The heart of town is a traditional town square, lined with tasting rooms, restaurants and boutiques. In fact, there are enough tasting opportunities in town that if you’d rather not drive – or take a break from driving – you don’t have take a break from the wine-sipping action.
This is an effect that’s enhanced if you stay at Honor Mansion, about a mile from downtown and an easy walk to the square. (14891 Grove Street Healdsburg, CA ) Honor Mansion has thirteen guest rooms spaced out over four acres, creating a feeling of luxurious privacy. A nice touch: each morning, a basket is delivered outside the door of your suite that contains your choice of morning beverage, the newspaper and a freshly made biscotti. This gives you enough energy to prepare for a buffet-style breakfast, which you can eat ensemble with other guests in the dining room, or on a tray elsewhere on the property.
Other Healdsburg highlights include Costeaux French Bakery, which does French Onion soup just right, as well as a sumptuous box lunch for winery picnics to go. For dinner, there are plenty of top-rated restaurants, starting with two-Michelin starred Cyrus, and including Zin, and Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar . By the way: serious wine nerds will not want to miss the Sonoma County Wine Library, including 5,000 volumes on the wine industry, oral histories of Sonoma’s wine makers, a wine label library and more.
Add these Healdsburg-area wineries to your Sonoma wine itinerary:
As a purposefully constructed cave, rather than a naturally occurring one, this is not a dank and creepy experience, to say the least. The interior is painted a soft white, the lighting is romantic, and enhanced by candlelight. It’s a great place for a wine tasting, which costs $5-$10 per person, no need for advance reservations.
If you’re interested in a tour, though, you’ll need to make a reservation at least week ahead of time. Advanced reservations are also a must for catered picnics, in the cave or in a redwood grove in one of Bella’s vineyards. (9711 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. (707) 473-9171. )
There are two places to visit Kendall-Jackson in the Russian River Valley. There’s a tasting room off the town square in Healdsburg, but the Kendall-JacksonWine Center , in Fulton, is the most extensive, offering three different wine tasting options: classic and dessert wine tastings, which are $5 per person and a reserve tasting which is $15 per person. You can also arrange a private tasting in the wine center’s garden. Note: Download and print a coupon for a free classic tasting for two on the Kendall-Jackson website.
Call ahead if you're interested in wine and food pairings – on offer is a wine and cheese pairing ($25 per person), a wine and dessert pairing ($20 per person) and a reserve wine and food pairing ($30 per person), which pairs reserve wines with tasty nibbles, for instance a sweet tea-brined Niman Ranch pork belly slider with Syrah BBQ sauce, paired with a reserve Syrah. And make time to visit the wine center’s “Sensory Garden”, part of which is designed to help educate your nose to the notes present in various wines – for instance, the Pinot Noir area is planted with berries, the Zinfandel, lavender.(The Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton. 866-287-9818. The Kendall-Jackson Tasting Room, 337 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg.)
The rustic tasting room, complete with a chalk board, can be described as cozy, which can be read as another way to say small, but you get a great deal of attention from the knowledgeable staff, especially about organic vineyard practices. After your visit, you’ll easily see the difference between perfectly manicured traditional vineyards and the wilder and woollier look of an organic vineyard, planted with cover crops between vine rows.
Especially look for Porter Creek’s Pinot Noir from its Hillside Vineyard, and from the Fiona Hill vineyard, which you’ll see on the way into the winery. (8735 Westside Road, Healdsburg.)
Another small family owned winery, which controls 28 acres of grapes, and ten in the Russian River valley, the specialty here is small batches of mostly Pinot Noir. There’s also a sense of fun here – the winery produces two late harvest dessert wines called Moshin Potion, which can be enjoyed on its own or made into a martini.
Moshin is also eco-conscious, using an unusual solar-powered four-tiered “gravity flow” method to make its wine. The winemaking process is designed on a downward slope, with the crush pad on the highest level, the press pad one tier below, where it then eventually flows down into barrels and bottling at the lowest level. Download a diagram of this process (PDF) for the full scoop, or make an appointment for a tour.
You don’t need an appointment for the tasting room, though -- and the tasting fee is waived with purchase. (10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg. 888-466-7446.)
A particular specialty is Cabernet Sauvignon, some of which is harvested and fermented and bottled by vineyard blocks in limited quantities.
You can sign up for a Block-Select tasting, which costs $45 per person and requires a reservation, but there are several other touring and tasting options available that are less expensive. Read more about Passalacqua’s winemaker here . (3805 Lambert Bridge Rd., Healdsburg. (707) 433-5550.)