As we planned our drive from San Francisco to wine country, it was suggested that we make Healdsburg the first stop on our itinerary. This part of Sonoma County is a less crowded destination than others, yet offers a variety of wine tasting opportunities.
We were pleasantly surprised in Healdsburg--the shady streets lined with unique little shops, some of which were topped with bright green awnings, numerous restaurants/eateries providing outdoor dining and friendly people everywhere, certainly contributed to making us want to spend time here.
Healdsburg would be a wonderful 'point of interest' for anyone traveling to this general area. Only 69 miles from San Francisco, I'm certain that you'd find it a worthwhile stop, too!
As I perused the Russian River Wine Road brochure, sent as part of a tourist packet, I circled wineries near Healdsburg that looked interesting.
I researched a few online, finding that Hopkiln Winery was one of the oldest in Sonoma County. It's fine old restored hop kiln certainly was unique. Flower filled planters greeted us at the door, while a small pond glistened in the sun.
In 1880, Sol Waters purchased a ranch in an area where hops was a major crop. He decided to build a hops dryer in 1905, to be of service to the local farmers.
There were bets all around that the three story hop kiln would NOT be finished in time for the 1905 hops harvest. Surprisingly, the structure was complete in 35 days! It's three prominent towers, gabled roof and thick walls have become a landmark in this part of the county.
picture #2 wine tasting at Hopkiln
picture #3 a pleasant picnic area
picture #4 the catfish lake
Hopkiln produces Gewurztraminer; Sauvignon Blanc, non-oaked Chardonnay; Thousand Flowers (a blend of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Canelli and Sauvignon); an Estate Pinot Noir and two full-bodied reds: Big Red and Rushin' River Red.
Our grandson was directed outside to a basket of bread scraps to toss to the hungry catfish--they were huge! A very nice gift shop was on the premises, which held candies, crackers and cheese and bottles of wine.
As we followed the scenic country road from Healdsburg to Guerneville, clusters of trees and fields of grapevines passed by our window.
Signs announcing wine-tastings, sat like little soldiers at the end of long driveways. We stopped in front of one: 'Armida Winery, Tasting 11-5' , then ventured up the drive....
The grounds are very pretty with ponds and view of the valley (picture 3). There is a deck area for picnics and even a bocce ball court!
Since we wanted to visit Korbel's tasting room before 5pm, we had to keep our visit short, so after a quick look around, we continued on our way.
You might be interested to know that they recently received awards for three of their wines at the 2007 Los Angeles Wine and Spirits Competition:
2005 Maple Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley--Platinum Award, Double Gold and Best of Class
2005 Poizin, Sonoma County--Gold Medal
2005 Il Campo, Estate Blend, Dry Creek Valley--Gold Medal
FYI: According to Armida's website, they were "voted the #1 tasting room in Sonoma, Napa and Marin Counties by readers of the NorthBay Biz."
A quiet public park is situated in the center of this picture-perfect town, where mothers and their small children and young couples enjoyed each other's company on this sun-filled day.
A bronze statue of a small boy clutching an American flag, stood at one side of the park as a tribute to those who lost their lives in World War II (picture 2).
A small walkway circumnavigated the area, taking one passed a few blooming bushes and benches. I pictured this as a great place to sip a tall glass of iced tea, nibble a cookie and read an absorbing book...in the shade, of course!
Millcreek Winery was a cute winery in the Dry Creek area and it also has great wines. We stopped here for our dessert.
The waterwheel got on our nerves because it was so squeaky. I don't recommend picnicking here unless you have a high tolerance for squeaky sounds.
The other thing that was a bit off the wall at this winery was they ran out of wine glasses. What winery runs out of glasses? So that had to run to the back room and they brought out a bunch of mismatched wine glasses that look like they could have come from my kitchen. They promote themselves as a small family winery, and they certainly did seem small family.
Anyway, the wine was good.
One of my favorite winery stops, less for the wine than the uniqueness and historic value of the building, is Hop Kiln. The big barn-like tasting room is home to friendly employees. Behind the building is a lovely pond with picnic tables. This makes this a great spot to take a break and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Late Harvest Wines, Riesling, Zinfandel
My friend and co-worker, Gabi from Munich, wanted to see the inner workings of a winery and go on a real tour. If you want a tour, I recommend scheduling a tour with a winery that is open by appointment only, rather than one that has a tasting room that is open everyday to the public. That gives you a chance to visit a winery that you cannot otherwise see if you just happen to be passing through.
For our tour, we picked Michel Schlumberger in the Dry Creek area. This winery produces award winning Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a very nice wine to give to someone you love.
Here we are in the winery's central courtyard waiting for the tour to start. This tour was about an hour long, and we learned a number of interesting things, like weeds in the vineyard isn't a sign of laziness -- it means the vineyards don't use pesticides. Our tour group was small -- only about 12 people, which was nice and made it easy to ask a lot of questions.
The tour ended up in the beautiful country kitchen at the winery, where we sampled several of Michel Schlumberger's finest wines.
Sausal is a small, friendly, especially pretty winery where the tasting room folks are friendly and the wine is poured rather freely. Check out the Cellar Cat Red, dedicated to the pussies who live on the premisses.
Next stop, Italy. This beautiful winery is built like an Italian villa and their Siena is my all time favorite wine. Continuing on to Dry Creek Road, just before you get to Lake Sonoma you'll find Ferrari-Carano. Another commercial tasting room, with lots of wine fripperies, Italian pottery, clothing and gadgets for sale. Tasting is complimentary unless you try some of the private reserve or library wines. Then the $3.00 tasting charge is deducted from any wine purchase you make. F-C also has fabulous gardens that are open for touring between 10 and 5.
I like to finish off this day with Seghesio, another family owned winery that has only recently opened their tasting room to the public. They are located in Healdsburg proper (close to one of my favorite places to stay, which I will talk about later) so from here it's a quick hop back to the B&B to rest before setting out for a gourmet dinner. Seghesio has great old vine Zinfindels and delicious Sangiovesi.
My one touristy stop on this route is Korbel, the sparkling wine producer. This is where I recommend stopping for awhile to take the guided tour. The trip through the facility is informative, well set up (and a cool respite on a hot day!) Beautifully landscaped, the gorgeous old buildings and surrounding vineyards are a photographer's dream. In the tasting room you can quench your thirst with a line of sparkling wines, brandies and even grappa. You can also load up on picnic supplies. Across the road, the Russian River meanders along through the vineyards and redwood forests.
You will pick up some very interesting facts about grape growing and wine making by going on a tour. Michel Schlumberger started us out with a walk through the vineyards
For instance at Michel Schlumberger, we learned that they planted their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in rows running east and west to get more sunshine, and their Chardonnay grapes in rows running north and south to get less direct sunlight.
We also learned that weeds in between the rows of grape vines do not mean that the vineyard is going to seed. It means that the vineyard is organic. A neat and tidy vineyard with no weeds means the vineyard uses pesticides. Michel Schlumberger told us they were a certified organic vineyard.
This is an authentic mom and pop (and two sons) operation that produces superior wines. The tasting room is almost an informal barn-like shed, housing some barrels of wine, and offering T-shirts for sale. Nalle doesn't have a fancy tasting counter - after all, they are open for tasting only on Saturdays. Nalle is no show-off winery. They display and pour the wine on a simple table covered by a tablecloth.
Do we judge the wine by these accoutrements and furnishings? Absolutely not! This sort of atmosphere is a sheer delight to those of us who enjoy discovering these up and coming family owned operations that produce superb small lots (just a few hundred bottle of wine each year).
My favorite wine was Nalle's 2003 Pinot Noir. Nalle produced only 260 bottles of this Pinot Noir. We bought one and will bring it out for a special occasion. (We won't wait long!)
Another superb family owned winery is Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek. This winery has only produced wine for 5 years, but length of time in the business is immaterial if the winery has a good winemaker. This new kid on the block produces excellent wines. I liked their Zinfandels best. Mauritson was pouring two vintages of Zins - a 2001 and a 2002. Both were outstanding - different from one another, but outstanding. We couldn't decide which one we liked best, so we bought both.
This is one of my all time favorite wines. The La Crema Pinot Noir is just that good for an excellent price. You can usually find it anywhere for $20. But, I especially enjoy finding it for less. I've paid as little as $15 a bottle at times. You will not always get your best price at the winery itself so make sure to shop around if it's available in a grocery or wine store. We didn't stop by La Crema on this visit but we have in the past.
Opened daily 10:30am-5:30pm in Healdsburg Square.
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