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Wine Country Travel Watch: Sonoma’s Heart Flourishes


Healdsburg continues to develop into a top wine-country destination

It wasn’t long ago that there were only a handful of restaurants, wineries and hotels in the sleepy hamlet of Healdsburg, Calif. Now the town has become the nexus of Sonoma County’s wine country, a place that combines charm with cutting-edge cuisine, luxury lodging, inviting tasting rooms and a local art scene. The town of 11,500 now boasts 25 restaurants, 30 hotels, motels and B-and-Bs, plus more than 40 downtown tasting rooms, appealing to both those looking for a taste of down-to-earth fun or a high-end wine-and-food experience.

A blossoming food scene

One of Sonoma County’s most anticipated openings, Single Thread Farm Restaurant and Inn began service Dec. 2. Husband-and-wife team Kyle and Katina Connaughton oversee a seasonal farm-to-table menu.

Katina has worked as a culinary gardener and chef in the United Kingdom, as well as in the gardens for Sebastopol-based Zazu. She oversees their farm in Alexander Valley, which supplies vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, honey, eggs and olive oil to the restaurant.

Kyle’s dishes are a spin on California cuisine with Asian and British hints, such as black cod with saikyo miso, runner beans and charred alliums, or a 55-day dry-aged rib of beef with eucalyptus, delicata squash, pickled onion, Comice pear and chestnut. Guests can choose between three different 11-course menu options (vegetarian, pescatarian and omnivore) tailored specifically to each guest’s preferences. Dinner tickets start at $295 and must be paid for in advance.

Sommelier Evan Hufford has crafted a list of mostly California wines, as well as some from Europe, highlighted by a collection of rare and unique offerings from Sonoma and Napa. Wine pairings are an additional $155 to $295 per person. The second floor of the building also includes five guestrooms that range from $700 to $1,000 per night.

Just around the corner, chef Shane McAnelly of Chalkboard is slated to open a gastropub in early 2017, offering a seasonal supper club menu—think pot-pies and chowder—in the heart of the Healdsburg plaza, in the former Bistro Ralph location.

To most locals, Geyserville is more-or-less an annex to Healdsburg. Dino Bugica of Diavola Restaurant recently opened the Geyserville Gun Club Bar and Lounge. Named for a gun range once housed in the building’s basement, the bar offers small bites inspired by Asian street food, like chicken wings and lumpia, as well as classic and inventive cocktails and a concise wine list of mostly Italian, Californian and French offerings.

Upscale lodging

Hospitality group Piazza Hospitality has big plans for Healdsburg. It recently renovated the rooms of the 13-year-old Hotel Healdsburg, adding silk and wool rugs, reclaimed wood tables, and artwork unique to each room. The light blues and greens and soft earth tones offer a tranquil experience for guests.

Piazza is also working on the H3 Guesthouse. Set to open winter 2017, it will be located just down the street from sister property H2Hotel, offering a stylish and environmentally friendly atmosphere using reclaimed redwood. H3 will have 39 rooms and 6 suites, each with a private outdoor balcony or patio with views of the town plaza, courtyard gardens, swimming pool or creek. It will also feature a rooftop terrace and event space.

Builders recently broke ground on the future Saggio Hills Resort and Residencies, a 258-acre resort-style hotel, north of downtown, set amid rolling, oak tree–forested hills. The project will include a 130-room resort as well as 66 residences, a restaurant, spa, fitness center and conference rooms, as well as access to local hiking trails, and is scheduled to be completed by early 2018.

Tasting room central

Jackson Family Wines has added to their tasting room presence in Healdsburg with the opening of a second tasting location for Hartford Family Wines, as well as a tasting lounge for Siduri Wines. Jackson Family now has five downtown Healdsburg tasting rooms—the others are Stonestreet, La Crema and Murphy Goode.

Hartford took over a small spot that used to be a wine shop near Hotel Healdsburg, and while supplies last, offers a chance to try Wine Spectator’No. 10 Wine of the Year, the Zinfandel Russian River Valley Old Vine 2014. Tasters can try a flight of four wines for $10, or wine-and-cheese pairings for $45.

Siduri’s Wine Lounge occupies the space that used to be Kendall-Jackson’s Partake, and offers a small plates menu with wine by the glass or bottle, flights of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs for $20, or flights of five wines paired with small bites for $45. The lounge has a throwback vibe, with distressed wood, hardwood floors and bright accents. Select beers are also available on tap, and it’s open late for post-dinner libations.

J Vineyards and Winery has remodeled their Bubble Room and revamped their guest experiences. Adjacent to their main tasting bar, the Bubble Room has long been a favorite food-and-wine pairings destination for tourists. Now modern and elegantly styled, with hand-blown glass chandeliers, the vibe is more open and can accommodate more guests. Estate chef Carl Shelton switches up the menu every six weeks, and he and winemaker Nicole Hitchcock assist in leading a tasting experience of paired wines and food.

Flanagan Wines has found a new home on West Dry Creek Road, just a few minutes from downtown Healdsburg, in the former Everett Ridge Winery. The property sits on a hillside with 10 planted acres and a deck attached to the tasting room for alfresco sampling and views of Dry Creek Valley. All tastings are seated and will include light seasonal snacks for $40, hosted daily by appointment.

More than wine

In case visitors want a break from wine tasting, Sonoma Ciderrecently transformed their warehouse into a 5,500 square-foot taproom just south of the town square. They offer 20 different ciders on tap, as well as select beers from local breweries and cold-brew coffee. Small bites like house pickles, cider-brined olives, and mixed pintxos, are available, as well as heartier fare, like a tri-tip dip sandwich or mac-and-cheese. A dog-friendly patio featuring a fire pit and yard games like cornhole and giant Jenga encourage guests to relax and enjoy a pint or two.

Healdsburg’s new (and lone) distillery, Alley 6 sits in an industrial park a mile north of the plaza. Jason and Krystle Jorgensen focus on whiskeys, producing their signature spicy rye, as well as several single malts. They also make a unique bitters from locally foraged candy cap mushrooms as a companion for whiskey-based cocktails. The distillery is open to the public on weekends and weekdays by appointment. Visitors can take a tour, or just sample the goods for $10 in the rustic apothecary-vibed distillery. Always experimenting, the Jorgensens have plans to release gin, brandy and grappa collaborations with local Thumbprint Cellars, using Viognier as the base.


By: Aaron Romano

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