When Scott and Lynn Adams were nearing 30 in the early 1990s, they found themselves reassessing their lives. Scott was working in a San Francisco camera store; Lynn was employed by the Gap.
When they’d gotten married, Scott and Lynn had organized a celebratory bike ride with friends in Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys. Later they began taking wine-appreciation classes at the University of California Extension, gradually coming to the conclusion that their favorite varietal was Zinfandel. Like a lot of people, they started wondering how they might make a move to the wine country themselves, but didn’t have a clue how to engineer it.
Right around then, Scott’s father happened to mention that he was in the market for vineyard property and needed someone trustworthy to manage it.
Scott and Lynn soon found themselves enrolled in a host of viticulture and winery-management courses at Santa Rosa Junior College, and Scott was scouring Sonoma County for old Zinfandel vines. Most seemed the worse for wear, until he discovered a 13-acre, 100-year-old vineyard on a peninsula above a bend in the Russian River southeast of Healdsburg. Straddling the Alexander Valley and Russian River appellations, the spot seemed to have the benefits of both: A moderating riparian influence tempered the site’s fog-free warmth, shielded as it was from westerly winds by the looming mass of Fitch Mountain. Most importantly, the old vines looked amazingly healthy—they seemed to have a future as well as a past.
The Adamses bought the vineyard, named it Big River, and hired veteran Sonoma County grape grower, John Clendenen, to manage it. Motivated more by artisanal than entrepreneurial goals, a few years ago they bought the winery and vineyard back from Scott’s father, to better pursue a small, hands-on vision. Their winery, Bella, is beautiful both above and below ground: Not only does it boast a view of Mount St. Helena and Geyser Peak, but it also has a new 7,000-square-foot cave.
It also happens to be the exact spot where they began their fateful wedding bike ride, back when the idea of working in the wine country was only a gleam in their eyes.
Location: Alexander Valley
Year(s) Planted: About 1893
Acreage: 14 Acres
Soil Type: Manzanita soil. Very old, cobbly, volcanic, red clay loam.
Climate: High bench above the fog line, but straddles the Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley, so has cooling breezes late afternoon.
Elevation: About 500 feet
Exposure: On a knoll, so gently sloping to the west with some Southern and Northern exposure