When visiting California wine country, many people prefer exploring Sonoma County, which has excellent wineries and is less crowded and more laid back than its more famous neighbor Napa. Of course if you really want laid back, you need to come to Santa Cruz, but that’s another story.
The best towns for a base of operations in Sonoma County are Sonoma and Healdsburg. They each have a town square or plaza, surrounded by restaurants, boutique inns and shops, and tasting rooms. On a recent visit to Healdsburg, we found ourselves staying at the H2 hotel, just a block off the Plaza. It’s a modern, sustainable affair, with bamboo flooring, recycled steel and an undulating, living roof. The café, Spoonbar, opens onto the sidewalk so you can eat al fresco, and the food is extraordinary. In the same space is the “Receptobar”, where you can check in, get a drink, make a dinner reservation, borrow a bike to ride around town or a DVD to play on the flat screen in your room. We watched My Favorite Year in which Russell Crowe plays a ruthless stock trader who inherits his uncle’s French vineyard where he had spent summers as a boy. See it.
Next door to the H2 is the La Crema tasting room, featuring some of my favorite Sonoma County Pinots and Chardonnays and a friendly, young tasting room staff. Venturing further down Healdsburg Avenue, you’ll find the Healdsburg Bar and Grill, Murphy-Goode and Kendall-Jackson tasting rooms, and the Bear Republic Brewery, all highly recommended. Just past the plaza is Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar. If you are only able to do one thing in Healdsburg, this has to be it. You can sit at Willi’s bar and order individual oysters from all over the world, along with numerous tapas style delicacies. We like to dine on the patio on calamari and ahi.
Healdsburg wouldn’t be complete without getting in the car and venturing out from downtown. To the south, you’ll find Rodney Strong. I always like to visit at least one place whose wines I can find at home, and I always enjoy their Chardonnays and Cabernets.
If you are a movie buff, consider driving north from Healdsburg where you can visit the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, a gorgeous estate that was once called Sovereign. The movie memorabilia that used to be on display at Coppola’s Inglenook estate in Napa is now here, including five Oscar statues. Coppola’s wines are always excellent, so we didn’t leave empty handed.
On the way back to Healdsburg, you might enjoy stopping at Trentadue. We found the staff friendly and the wines well made. The winner was the Chocolate Amore desert wine, and I don’t normally go in for port. While at Trentadue, you may be able to pick up a bottle etched with the logo of your alma mater, unless you’re a Banana Slug or Gaucho fan.
Closer to downtown Healdsburg is Seghesio, who have a large, Mediterranean style tasting room with glass windows behind the bar providing a view of the barrel room. The variety and quality of the wines were much to our liking and the pour girl was unusually knowledgeable.
After two fine days in and about Healdsburg, our Wine Country adventure continued with a drive through the Alexander and Knights valleys to Napa. Please stay tuned.