While many are content to join the masses that converge upon Napa Valley each spring, those of us in the know keep going north on Highway 128. With Mt. St. Helena on your right, you enter into what my ancestors and many others have called God’s country. Ride along with me on a spring tour made possible by my grandparents, who settled here from Denmark in the 1800s.
My great grandparents settled in Alexander Valley in the 1800’s, when it was one of only a few wine-growing regions in California. Just next door is Knight’s Valley, yet another Sonoma County ‘kept’ secret. These are by far two of my favorite riding spots in all of Northern California and, in the spring, it’s the only place I want to be. From the mustard to the poppies, the cherry blossoms to the daffodils, riding here is a magnificent tour of the senses and impressive to wine tasters and wine growers. When my grandparents arrived here in the 1800’s they wrote this letter.
Dear Brother-in-law and family,We are in California at last. The trip went unusually well… We have met many kind people here… They have had a good harvest this year – the best was fruit. Some have gotten 10 tons of wine grapes per acre that sells for $12 a ton. This spring they got $20… It’s wine, wine all over.”
October 23, 1894
My grandparents might still recognize Knight’s Valley, a quiet community of wine growers and farmers who have been there for over 150 years. The road heading north from Napa Valley winds its way through lush vegetation and redwoods. Veils of Spanish moss hang from the oak trees while ferns dot the hillside, welcoming you to this land of ranches and vineyards. Roaming cattle from nearby ranches graze the hillsides while rows of fruit trees showcase their spring foliage. Along your route, you may stumble upon a small organic farm or two, selling its locally grown fruits and vegetables to passing motorists. Knight’s Valley maintains its open space without ruining a landscape that has been unchanged for over a hundred years.
Take a left turn to curve around Spencer Lane and pull off to the side of the road for a spell. Watch in silence as the quails scurry along the roadside to hide in the blackberry bushes. Listen for the finches, back to once again grace the valley in song after a long winter. Inhale the smell of cherry blossoms as the petals float by in the crisp breeze.
As you continue north along Highway 128, you are once again greeted by the narrow twists and turns along the redwoods and oak trees, positive that the ride couldn’t possibly get any more scenic. But the road narrows, even more, skirting along one of the many creeks that flow down from the foothills. Take in all the colors from the lava flows along the sheer rock walls. The road to Alexander Valley is a little longer, but you won’t mind. It’s a slight climb up from Knight’s Valley, and the twists and turns make it the perfect spring ride.
WELCOME TO ALEXANDER VALLEY
Once I hit that final 25 mile-per-hour curve from Knight’s Valley, I’m in my ancestral home once again. The region has over 40 wineries and some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the wine industry. My family farmed along an open stretch of Highway 128, just around the corner from the general store. I cross the first little bridge over the “crick” and spot the Frithiof’s two original homes on my left, and am gratified they’re still there, and completely restored to their original beauty. The smaller house is where my father, Ron, grew up, and my great grandparents lived in the larger home. The family’s main crop was prune plumbs, but they later planted walnuts and many different varieties of fruit trees.
When my father was a teenager, a gentleman by the name of Paul Reud taught him and most of the willing local teenagers how to fly. And when my father was a pilot in the Marine Corps, he made sure to buzz the valley and make his presence known, a personal tribute to Paul. Many of the old-timers still talk about ol’ Ron Kron and his sonic booms and the windows rattling almost clean out of the wall.
MY FAVORITE WINES
Wine is in my blood, and I’ve made sure to keep in touch with the appellations in this valley over the years. If you’re looking for the perfect Sauvignon Blanc, visit Hanna Winery, your first stop on the right. Still a little shy about getting back into Merlot? Please. One taste of Alexander Valley Vineyard‘s Merlot and you know it’s “okay” to admit to being a Merlot-lover again. How about a bottle of Zinfandel made from those 100-year-old vines you keep hearing about? Then Sausal Winery is your next stop. Looking for a particular winery but not sure of it’s location? There are signs to all the different wineries sticking out at most every intersection. And don’t forget to bring that top box for your motorcycle or picnic basket for the car! You’ll need a place to store your new favorite wines. Save room for some fabulous local treats as the Jimtown Store is next on your list of places to stop.
THE JIMTOWN STORE
Founded in 1895 by Jim Patrick, Jimtown was originally the valley’s general store, post office and local hangout. Trust me, my dad can tell many a tale about this place. In 1989, the store was purchased by John Werner and his wife, Carrie Brown, both New York City transfers. In 1991, Jimtown was reopened after being brought back to its original glory. Carrie continues to work and build the business with the help of her family, staff and community. You have to believe me when I say you won’t find another place like Jimtown Store. From its locally grown, homemade treats to its collection of eclectic treasures, it is a worthy stop along your journey. Always a relaxed atmosphere, Jimtown is an Alexander Valley icon. But wait, there’s one more winery you just HAVE to see.
Robert Young Estate Winery
Continuing north on Highway 128 towards Geyserville, I passed the signs for Robert Young Estate Winery. Like the Kron family, the Youngs began farming in the late 1800s, growing plums, the original valley crop. They converted to grapes in the mid-1900s and produce some of the tastiest wines, and let you tour their wine cave. Inside, the walls are lined two and three rows high with barrels, each vintage waiting for the right moment to be sipped and swirled. Whenever I’m in the area I stop to walk through and inhale the scent of the fall crush.
Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend away, Knight’s Valley and Alexander Valley is a must see on your list. Enjoy your time and don’t forget, let everyone know you got your info from an original old timer. I’ve never tired of motorcycling, exploring, and finding new things to see and do.
- Check Alexander Valley’s visitor site for maps, tours and lodging suggestions.
- Nearby Healdsburg’s visitor site lists fine dining options from the formal and intimate to local brewery and pub specials, lodging, and other things to do in the area.
DINING: LOCAL FAVORITES