Long considered Napa Valley’s sleepy cousin, Sonoma is ripe with vineyards and rugged valleys that are now just tame enough to conquer.
Author Sarah Horne
DAY ONE | Pull the dark wooden shutters wide and step out onto the balcony of your understatedly chic room at the Hotel Healdsburg 1.A trace of early morning fog envelopes the swank town’s plaza and its thick canopy of ancient redwoods. Soon, the mist dissipates, and the green of the trees deepens. Below you, farm trucks purr along West Street, bound for the vineyards of the Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley or Dry Creek Valley.
Descend to the hotel’s loftlike lobby and begin the day with a fitting breakfast of fresh granola and fruit. Out on Matheson Street, half a dozen spandex-clad athletes are preening themselves like baby-boomer birds of paradise, stretching for a day of biking on the winding roads of wine country. Before you embark on anything quite so ambitious, set out on foot and get your bearings in what’s now known as “Beverly Healdsburg.”
Stop in at Copperfield’s Books 2, an uncommonly good bookstore, which will reassure you that for all Sonoma County’s beguiling beauty, the place has brains as well. Pick up a copy of Steve Heimoff ’s A Wine Journey along the Russian River and thumb through it for background on the local soil. Go on to ponder the bountiful Californian lifestyle at Plaza Gourmet 3, where you run your hands longingly over copper cookware and cheese boards repurposed from retired wine barrels.
Getting further into the foodie frame of mind (this is what people live and breathe in Sonoma), you saunter off the main square to peruse the pickle bar at Love Farms 4 organic market on North Street, where the heirloom tomatoes on display are worthy of a photograph.
Arm yourself with a trusty Wine Road map and set off by car—in this case, a sleek Mercedes SLK 55 convertible—toward Highway 128, wending your way into the Alexander Valley to stop for lunch at the Jimtown Store 5, a cheerful clapboard shop that first opened its doors in 1895 and is now refreshed and stocked with local wines. Order the house specialty, a Brie-and-chopped-olive sandwich on a baguette, to go.
Picnic supplies in hand, make your way to the eco-friendly, ultramodern Ridge Vineyards 6 on Lytton Springs Road. Take a seat at one of the teak tables out back, surrounded by oak barrel planters overflowing with fresh rosemary and wildflowers, the rolling vineyards just a few feet away. Request a flight of wines (a.k.a., a tasting selection) to accompany lunch, and dig in. (If you prefer to actually drink than to taste, you can always arrange for a bus tour through www.sonomawinetours.net.)
tAfterward, head to the Michel-Schlumberger Winery 7 in nearby Dry Creek Valley, and join the 2 p.m. tour, during which you’ll walk among the vines and ponder the meaning of terroir (or, heck, just enjoy the views from this quiet corner of the county). After a taste of their Deux Terres Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s back over the charming Lambert Bridge and home to Healdsburg.
Sequester yourself in the hotel’s hidden hot tub or indulge in a quick nap on your crisp Frette linens in preparation for an epic meal at the town’s finest dining establishment, the decadent Cyrus 8. With chef Douglas Keane, an alum of New York’s Lespinasse, helming the kitchen, reservations are a must. However, if you haven’t planned ahead (or aren’t game for Keane’s five-course culinary extravaganza), step up to the elegant bar and order a succulent porcini pot pie.
Take a postprandial stroll around the plaza before sinking into your plush bed and dreaming of repentance with plenty of aerobics…as soon as you get home, that is.