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Picnics on a hilltop, banquets in a cave...Thomas George Estates Winery has it all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011
I was recently on a site visit of Mac Murray Ranch when one of the property managers, having learned I was also researching wine country wedding venues, took me aside and told me that the neighboring winery, Thomas George Estate, recently obtained its wedding license - she suggested TGE as a unique wedding venue, still unknown to most. As soon as I got home, I hurried onto the web site, which impressed me immediately with its live video footage of the tasting room, vineyards and property. Garrett and decided it was worth a visit.

Thomas George Winery is a new Dry Creek destination, having opened in March 2009 at the former Davis Bynum location, situated on the historic 1920’s hop kiln building. The Baker family purchased the winery from the Bynum family in 2008 and with the intention of modernizing the facilities while continuing the tradition of producing premier, small-batch artisan wines. As intended, the old winery received a complete overhaul including the addition of wine caves - the first wine cave, actually, in Russian River Valley.

We found TGE along Westside road in Healdsburg, where a beautiful tree-linedentrance and a majestic trickling fountain welcomed us up to the winery. The young winery staff are bear a remarkable resemblance to the cast of Bottle Shock and were setting up for the day while blasting rock and alternative jams from the tasting room. The winery itself felt modern yet elegant, innovative yet comfortable, and we were impressed with some of the forward-thinking marketing ideas that Adrienne, the event manager, shared with us during our visit.
We first perused caves, which were recently completed in July, 2010 and provide 8,000 square feet of barrel storage and hospitality areas. The two main caves run parallel to eachother, connected by a tunnel that is decked out with furniture at which guests can relax and enjoy wine from the adjacent tasting counter. The cave parallel to the tasting cave is long enough to hold a long king table for 60 people and would make a fabulous venue for a corporate dinner, birthday party, or evening event.. Sadly though, we decided that the acoustics in the cave would make far too many echos to make dancing even conceivable. While in the caves, we enjoyed tasting of several of the many varietals produced at the winery. Tastings are free with the purchase of a bottle of wine, and the staff is friendly and generous about sharing the many different varietals, which include: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, Brut Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grogio, Zinfandel and Syrah (My favorite was the 2007 Maple Dry Creek Zinfandel, but TGE is known mostly for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). I learned by visiting the TGE website that some of the wines produced by the Bynum family were made from the famed Rocchiloli grapes and made by the well-known Gary Farrell. With Jeremy Baker now running the winery, Chris Russo, the winemaker, seems to be doing a nice job of keeping the wine quality high and the prices moderate.

Adrienne, next took us on a drive up to the hilltop lot - a special aspect of TGE property. On the hilltop, we were surrounded by Thomas George vineyards, and sweeping views of the Sonoma and Russian River Valleys. The Baker family was clever enough to add a built-in bar and picnic benches, as well as a restroom so the hill would be a great venue for a private party, lunch, or event. It would be a spectacular place to hold a wedding ceremony. Back down at the modernized facilities, we encountered the second picnic area, located just outside the tasting room and caves. Shaded by lush foliage, it would be a great location to have a picnic, and there’s plenty of space for a party or event (think strung lanterns and live music). We learned from Adrienne that Thomas George Estate owns its own “mobile kitchen” -which looks like a 70’s chrome-brushed bus and might deliver anything from gourmet wine country fare to tacos to cupcakes. The Main Winery building itself is sleek yet welcoming. A plasma screen above the tasting counter plays a reel of photos of the winery and fun events it’s hosted to date. Here, you can also purchase bottles of wine, the whites kept chilled in a sleek refrigerator, pick up a souveniere TGE wine label, proffered in a basket near the entrance, and learn more about the history of the winery.

Though Garrett and I ultimately decided not to have our wedding at Thomas George Estates, for logistical reasons, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this winery for a visit, a picnic, or for hosting a wine country event. Definitely a must-see if you are in Healdsburg.

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