Category Archives: Russian River Valley

Martinelli’s Tasting Room: A Tasting Experience Lost in a Dollar per Square Foot Theme


Helen Turley is the most important figure in wine making today. She is a pioneer and leading expert of a generation of California wine making brilliance. Her talents and abilities have been well documented by some of the most outstanding artistic creations California has to offer the wine loving world. She is to wine what Babe Ruth is to baseball. The greatest, one and only, talent the industry has ever produced in my opinion. Consequently, the following article is about the Martinelli tasting room not their impressive wines.

Martinelli , considered one of the most desirable ’boutique’ Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in California, has a solid track record of excellence recognized throughout the world. So it was with great expectations, that we pulled into Martinelli to “experience” these legendary wines on their home turf: the tasting room. In one of the biggest disappointments since Major League baseball allowed an All Star game to go unfinished as a tie, the Martinelli tasting room was simply “ugly.” A cross between a Hickory Farms store and a Williams Sonoma outlet shop, Martinelli’s tasting room “vision” does not match their majestic wines.

The ambiance, if you could call it that, is pure delicatessen with a mix of country brick a brack. The tasting room was less room and more closet. It was a bar of roughly 15ft in length jammed into the back corner of the room. This “cubby” hole is surrounded by retail “rounders” holding expensive Italian hand painted pottery, food items, and apron type of kitchen knick knacks. Again the feel you get is that the Martinelli’s are desperate to monetize their winery so they “must” cram a bunch of stuff into as little space as possible.

Upon our arrival, the tasting area was packed: 6 people were jostling for position. As we stood back to survey the scrum, a party of 10 walked in asking for service. The response was less than enthusiastic. The servers denied the party access. The reason given for their rejection was as follows: We can’t handle big parties as we only have two servers staffing the bar area. The area is too small and we limit the size of a party to 6 maximum. This message (paraphrased) was delivered in a sympathetic manner but it did not change the “small” feel a person gets when tasting at Martinelli. It did not bring back memories of that cozy, warm beautiful cabin in the mountains. Instead it felt like a Japanese bullet train boarding passengers by shoving them into the compartment with cattle prods.

Smallness of attitude and service seemed to be the theme. Our tasting staff of two consisted of one staffer who claimed to have many years in the industry. Yet this server never answered any wine specific technical questions as she was more interested in discussing how rakish the last party of customers acted. Her cohort in crime looked the part of a bartender not a server in a tasting room. She had a nano second of regurgitated company propaganda and nearly no discernible knowledge about the winery or the wine being poured. The two were very friendly but this did not make up for the feeling we experienced: get away and get away quickly.

But instead of getting away, we stayed for the wine. The tasting was free and that is an admirable quality at Martinelli. But again smallness reared it’s ugly head. The problem? Every bottle being poured was affixed with a traditional bar tap. These “taps” are spouts which pour a pre-measured “shot.” In Martinelli’s case this pre-measured pour resembled the size of a cologne tester, the skinny test tube freebies, at your local Nordstrom store. According to our server, the pour is 1/2 an ounce. I will go on record as disputing that measure. Either I can’t eye out my alcohol, I am a former bartender, or our pour was more like 1/3 of an ounce: enough to wet your lips slightly with nothing left for your palette. I would rather pay $5 or $10 and receive enough wine to enjoy and judge the wine.

Hoping for something to hang our hats on, we surveyed the grounds for a quiet romantic spot and picnic facilities. Small seemed to describe the scene. A few picnic tables sit in front of the “store” tasting closet. The surrounding foliage was nice and it would have been suitable for a picnic yet the noise of River Rd., less than 100 ft away, made for less than ideal conditions. The other picnic area was in back somewhere. We were never really given any directions to it so we gave up on that area. It may have been very nice but our patience was almost nil at that point.

If you are expecting a shrine to the wine at the Martinelli’s tasting room, you will be greatly disappointed. It is best to skip a visit here, enjoy the wine as always, and find more enjoyable tasting rooms in the Green Valley appellation.


Iron Horse Vineyards: Finest Tasting Room in Green Valley Appellation of Russian River Valley


In what has to be the only “outdoor” tasting room in the Western Hemisphere, tasting at Iron Horse Vineyards is a truly unique experience. Imagine driving to a remote location, down a secluded unpaved trail, up the side of a hill, to reach the top where you are treated to a 360 degree expansive view of vineyards nestled into rolling hills which give way to a green valley floor. Welcome to paradise Iron Horse style.

As you walk from the parking area you see what looks like a plank sitting on top of wine barrels housed in a cabana style protective covering. When you get right up to this “structure” you realize that this IS the tasting room. Turn around and you have a Thomas McKnight like picture postcard view of the Green Valley.

What makes this such a great tasting room? First the staff is extremely friendly. We began our tasting with Dawnelise and she was both exuberant and knowledgeable about the wines and the region. When Dawnelise was busy with new customers, Aaron or one of his cohorts filled in without a hitch. The attitude is so friendly and based on pleasing the customer. The staff is clad in shorts and beach wear which lends to the festive atmosphere.

Gorgeous topography, festive ambiance, a friendly and knowledgeable staff are not the only great features of this tasting experience: the wine ain’t half bad either! To be more exact the wine is exceptional in most cases. The following are the 3 wine flights offered the day we tasted at Iron Horse:

Sparkling Flight: 2001 Blanc de Blancs-$37; 2002 Classic Vintage Brut-$31; 2002 Russian Cuvee-$31; and the 2004 Wedding Cuvee-$37

Seasonal Flight: 2005 Viognier-$25; 2005 Un-Oaked Chardonnay-$26; 2004 Estate Chardonnay-$27; 2006 Rosato di Sangiovese-$13; 2005 Estate Pinot Noir-$36; and the beautiful 2004 BDX Meritage-3-$3.

Reserve/Library Flight: 2006 Cuvee R-$26; 2003 Estate Chardonnay-$30; 2006 Rose de Pinot Noir-$16; 2003 Benchmark-$100; and the 2005 Late Harvest Viognier-$26.

The first two flights have a tasting fee of $10 each; the Reserve/Library Flight tasting fee is $15. But wait! We were never charged a tasting fee. In fact we had so many wonderful discussions going on simultaneously with each staff member, that they began offering us wines not on the flight list. When we finally concluded our tasting, both satisfied and a bit tipped, we purchased one bottle and we were never asked to pay a tasting fee.

We made friends with staff, fellow tasters, and overall our afternoon at Iron Horse Vineyards was the highlight of our weekend.