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Wizard of Olivet

Follow the Olivet Road to a less-traveled wine event

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Compared to most wineries on the well-traveled winetasting trail, Tara Bella is a bit of an odd duck in a backwater.

Hidden from the main road, Tara Bella Winery is tucked into a neighborhood off a side road of a side road. The only kind of tasting offered includes a personalized tour, one group at a time, for a smaller fee than most wineries charge these days for a walk-in tasting. They make only one varietal of wine here in the heart of Pinot country—and it's Cabernet Sauvignon. But this boutique bodega is just the right fit for the Olivet District. The association of wineries hosts its seventh annual open house and winetasting this Saturday, April 8.

While the event still goes by the tagline "Follow the Olivet Road," members voted to change the association name when outliers like Martinelli, Battaglini and Tara Bella joined a few years ago. Kevin and Wendy Morrow are the second owners of Tara Bella, taking over from their friends Rich and Tara Minnick. Rich had the big idea to plant Cabernet in the Russian River Valley, on what looks like mainly a north-facing slope, at that. The naysayers said it couldn't be done, but the 2000 vintage landed a double gold at the San Francisco Chronicle's 2003 wine competition. After CNN ran a four-minute spot on prime time, wine went flying out the door. Still, production tops out at 600-plus cases, and the hat-donning winery basset hounds appear to have as many fans as the wines.

I'm told that little Tara Bella puts on the biggest party for "Follow the Olivet Road." They'll have their "house band" on a stage by the vineyard, and in the spirit of the event's yellow-brick-road theme, eats will include "munchkin mushroom" soup shooters from Belly Left Coast Kitchen.

Further down the road, look for homemade pizza to pair with old-vine Zin at Battaglini, sausages and sliders from grill master Robert Pellegrini to go with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel—the classic varietal triad of this Russian River Valley neighborhood. Other participating wineries include Benovia, DeLoach, Gamba, Harvest Moon, Hook & Ladder and Martinelli. Don't miss the Caribbean pizza truck parked outside Inspiration Vineyards, in a business park off Coffey Lane, where the afterparty may continue, says winemaker Jon Phillips, at Moonlight Brewing's tap room across the way.

Taste of Olivet, Saturday, April 8, 11am–4pm. Tickets $45 (free for designated drivers) at Eventbrite or at the door. olivetroad.com. Tara Bella Winery, 3701 Viking Road, Santa Rosa. By appointment only, Wednesday–Sunday. $15 per person. 707.544.9049.

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