As many of history's great thinkers have lamented, the trouble with paradise is not so much that the view isn't spectacular, it's that the access is limited. Paradise is not often just off the main road with easy parking. With sunset views of the Santa Rosa Plain from high on up in Fountaingrove, Paradise Ridge Winery is a beloved destination and well-known blushing-bride magnet. In the old barrel room, the winery hosts events and Santa Rosa's only ongoing historical exhibit that pays tribute to winemaker Kanaye Nagasawa. But it's a ways off the wine road.
That's why the Byck family opened a second tasting room on Sonoma Highway. The view is also great; it's just from the bottom up. It's an inauspicious little shack in an inauspicious little town in the most ruggedly beautiful stretch of Sonoma Valley under the ancient volcanic cone of Sugarloaf. Yet with its dramatic setting, and while the only visible economic activity here is ultra-premium winemaking and tasting rooms, the little hamlet of Kenwood is still as sleepy as its generically suburban name.
Paradise Ridge toasted its new neighbors and the warm welcome it has received at a recent open house with free-flowing wine and light bites prepared by the winery's resident food specialist. The 2001 Blanc de Blanc ($29.95), for example, was genius. The late-disgorged Chardonnay sparkling is already yeasty, creamy and comparable to effervescent beverages traditionally concocted on a piece of famous French real estate; a bite of salty shrimp ceviche turned the bubbly into a whole new tongue sensation.
Other offerings include a series of reds from the estate's high-elevation Rockpile vineyards. Not your friend Miles' Merlot, the 2003 Rockpile Merlot ($40) has a tight tannic grip on a glassful of juicy black currants and tangy plums with a hint of leather and woods. The 2005 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is a gold medal winner in the 2008 Harvest Fair, and in a similar fine-structured claret style, the recently released 2006 "Convict" Zinfandel ($38) has still got intense brambly fruit on lockdown. The 2005 "Ode to Joy" Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($30) is a tawny nectar of apricot and spices that must surely be the house wine in paradise.
The tasting room is only open to 5pm, but for those with the midday chore of commuting down this most bucolic stretch of highway, it's a nice stop—look for the sculpture from the Byck's ridgetop art garden.
Paradise Ridge Winery, 8860 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. Open daily, 10am–5pm. 707.282.9020.