Mar 162015
Healdsburg, CA - A Mecca for Boutique Wineries

Healdsburg Town Plaza

Healdsburg California, in the northern end of Sonoma County, is a mecca for small boutique wineries that produce a wide array of wine styles from many grape varieties. In addition, the town reminds me of what Andy Griffith’s Mayberry would feel like, if Mayberry were in wine country.

In our early days of wine country travel, we would stay somewhere in Napa Valley and visit northern Sonoma. Now when we advise travelers, our advice is just the opposite; stay in Healdsburg and visit Napa Valley. Why, you may ask…two great wine regions, lots of great wines in both? The answer is simple, diversity. Napa is great for Cabernet and Bordeaux varieties along with Chardonnay but Sonoma offers so much more in addition to great Cabernet. And….Napa Valley is only a 45 minute drive through some of California’s most beautiful vineyards.

The town of Healdsburg itself offers any number of tasting rooms and chef-centric restaurants, most within walking distance of the beautiful town plaza. The square often hosts music and culinary events, available to visitors. A few of our favorite events are the Tuesday in the Plaza concert series that runs from late May through August and the late October Pinot Noir extravaganza, Pinot on the River, featuring over a hundred local Pinot Noir producers.

Healdsburg, CA - A Mecca for Boutique Wineries

Barndiva Restaurant

If you want to stay in town to shop, sip and savor, there are plenty of outstanding tasting rooms from boutique producers. Some of our favorites are Cartograph, C. Donatiello, Banshee, Roadhouse, Blanchard Family, Selby Winery and Hawley. However, there are many more wineries that will satisfy just about any palate. Strolling and sipping can be hard work that calls for some outstanding culinary sustenance. Any good day of wine tsting should start with a hearty breakfast and for that we suggest Costeaux French Bakery where the Croissant Breakfast Sandwich is delicious. When the weather is beautiful, and it usually is, the afternoon may call for a restaurant with both indoor and outdoor dining options. On these days we will head to either the French inspired Bistro Ralph, the elegant Barndiva, the casual Healdsburg Bar and Grill, play a little bocce ball while dining at Campo Fina or visit the lively Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar.

What we love best about Healdsburg is that the town serves as a wine hub, of sorts, with a number of diverse winegrowing regions just beyond the town limits. Wake up in the morning and ask yourself, what kind of wine mood am I in today? If the answer is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, then head out Westside Road into the Russian River Valley, home to some of America’s finest Pinot along with Chardonnay and other varieties. Meander west, toward the Sonoma Coast and stop in to many of the small producers. Many families have farmed the land and vineyards for generations. Some of the smaller producers welcome guests on an appointment-only basis. Don’t let that deter you, give them a ring, you may just end up at the winemaker’s home enjoying a glass of wine along with a vineyard view to die for.

Healdsburg, CA - A Mecca for Boutique Wineries

Inman Family tasting room

There are so many excellent small producers in the Russian river Valley; it could take days just to make a dent. That said, some of the Russian River Wineries we love are (closest to farthest from Healdsburg) J Vineyards, Matrix Winery, VML, Bacigalupi Vineyards, Bucher Vineyard, Arista Winery, Thomas George Estate, Russian River Vineyards, Lynmar Estate, DRNK Wines, Inman Family Wines, DeLoach Vineyards, and McPhail Family Wines.

Or maybe you wake up with a hankering for some amazing old vine Zinfandel, just head out Dry Creek Road into the beautiful Dry Creek Valley. There you will find any number of smaller wineries specializing in Zinfandel from vineyards planted before prohibition. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Sangiovese and others are also planted in the Valley, resulting in a wide variety of sumptuous wine choices. While in the Dry Creek Valley don’t miss out on Mazzocco Winery, Ridge Lytton Springs, Papapietro Perry, Uniti Vineyards, Truett Hurst, Estate 1856, Dutcher Crossing, Cast Wines and Sbragia Family Vineyards. Dry Creek is full of smaller wineries, so be sure to explore to find your hidden wine treasure. For those who want a luxury experience, check out Ferrari Carano and Michel Schlumberger.

Healdsburg, CA - A Mecca for Boutique Wineries

Jordan Winery

And for those who believe Cabernet is King, a short jaunt north out Healdsburg Avenue and in minutes you’ll find yourself in the Alexander Valley where can visit the jewel of Alexander Valley, the Chateau at Jordan Winery (advance appointment required). Even though Jordan has been around since the 1970’s and their Cabernet and Chardonnay are amongst the most popular restaurant wines, Jordan Winery is still family owned and second generation vintner, John Jordan lives on the property. Other wineries we enjoy visiting in Alexander Valley include Stuhlmuller Vineyards, Stonestreet Estate (also a tasting room in H’Burg), Stryker Sonoma, Trione Vineyards, and Ramazzotti Wines. In addition to winery visits, stop in for a fabulous poolside lunch at the opulent Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Healdsburg has it all. It’s a quaint town that sits smack in the middle of three diverse and equally delightful wine regions. It’s really up to your wine imagination to create the perfect day or days of tasting, everything you could ever want is just minutes away.

Nov 052014
Read Part 6 of  Starting J. Cage Cellars –  A Family Winery Series

Back at the end of September, we finished barreling our wines so they can mature and rest comfortably. Donna and I then headed back to Denver. A Halloween party invitation and the wonderful Pinot on the River event in Healdsburg were enough excuse to bolt from Denver for a long weekend back in Sonoma to taste our three J. Cage Cellars wines.

J. Cage Cellars

Conch getting J. Cage Cellars Pinot Samples

I recall watching Conch and Whitney when they were young kids participating in sporting events and wondering if they might develop into world-class athletes. Of course nearly every parent does when their child kicks that first soccer goal or in our case glided down the ski racing slopes of Breckenridge. I was sure Conch was destined for the PGA when he got a hole-in-one at age 13…. But alas… it didn’t happen. A parent can dream…and probably should.

The wines that we struggled so hard to get right are, like those soccer kids, growing up and it was a pleasure to taste them after a month of maturity. Conch samples barrels almost weekly and keeps me apprised. The whites are nice and crisp and should be ready for the summer patio season. But it’s the five barrels of Pinot Noir that I’m emotionally focused upon. Continue reading »

Oct 222014
 The Italian  Wine Club from Giordano Wines Offers Great Values for Wine Explorers

Bacchus and beery wine radioOver the past few episodes on Bacchus and Beery Wine Radio, Donna and I have been talking about getting bold and adventurous with your wine choices. That may mean trying a new variety, label or trying wines from a different country or region.

Wines from Europe can be confusing. Wines from the rest of the world are normally labeled by the grape variety and region such as Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley; simple enough. Wines from most of Europe are labeled by their region, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti and many others. The reason is that Europe has much stricter regulations regarding what grapes are allowed to grow in each region. Therefore a red Burgundy will be a most likely be Pinot Noir and a white Burgundy, Chardonnay. Bordeaux will normally be a red blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot (depending on the sub-region) and to a lesser extent, other varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Chianti is predominately Sangiovese. Continue reading »

Oct 082014
Read Part 5 of our Starting J. Cage Cellars – A Family Winery Series


IMG_2276It was the last few days of our harvest and crush for J. Cage Cellars. The Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier that Donna and I had watched over so closely during the last weeks of ripening were fully fermented and safely tucked into their barrels, resting until they are ready to share. Our Pinot Noir from Nunes Vineyard in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County was nearly finished and ready for press. I, for the first time during this experience, was feeling down and a bit sad. But it took a winemaker friend to describe the emotion accurately.

The last two weeks had been filled with work in the winery. Both Donna and I found we were missing our time in the vineyard. Early morning, in the solitude of vines, grapes and sunshine, sometimes hidden by a thin layer of coastal fog was a time we learned to cherish. We would walk amongst the rows taking grape samples, checking for quality, sugar levels and overall ripeness. Different areas of the vineyard and different clones of the same grape variety mature at different rates, making choices challenging. We strived to get our first picks as close to perfect as possible, in order to create the hand-crafted wines we had been imagining for our own, J. Cage Cellars. Continue reading »