As a travel and lifestyle journalist, I have the enviable job of going to many new places and trying many new things. Local people who want me to become familiar with their people, places and things, set up my entire itinerary. There are no bad experiences. This trip is aggressive with many wineries, so I suggest that you have a designated driver so that you can partake and be the designated drinker! Now you can take the exact same trip that I did – without wasting any time or money. I solemnly swear to never take you down the path of a bad meal, a wrong turn, a boring time, or a bum winery.
Healdsburg, California is a small town nestled between four regional wine appellations including; The Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Chalk Hill. With over 100 wineries, tasting rooms, boutiques, and restaurants in a concentrated area, you could easily spend months here. I loved how small and personal most of the wineries were in this area. They were not designed to be mass produced wines, so their unique business model is based solely on their wine club members and very rarely on retail. That means that you probably have not heard of any of these wines - which is why I’m so excited to share them with you. This travel journal is designed to give you a “taste” of what the area has to offer, in the hopes of inspiring you to come and discover what makes this place so special.
I arrived at the quaint bed and breakfast, the Hayden Street Inn, very late at night. My room key was waiting for me, along with snacks and wine that were left out to welcome me. This charming & historic Victorian style home is over 100 years old. It has 9 rooms with private baths in each room, plus another guest house in the back. King rooms have a Jacuzzi tub and fireplace. These are the most comfortable beds ever! I even stripped the sheets to see the label on the mattress and pillows.
My first stop was at The Shed in Healdsburg, which is what Ikea wishes it were. It’s a unique home and garden retail store with bee-keeping equipment to housewares. It also has a full restaurant inside with a fermentation bar and an oversized stone pizza oven. Doug's poached eggs on thick Levain toast with dried Oregano and home farm balsamic vinegar gave me a great start for wine tasting. I topped it off with blended white tea. Www.healdsburgShed.com
My next stop was to West Wines. My new bff is the 2005 WEST Cabernet Reserve. This particular vintage was selected as the first American wine ever to be served at the Noble Peace Prize awards banquet in Stockholm circa 2010 to 1200 people. That means it’s guaranteed to make you smarter! Www.westwines.com
The next stop was Kachina Vineyards. They served an amazing Tuscan lunch with charcuterie that is impeccably paired with the 2011 Chardonnay - Russian River Valley. Greg & Nancy are the owners & winemakers. They have no employees and do all the work themselves. They are off the grid with 55 acres and are 100% solar powered. They have a small production of only 1000 wines, so every bottle is a rare treat. They are also the only winery in Sonoma County that produces Charbono - which also came home with me.
The vulnerable truffle @ Kachina with Zinfandel Port.
Ahhh a short respite at the elegant private cottage, which is a great cure to writers block. No distractions.... unless you count goats or grapes! They offer a free 2-night stay for all club members.
Next up, I was lucky to hop on the touring cart with Jess and take a driving tour of Michel-Schlumberger Winery. He was knowledgeable, innovative, and passionate about Pinot! He's like the Indiana Jones of grapes! They also offer the only Pinot in the Valley. Michel-Schlumberger Winery has equally intoxicating views!!
Le Flirt Rose of Merlot with scallops market catch, black olive, sun dried tomato relish, & sauce rouille. 2012 La Bise Pinot Blanc with bellwether jersey milk ricotta, peas & hazelnuts. http://michelschlumberger.com
Next, it was back to the Hayden Street Inn for nap time!!! With all the traveling I do, I’ve learned to power nap. It makes for a very handy party skill.
After a brief rest, I ventured out to a weekly event called Tuesdays in the Plaza that is every Tuesday night from May to August in Healdsburg Plaza. It’s like tailgating…with wine. You can bring your own food, BYOB and have fellowship with the locals, live music, and more. The whole town celebrates together.
Nice spread!! Now that's what I call a picnic! Turkey with aioli & avocado, ham with truffle sauce, fresh fruit, garden vegetables & robust cheese paired with 2012 Pinot from Moshin Vineyards. They were kind enough to bring wine and snacks during the concert. Www.moshinvineyards.com
Breakfast at Hayden Street Inn and my home for a few days. John Harasty (former chef of Churchill Downs) & Keren Colsten have been the proprietors for 7 years. John’s cooking skills are legendary, so I was excited to try his creations. They truly put the ‘bed and breakfast’ into bed and breakfast with the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in lately – and the best breakfast. Www.haydon.com
The first stop of the day was Williamson Wines. Ok, I have never joined a wine club, but they have an incredible offer! They pair with a spice club from Australia & an imported French cheese club shipped quarterly with recipes for your home dinner parties. The only way to get this wine is through the wine club. Owners Bill & Dawn host multiple special events every year, including a trip to Australia. Special reserves are also available! They offer incredible wines, great imported cheeses, and private label spice pairings that match with the wine like this one here: 2009 Elate Grange cuvée with Elate balsamic garlic & herb jam. I am sold on this! Love it!! Www.williamsonwines.com
The next stop was Jordan Wines. They offer a progressive wine tour with wine and food at each stop along the sprawling property aboard a Lexus luxury shuttle. Don’t just drink the wines – walk the vines. Learn about the science of winemaking and even pluck the grapes direct from their source.
Jordan 2011 Chardonnay with pastries and cucumber water.
Stop #2 includes braised beef with pine nuts & 2003 Cabernet with a full view of the vines.
Cheers also to the 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. They are building a glass structure with 360-degree views of their vineyards as you indulge in their velvet Cab. Magnifique!
Stop #4 is a Chardonnay stop with a lake view!!
Gravenstein apple vinaigrette with sushi rice @ preserves with 2010 Chardonnay which truly compares to a white burgundy as a structural depiction. This is a very tasty ensemble from chef Todd Knoll! I think I'm in love...
Stop #5 is Chef Todd’s garden and ranch tour where you also get to meet Elmer, the mini donkey. There are orchards with olives, cherries, peaches and it’s all solar-powered.
Next up was Medlock Ames wines and a bold 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. They have 4 different gardens with comparable pairings for each; they also sell their wine at the farmer's market & the tasting room. I tasted fresh blackberries, raspberries and blueberries straight from the vine.
They offer 7 different wines in pairing samples, including the 2011 Chardonnay, which is 100% chardonnay. 2012 Rose is cool & smooth - just like the owner. It’s produced from a French oak barrel. The Cabernet & Merlot blend is equally amazing! I enjoyed the correlation of how often wines take on the same personality of the winemakers. Ames is soft, authentic (100% with no blends) and that is exactly what his wines are. So for the wines that have a ‘big nose’ or ‘nice legs’, well…look at the owners! Www.medlockames.com
Next I met Jake Hawke at Hawkes winery with 2009 Semillon and enjoyed almond hazelnut olive oil biscotti! Yum!! The best part about his place was the entertainment when his beautiful little daughters came out to join us. The atmosphere is very down to earth and friendly. You get the feeling that Jake is all about making wine for his friends and feel like part of the family. He also makes a fabulous Rose. www.hawkeswine.com
It was time for dinner and sustenance from Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria with charcuterie, grilled breads, and cheeses that pair well with 2011 Nalle Dry Creek Zin. They have many original items on the menu that were a hit with the entire table, including; grilled Mediterranean Octopus, fried Monterey Bay Sardines, Pork Belly with watermelon, and Italian pizzas. Www.diavolapizzeria.com
(Have I lost anyone yet? I know this is a grueling pace, but worth every step and every sip).
I started my day at Costeaux French Bakery with a cafe mocha & croissant breakfast sandwich. It was melted together with apple wood smoked bacon, avocado, egg & cheddar cheese on a flaky croissant. Another hearty start to wine tasting! Www.Costeaux.com
The next stop was at Merriam Vineyards with their award-winning 2011 Pinot Reserve. Sample all of their best Reserves with food pairings. The truffle sausage, French cheese, and dried cherries blend perfectly with the Reserve. He only produces 3000 cases per year. They should also get a prize for the best views from the bathroom! Www.MerriamVineyards.com
Next I enjoyed a rare lunch on the veranda and private tour with master winemaker & mentor Lynn Fritz of Lynmar Estate Wines. With over 78 varietals, I can't pick my favorite either... but it's fun to try. Every one is incredible. You can't go wrong here!
My favorite quote of the day came from Lynn, “wine is a primordial and an aggregate to conversation and community with people”.
The next stop was Iron Horse Vineyards, which is notable for their champagne. Iron Horse 2008 Blanc de Blancs Champagne is celebrating the 125th birthday of National Geographic Magazine with a special reserve partnership. $4 from every bottle is donated to support the mission of clean oceans & a better planet. What better way to honor that mission, than with champagne & oysters! I am happy to do my part!
Spaaahhhh!! I indulged in a much-needed lavender peppermint restorative massage at Hotel Healdsburg! It was the perfect relaxing activity after a few long days of wine tasting! www.hotelhealdsburg.com
I always appreciate celebrating life with passionate people who love what they do and writing about people, places & things that are equally passionate! So many vines…and so little time! Cheers!
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To find out my secret of how I ate and drank my way through 3 counties and still stayed a size 2 – visit: www.mwarner.automaticbody.com
Melanie Warner (aka Wander Woman) is a travel and lifestyle journalist with over 3 million monthly readers. To follow her other travel articles and reviews, visit: