Healdsburg Is Happening
Healdsburg is hot. This verdant area has award-winning wines, acclaimed restaurants, a zeal for local products, and friendly residents. And it’s an easy drive from San Francisco—when you gauge the traffic correctly.
Pomo Indians inhabited Healdsburg thousands of years ago. After the Gold Rush of 1849, the town prospered and grew exponentially. And in 1872, the railroad reached Healdsburg. Farming has always been important, but what started as mostly fruit orchards has now turned to vineyards.
The town is centered on a lush 19th-century plaza with streets lined with boutiques, restaurants, tasting rooms, bookstores, and more. The valleys surrounding Healdsburg are known for the quality of the grapes. It’s fun driving in the countryside from winery to winery, but this trip my husband and I stayed in the vibrant downtown area to savor what the region has to offer.
We chose the eco-chic h2hotel. Not missing a beat in the quest for LEED gold certification, the property includes reclaimed wood and other materials throughout, an undulating roof with succulents, solar panels, and smart sensors for in-room electricity control.
Our spacious room (with patio) included bamboo flooring, organic sheets, towels and robes, and refillable carafes of sparkling and flat purified water (there are water stations on every floor). The artwork even reflects the hotel’s hip, green philosophy; the Spoonfall waterfall incorporates rainwater from the roof and espresso spoons from the hotel’s restaurant, Spoonbar (the sculpture is where the restaurant gets its name).
In the morning, we picked up a newspaper, coffee, fruit, and muffins at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast bar before heading back to the city.
Wine Walk Healdsburg is a great source of inspiration to put together your own tour. From more than thirty wineries, here’s what we chose:
Before hitting the streets radiating from the plaza, we stopped just south of town at Old Roma Station across from the Russian River (it’s actually only a half-mile walk from downtown). Dating from the early 1900s, the buildings first housed the French-American Wine Company, then Roma Wine Company until prohibition. Now find boutique wineries with plenty of outdoor space to linger over a glass.
Hudson Street Wineries showcases five small-lot wineries that all have standout wines. Among some favorite Zinfandels: the Kelley & Young 2011 Alexander Valley and the Shippey Vineyards 2008 “Rocking Z” Family Reserve.
Just around the corner, Front Street Wineries encompasses several tasting rooms, including Skewis, which produces single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from various Northern California appellations. Don’t miss the Wiley Vineyard, Mendocino County and the Salzgeber-Chan Vineyard, Russian River—both 2012s.
Next door, J. Keverson Winery and Hart’s Desire Wines share a space. Be sure to try the 2012 Starkey’s Court Zinfandel Widlow Ranch, Dry Creek Valley (from J. Keverson) and the 2008 Hart’s Desire Pinot Noir Rockin’ H Ranch, Sonoma Coast.
Once downtown, we parked the car and walked to other tasting rooms. First up was Portalupi Wine where the owners are as passionate about their Italian heritage as they are their wines. Inspired by their “nonna,” the Vaso di Marina (red and white blends) is bottled in milk jugs, reminiscent of her early days in Italy, when “nonna” put her wine in milk bottles. Also, be sure and try the 2013 Barbera, Shake Ridge, Amador County.
Hawley is a fun space to taste wine and enjoy some of the owner’s artwork. The small-lot wines celebrate the grapes they grow in Dry Creek as well as those sourced from elsewhere in Sonoma County. Taste the 2010 Estate Meritage from Dry Creek among other varietals.
Along the Wine Walk, save time to enjoy fashion and home décor shops, bakeries, cafés, and bookstores. Discover an interesting selection of artisan goods made locally and globally. Later, grab one of the complimentary bikes from the hotel and go for a ride. And if you’re visiting on the right day, the Healdsburg Farmers Market will be in full swing (the 2015 season kicked off on May 2).
SHED is bursting with everything food-related. It’s a high-energy sensory experience. You can feed your needs with books and tools as well as find delicious food—most everything is sourced locally. The interior is open and full of light with an industrial chic design (roll-up steel garage doors extend the indoor space outside). The owners are farmers who are passionate about every aspect of SHED; it’s part marketplace, gathering place, and café.
We sat at the counter and began with drinks from the fermentation bar all made in-house: Kombucha by the tap, several shrubs including one with huckleberry-bay and apple cider vinegar, and a sampling of freshly made juices such as one with Sibley squash, Asian pear, ginger, and lemon (it turns into a beautiful orange color). The daily mezze plate with feta, olives, and house-made crackers—a great play on the Greek dish—comes with beet tzatziki, quinoa salad, and squash hummus. The cocotte of smoked trout (in a small terrine) is yummy on a seeded toast. Save room for the mozzarella, tomato sauce, ricotta, and basil pizza with a savory crust. Enjoy with wines and beers chosen from neighboring regions.
Before you leave, peruse the selection of goods at SHED. You’re bound to take home specialty foods and other artisanal products (or shop later online).
A popular local destination, the aforementioned Spoonbar is located off the h2hotel lobby. The restaurant was open, airy and bustling on a recent Sunday evening. The marketplace drives the cuisine here; you’ll find whatever is coming from nearby farms on the menu as well as in hand-crafted cocktails such as the New East Side with gin, lime, mint, yuzu, and cucumber-elderflower foam.
The sashimi (served with trout roe, Kampachi, barbequed eel, fluke, and more) comes with yuzu and sesame gelée, picked herbs, fermented chili, scallion vinaigrette, and grilled citrus. Or indulge in the grilled quail and crispy pork belly with pasta, trumpet mushrooms, and cabbage. Save room for the decadent dark chocolate torte with banana fluff ice cream, toasted coconut consommé, and banana crisps. Luckily we could take the elevator home.
Patty Burness can be found @pattygb.