Windsor Beverage District serves up artisan booze, collaborative spirit
Just west of Highway 101, in the heart of an unassuming ? industrial neighborhood that used to be farmland, Windsor’s hottest drinking destination is drawing huge crowds.
The area, colloquially dubbed the Windsor Beverage District, comprises more than a dozen places to imbibe everything from wine and beer to cider and spirits. A few of the artisan booze-makers even offer food.
Most visitors know the region by its anchor tenant: the $50 million, 85,000-square-foot
Russian River Brewing Co. facility that opened last year. In truth, however, Russian River only represents a part of the story - most of the other companies in the area are small, maker-owned businesses that get by with help from their closest friends.
“This isn’t just a part of the county where small and growing companies have settled; it’s a full-on zone for collaboration and inspiration,” says Tara Jasper, who owns Sipsong Spirits, one of the artisan brands in the mix. “In addition to great products, that’s what makes the (Windsor Beverage District) so special - the sense of camaraderie and the personal touch you get every time you come in for a tasting or visit.”
Fittingly, the center of the new beverage district is an alley in an industrial office park on the north side of Bell Road.
Shop owners and entrepreneurs who first moved into the space back in 2014 and 2015 affectionately nicknamed the enclave “Artisan Alley.” The name stuck. Now it has its own website, artisanalleywindsor.com.
All told, the Alley has six public-facing tenants: Colagrossi Wines, a small-lot winery that specializes in Italian varietals; Sonoma Brothers Distilling, which makes high-end spirits; Sipsong Spirits, which makes high-end gin; Tilted Shed Ciderworks, which makes ciders from local fruits; Two Shepherds, a boutique winery that crafts Rhone-style wines; and Barley & Bine, a taproom and cafe. Across the street, on the north side of Bell Road, sits another brewery and tap room: St. Florian’s.
As Jasper noted, collaboration reigns supreme among this crowd. Some of the makers share a forklift. Most regularly send business to their neighbors. And on the third Friday of every month from 5-8 p.m., tenants bring in a food truck, close the alley to car traffic, open the garage doors and encourage guests to sip and stroll (and, of course, buy).
Each of the artisans is different; each has a different story.
St. Florian’s for example, was founded by Windsor Fire Captain Aron Levin and his wife, Amy, and the brand gives a minimum of 5% of all profits to fire-related and community-based organizations.
Sonoma Brothers was started by twin brothers with similar backgrounds: Brandon Matthies is an officer with the Santa Rosa Police Department, while Chris Matthies is a firefighter with the Santa Rosa Fire Department.
The Matthies boys share distilling and tasting room space (and their $100,000 copper still from Germany) with Jasper, who founded her gin brand in 2016 as an attempt to create spirits (and, eventually, liqueurs) with botanicals from farms and other natural spots in and around her Healdsburg home. Jasper started tasting her gin at the space earlier this year.
Then, of course, there’s Tilted Shed. The place is only open for tastings on Saturdays, but co-?owners Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli are sure to make the experience educational (and, therefore, memorable).
Most tastings include anywhere from three to five samples of current ciders made from apples that grow on the owners’ Sebastopol farm. Heath or Cavalli usually run the tastings, and spend time discussing the different apples that go into each cider, as well as the flavor profiles unique to every variety of apple.
“Cider is misunderstood as something that’s one-dimensional and sweet,” says Cavalli. “We want to show people there’s a lot more that goes into it - a lot of complexity and nuance - and that grapes aren’t the only local (fruit) that can make something worth drinking.”
Perhaps the liveliest of the Artisan Alley businesses is Barley & Bine.
The beer cafe welcomes kids and dogs, it and has an open-air patio that is particularly conducive to kicking back and enjoying a crisp fall day. It’s also hosting an Oktoberfest bash Oct. 4-5.
Co-owner Jeff Reitz is careful to note he doesn’t run a brewery; all the beers he serves are made elsewhere. Instead, Reitz prides himself on bringing in small-batch and hard-to-find brews from independent breweries around the North Bay (and sometimes farther afield). In many cases, the Healdsburg High School alumnus will drive to pick up kegs himself.
Among the fan favorites in recent months: beers from Humble Sea Brewery in Santa Cruz; Del Cielo Brewing Co., in Martinez; and Moonraker Brewing Co., in Auburn.