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.
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.
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.
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.