country at its finest.

If your wine country dream was to see impressive architecture, then go to Napa and stare at the walls. If, instead, your dream was to experience handcrafted artisanal wines of distinction and quality, then D’Argenzio Winery is the place to start.

paigegreenSantaRosa82213-0053There’s something about this place that harkens back to the days when this area, just down from the Santa Rosa Depot, was known as “Little Italy”. The welcoming is warm, the wines are as fun to talk about as they are to drink, and there’s the sense that the tasting room crew (many of whom are D’Argenzio family members themselves) would be heartbroken if you didn’t leave happy. In a nutshell, it’s pure Italian hospitality.

paigegreenSantaRosa82213-0049Even though the setting is decidedly urban, the winery is nothing to shrug about. It’s a spacious and beautiful working winery, with tables inside and out if you want to relax and enjoy pizza and antipasto served by Cibo Rustico Pizzeria just across the way. On the back patio, surrounded by olive trees, is a bocce ball court where they host their weekly “Wine Down Thursdays” with live music and bocce ball, and serve wood-fired pizzas with some of the more exclusive wines from their portfolio.

paigegreenSantaRosa82213-0043And then of course there is the wine. The family is as committed to making world class wines as they are to playing hosts. The wines at D’Argenzio are the kind that would be impossible to make at a large scale winery. It’s obvious these wines are carefully and meticulously nurtured from vine to bottle into something displaying true handcrafted character. Each of their wines has its own unique complexity and structure, and yet they all share a common rustic elegance. Despite their micro-winery level of production (just 3000 cases a year) the wine list ranges from Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc, vineyard-designated Russian River Pinot Noirs, and old vine Zinfandels, to classic Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Barbera, Aglianico, and Sagrantino. When you visit, plan on staying awhile.

paigegreenSantaRosa82213-0038For more details on wines and happenings at the winery, check out their website at

Paradise Ridge Winery Is Picnic Perfect

If Santa Rosa sits smack dab in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, then Paradise Ridge Winery is in the left atrium.

It’s right here in our backyard, and it is breathtaking. The winery and vineyards are situated up along the ridgeline (hence the name) at the eastern edge of the Russian River Valley. Of the 156 acres that comprise the estate, only 15 have been planted to vines, making the property a picnicker’s dream. With rolling hills and ancient California oaks teeming with wildlife, it’s easy to forget you’re a stone’s throw from downtown Santa Rosa.
040-small1Visitors taking the short drive up to Paradise Ridge will wind through the eclectic sculptures of Marijke’s Grove, featuring “an annually changing exhibit where art, ideas, and nature converge”. The tasting room features sweeping views of the valley and stellar wines from talented winemaker Dan Barwick.
During regular business hours (11am to 5pm daily) you can taste through wines ranging from aromatic whites, to elegant Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs, to bold Cabernets, and take guided or self-guided tours of the grounds.
Beginning May 13th, and running thru October 28th, the winery will feature “Wines and Sunsets” every Wednesday evening. It’s become a huge draw for locals in recent years due to the great live music and great wine and food paired with a perfect sunset. These Wednesday night gatherings run from 5:30pm to sunset and buying the $8 ticket in advance is recommended.
Visit Paradise Ridge Winery online at