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Three Perfect Days: Sonoma

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


Picture 9 of 9

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.)

Afterward, 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.

6 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Sonoma”

  1. Shana Ray Says:
    January 2nd, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    It is truly a wonderful place to visit (and live) and there is more to Sonoma than simply wine tasting, which you captured here perfectly! Great description of the area.

  2. Alana Gentry Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Headsburg is my favorite town in Sonoma County. Two other completely different regions (45 minutes from Healdsburg) is Kenwood (Kunde Winery is there) and Sonoma, the town. The town of Sonoma has been called “the island” by the locals, it’s the place with the quirky characters. Healdsburg is full of friendly, fun types.

  3. Grace Hoffman Says:
    January 13th, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I’m from Iowa but when I visit Northern California, Healdsburg is my favorite place to visit! I can’t recommend it and the Dry Creek Valley area enough! I’ve made so many great friends and visited so many beautiful places. Michel-Schlumberger is awesome! I was just there last Summer and hiked their vineyards! Just spectacular!

  4. Simon Kitchen-Dunn Says:
    February 1st, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    If you would like to live the dream why not doing perched above the Alexander Valley on Chalk Hill Road on 17.5 secluded acres at the end of a country lane.

  5. Sonoma William Says:
    February 23rd, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Great article. Good picks on wineries. So many more gems not mentioned though, make sure you come spend 2-3 days and explore fully!

  6. Lisa Villarini Says:
    March 14th, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Healdsburg is definately the best of the best of Sonoma County-You got it right with Lime Stone the perfect shop to take home special one of a kind items like the wine label tray made from local somoma wineries and right next door is the best restaurant Dry Creek Kitchen-food is exceptional and service was top notch!

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