A Weekend Wine Tasting Guide to Healdsburg, California
If you’re traveling to California wine country, chances are the first place you think to go is Napa Valley. While Napa is an amazing, world-class destination, it is known for being bigger, and much more commercialized than it’s neighboring Sonoma County. When I’m recommending wine country to friends, I always tell them to make sure that they experience both areas in the same trip. Sonoma, with its laid-back wineries, is a perfect complement to the stately presence of the historically more expensive, and more built-up, wineries of Napa Valley.
Napa, since it’s beginnings, has put an emphasis on encouraging tourism. The development of more and more wineries with large, architecturally beautiful tasting rooms, followed by resorts, boutique hotels, and world-class farm-to-table restaurants all have driven the Napa Valley prices up, up, and up over the last few decades. It’s hard to find a decent Napa Valley cabernet these days under $80, and just tasting at some of the wineries in Napa Valley can ring you up just as much. And you know what? You keep coming back. Because, yes, the wine is that good. And the food is that good. And the vineyard views are that good. And everything in Napa is pretty picture-perfect.
Napa knows it’s the best. A weekend in Napa is glamorous and classy.
Sonoma, on the other hand, has put a priority on maintaining its more laid-back reputation. Sonoma wineries are far less ostentatious than the Napa wineries, putting an emphasis on farming and family, and not on shipping and growing. I’ve tasted countless wines in Sonoma that quickly became my favorite wines, only to find out that I can’t even get them in stores. The wineries in Sonoma are not at all concerned with developing their “brands”- they just want to grow great grapes. They don’t mind that you underestimate them, they love proving you wrong.
Sonoma wineries’ overall chill and focus on their art translates into Sonoma as a whole. A weekend in Sonoma is relaxed and understated.
And then there’s the magical little town of Healdsburg, California.
Healdsburg, a quaint and idyllic village among vineyards, lies about an hour North of both Napa and Sonoma. It has been dubbed one of the Nation’s Most Romantic Small Towns by CNNTravel, and its easy to see why.
Healdsburg is the American dream: leafy streets and big sidewalks lining a center plaza surrounded by cafes, ice cream shoppes, farm-to-table restaurants, and wine tasting bars. Adorable families strolling through the plaza. Kids heading to the river to float down on their rafts. Couples driving through the rolling golden hills and lush, green vineyards to visit the local wineries with picnic baskets in hand. The town is at once both elegant and casual – placed perfectly at the meeting point of viticulture-famed Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, and just down the road from the Russian River Valley. In other words: It’s wine country heaven.
Where to Wine Taste in Healdsburg:
Tucked into the hills of Alexander Valley, you’ll find the beautiful French-countryside-inspired Jordan chateau. The gorgeous estate overlooks 1200 acres of rolling hills and vineyards and is home to the Jordan family. Jordan welcomes guests by appointment for their 90 minute estate tour and tasting or gourmet food and wine pairings in their stunning cellar room. will take you They only make three wines here, an esteemed cabernet, chardonnay, and a new sparkling wine. I absolutely loved all three, and the sparkling was one of the best champagnes I’ve ever had.
For those who truly appreciate good wine, Verite is a must-stop on your trip to Healdsburg. Famed wine critic Robert Parker, Jr., of The Wine Advocate recently announced twelve 100-point scores for Vérité’s three blends, Le Désir, La Joie and La Muse (the first time a Sonoma County winery has received this many perfect scores!) And they are just as incredible as you can possibly imagine. The beautiful Verite estate hosts tastings by appointment only.
Lancaster Winery is set in Alexander Valley and their private tasting is hosted in their stunning 9000 square foot caves, accessible through a Game-of-Thrones-esque door. The beautiful estate is located at the southernmost tip of Alexander Valley and includes 53 hillside acres of 24 vineyard blocks. The vineyard is dedicated exclusively to the classic Bordeaux varieties—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Tastings are $25 per person and the wine is SOOO GOOD you guys. Go here before it gets on the map – because mark my words, it will.
Lambert Bridge, located in the Alexander Valley, is famous for their excellent Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot, among other varietals. Their tasting room is their barn-like barrel room which is just beautiful. Lambert Bridge describes their wine style as offering European elegance and refinement, coupled with the intense flavor and bright aromatics that are found only in Sonoma County fruit.
Where to Stay in Healdsburg:
Or for luxury, I recommend Hotel Les Mars – a hotel that is everything that Healdsburg is; relaxed luxury that feels fresh out of the French countryside. The luxurious 16-room boutique hotel is located in the heart of the Healdsburg Square. In the rooms are baroque canopied four-poster beds with fresh Italian linens and the most comfortable mattress and pillows imaginable, as well as a spacious marble bathroom and unbelievably-soft robes. Each morning breakfast is served in your room complimentary, complete with silver platters, french-pressed coffee and fresh croissants. It feels like you’re sleeping in a 16th century royal palace. And I loved every second of it.
Hotel Healdsburg is a beautiful 55-room modern-rustic retreat overlooking Healdsburg Plaza. Foodies will love famed chef Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen and the complimentary breakfast. One of the best benefits of the hotel (besides its lovely pool!) is the complimentary bikes you can take off property to vineyard-hop on.
Where to Eat in Healdsburg:
Barndiva, with its beautiful patio and all-sustainable restaurant, takes haute farm-to-table cuisine to a whole new level. It’s casual yet hip, and its inventive modern-American menu is everything you want and need after a long day wine tasting. They also serve brunch!
Tips: Order the crispy pork belly and the kale caesar with a poached fresh farm egg. And definitely explore their cocktail list for awesomely creative cocktails that are the perfect answer to when all the wine starts to taste the same.
Chalkboard, set within the Hotel Les Mars, is another farm-to-table Healdsburg favorite.
Its casual yet creative menu is a perfect complement to any day in wine country. Check
out the chef’s four-course pasta menu, and make sure you order the pork belly biscuits to share… they are to-die-for.
if a picnic is more your style, stop by SHED, a lofty, airy retail store and market where you can sit down or take out delicious food, coffees, and wines. There are also several casual dining areas from 7am to 7pm with exceptionally-chosen farm-to-table menu options.
What Else to Do in the Area:
Safari West: A safari… in California!? Yes.
Built in 1993 by animal care experts and conservationists Peter and Nancy Lang, this 400-acre African game animal preserve offers one of the best venues on the planet for getting up close and personal with some animals from all over Africa, from rhinos to giraffes to zebras, monkeys, cheetahs, antelopes and wildebeests.
Safari West, with its over 900 animals (around 100 different species), offers overnight lodging, customized guided tours, and one-of-a-kind animal experiences. The high-end dining and tenting offers something for couples and families willing to spend a few extra dollars to truly feel like they’re sleeping among the wild in Africa. But Safari West also caters to guests interested in just the daytime experience of a jeep safari (or a winos and rhinos safari, if you want to keep your wine tasting buzz going). In addition, the impeccably trained staff offers private and intimate behind-the-scenes tours of animal enclosures and holding areas. We had the opportunity to feed the giraffes with our tour guide Terry, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Giraffes are SO friendly, and so beautiful in person.
The focus on conservation, and love for the animals is evident in every part of the Safari West experience. The ongoing mission of Safari West is wildlife preservation through breeding, education, research and public interaction. This is no zoo, this wildlife preserve is Peter and Nancy’s home. They have made this beautiful natural habitat for the animals and experiencing it with your family is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Whatever you get into in Healdsburg, whether its winos or rhinos, you are going to have the best time. Do you have any favorite wineries that I missed? Let me know in the comments!