Does it get any better than this?
Sit down. This may take a while…
My wife’s name is Kara. This past Sunday, July 17th, was our first wedding anniversary. In total, Kara and I have been in a relationship for almost nine years. As familiar as we are with each other, in the last year, being married, our love has grown to heights I could have never imagined. She is my best friend. She is my heart. She is my everything.
She already knows all this… I tell her every day.
When searching for a way to celebrate our wedding anniversary, we knew we wanted to do a wine vacation. We just weren’t sure where to go…
A while back, Kara’s aunt and uncle introduced us to a neat little book called Bed & Breakfast and Country Inns. This reference book from American Historic Inns Inc. lists over 1,400 bed and breks from across the country, plus it comes with a one night free gift certificate.
We cracked open the book and started to browse the California section, when it came to us…
Healdsburg is a small little town at the center of a BIG wine region… Sonoma County. Northern Sonoma County is home the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley AVA’s. These appellations play host to some of the greatest wineries in the world (Ridge anyone?). As an added bonus, the area is only a two-hour drive from our doorstep.
Once we decided on Healdsburg, I called up the Camellia Inn (from the B&B book), and booked us two nights for the price of one. Next, I had to pick out which wineries to visit…
Not being familiar with the area, I dove into the internet and stumbled upon a great nugget of information. It appears that many of the great wineries are members of an organization called Wine Road. On their website, you will find a bunch of info on the region, the wineries, and lodging. The best part is that you can also buy passes for tasting online. A one-day pass is 25 bucks, and three days is $50. Since we were staying for two nights, we opted for the 3-day pass.
And now, ladies and gentlemen… A trip down the Wine Road!
Kara and I got up at the butt crack of dawn to get our clothes packed, drop off the dog at her mom’s house, and hit the road to our first destination… Sonoma-Cutrer.
Outdoor tasting at Sonoma-Cutrer.
We got to this Russian River Valley winery in Windsor just a little bit after 11:00 am. Apparently, although Sonoma-Cutrer has been making wine for decades, the tasting room is just about a year and a half old. I’m glad that this place is now open. The grounds are beautiful! Upon our arrival, our server asked us to pick a seat on the patio where he would bring us our wine.
Just below where we sat there was a gigantic croquet court packed full of locals dressed in their Sunday whites to play a tournament.
Here’s what we tasted…
2009 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay ($23): A light style chardonnay with a nice acidity and tropical fruit. A solid 88.
2007 The Cutrer Chardonnay ($35): For me, this was the pick of the litter. A classic, rich and viscous, creamy chardonnay. This guy was big, but not goopy. The Cutrer showed balance and restraint. You must try this 91-pointer.
2007 Les Pierres Chardonnay ($32): Plenty of fruit and minerality. More of an old world style. Give it 89.
2007 Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley ($34): A nice juicy Pinot Noir loaded with cherry cola. Good cool climate fruit. 89.
Sonoma-Cutrer is an amazing winery, and a MUST-visit.
Rodney Strong. Not Rodney Weak.
So, a few years ago we went on a wine tour with Dave and Kara Thevegetarian and the bus stopped at Rodney Strong. Since we’d been there before, I thought it would be a good place to revisit. The last time around, I purchased a bottle of 2005 Symmetry (their Meritage).
This time around, Kara and I each had separate flights. I did an estate tasting, while Kara tried out the reserves (including the 2007 Symmetry). She LOVED all the wines she tasted. I was kind-of like, “Meh”. Please remind me to do the reserve tasting next time. Please!
After a quick minute at the Strong, we took a few back roads over to Twomey Cellars…
Twomey? More like For Me! Am I right?
Twomey Cellars is a winery in the Silver Oak family. They have a winery in the Napa Valley and on Westside Road in Healdsburg. These guys are most known for their Pinot Noir and Merlot (as opposed to Silver Oak’s Cabernet Sauvignon).
It was a pretty slow Sunday in Healdsburg, so when we got to this tasting room our server lined us up a few verticals of their Pinot Noir and their Merlot.
Here’s what it looked like…
Pinot vertical. Hear no complaints.
Here’s what we tasted…
2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($25): Grassy apple sauce. Lemons. Limes.
2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($50): Musty (in a good way). Cinnamon. Leather. Light bacon fat. Bell pepper.
2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50): Cinnamon toast crunch. S’mores. Cranberry.
2008 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($55): Ham. Raspberry. Smoke. Tomato.
2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($55): Sugar. Tomato. Bacon. Hickory Smoke.
2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($50): Cherry. Mustard. Black Tea. Bell Pepper.
2005 Napa Valley Merlot ($55): Eucalyptus. Black cherry. BIG black tea. Wood.
Here’s what I thought about Twomey…
It’s pretty cool.
It was time for lunch, so we drove up to Lytton Springs Road to another place we’d been to before with the Thevegetarians…
They’ve got a nice picnic area, and they ain’t afraid to share it, so Kara and I pulled out the cooler and went to town.
Smoked mozzarella panini, olive oil, vinegar, and a few paper plates.
After lunch, we headed inside for a tasting…
I'm pretty sure that's a Zinfandel.
Mazzocco is a very chill winery in the Dry Creek Valley that specializes in single vineyard Zinfandels. They remind me a whole lot of Ridge (their next door neighbor).
We got to talking to our server about other wineries we had already visited. In passing, we mentioned the Pinot Noir vertical we had earlier. Not to be outdone, he did the same thing with their Zins…
Some 14 wines later, we had to purchase their 2009 Thurow Zinfandel. It has just a touch of Petite Sirah. In a world of goopy fruit bomb zins, the Thurow shows true restraint and good vegetal characteristics. Nice!
The last winery of the day was next door at the Ridge Lytton Springs tasting room. Being members of Ridge, it was nice to finally see where all of their awesome Zinfandels come from. And, my goodness, did we like what we saw…
Lytton Springs through the looking-glass.
Here’s what we had…
2009 Estate Chardonnay ($40): Buttery apple pie. Peaches.
2009 East Bench Zinfandel ($26): White pepper. Bell pepper.
2007 Lytton Estate Zinfandel ($30): Tasty new bike tire. Zippy peppers.
2006 Lytton Estate Syrah/Grenache ($28): Bright tires (I don’t know how else to name it. Taste it head to head with the 2007 Lytton Estate Zin, and you’ll see what I mean). Restrained. Yummy.
2006 Monte Bello ($150): Deep purple tires. Chalky (I love chalk). Rich. Ripe. Delicious.
I’ve said it before.
I’ll say it again.
I love me some Ridge. After experiencing the Lytton Springs tasting room, I just love it a little more.
Although we had finished tasting for the day, the fun was just beginning…
Checking in at the Camellia Inn.
We checked in to the Camellia Inn around 5:30. We went up to our beautiful room and unpacked our junk.
After freshening up, we went downstairs to the pool for their wine and cheese reception. We had a great time kicking it with the other guests. The wine wasn’t bad either.
The Camellia Inn is a two block walk from the downtown Healdsburg Plaza, so we were able to walk to our dinner destination…
Shakers can't contain this salt and pepper combo.
I must say that this place is the bomb. This restaurant’s focus is American cuisine featuring only the freshest local ingredients, served in a hip atmosphere. BarnDiva is all about detail. Not just detail in the preparation and presentation of the food, but also detail in the way they treat their customers. I mentioned that it was our anniversary when I made the reservation, and from the time we entered until the time we left EVERYONE (from host to waiter to busser) made sure to congratulate us.
We began our BarnDiva experience with one of their specialty cocktails. Delish! We each had an Heirloom Beet and Endive salad…
Just a dope salad.
This is possibly the best salad I have ever had. You see those brown balls on diagonal corners of the plate? Those are warm croquettes of chevre. They were so f-ing good. So good!
For the main course…
Local beef filet with lobster risotto and deep-fried squash blossoms for Jeff. Rad!
Some fresh ass pasta for Kara. Rad!
Did we save room for dessert, you ask?
A big mound of chocolate awesome with a scoop of lemon ice cream.
Yes we did!
Was it good?
Yes it was!
Kara and I were having such a great time, we decided we should go out somewhere to get a drink. The problem with Healdsburg is that the town kind of shuts down around 7:00 pm each night. I decided to ask our waiter for a suggestion of where to catch a drink as we were settling the bill. He started talking about a sports bar, but I really wanted to experience the local flair of the city.
“Are there any dive bars around here?” I asked him.
“Well, I always like to hit up the B & B Lounge.”
The only picture I took at the B & B, and it's a bad one. It was a long day.
The B & B Lounge was a great bar, complete with a pool table, red leather booths, and cheap drinks. The best part, however, was the same thing that we had experienced all day… the locals. From the bar tender, to a group of field workers, to a dog named Marley. We made plenty of friends in the brief amount of time we spent there.
Once they found out it was our anniversary, it was on. We didn’t pay for a single drink the rest of the night. See those wooden nickles in the picture? Think about it.
Then we walked back to the Camellia Inn.
Then we went to bed.
We woke up at 12:00 pm the next day.
We missed breakfast.
No breakfast, but we did have coffee.
We didn’t leave out the front door until 1 o’clock, so we walked right over to the Healdsburg Plaza to have some lunch. We decided to eat at Bovolo. At first glance, the restaurant looks like a cafeteria in the back of a book store. Looks can, however, fool you. Bovolo specializes in the “Slow food… fast” concept. After we placed our order at the counter, we made our way to the back patio.
Here’s what I had…
Half-order of Caesar Salad. No joke. Those are the best croutons I've ever had.
The world-famous pork cheek sandwich. Amazing!
After lunch, we made our way around the Healdsburg Plaza. We checked out a few shops and boutique tasting rooms. Here’s where we went…
Topel Winery: A cute little tasting room with a very nice staff. I just didn’t like their wine. Any of it.
Vintage Wine Estates: Another cute boutique tasting room. These guys carry wines from several small wineries, including Windsor Sonoma, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, and Stonefly Vineyards. The wine was okay, but nothing special.
Trying some Windsor Sonoma at Vintage Wine Estates.
Kendall-Jackson: You’ve heard of these guys. You’ve seen it in your local grocery store. They make some good chardonnay. As far as the experience at their tasting room, they gave off an attitude like they are doing you a favor by letting you taste their wines. Look… It was interesting to taste some of their single-vineyard chardonnays. They are not available anywhere else. A wine, however, can only be as good as the time you have while drinking it. In spite of some huge scores they had printed for some of their wines, I was not impressed. Not at all.
Seco Highlands Chardonnay by Kendall-Jackson. Would have tasted better without the attitude.
In all, I’d say that I wasn’t very stoked on the tasting rooms around the plaza. Maybe it’s a little premature, but it seems to me that most of these boutique tasting rooms are not worth your time (especially when there are amazing wineries just a few miles away).
Planning dinner in Healdsburg on a Monday can be tricky. Many restaurants are not open on Monday nights. We decided to hit up the Healdsburg Bar and Grill. This is not your typical bar food. Word on the street is that the HBG is owned by the folks that brought you Cyrus (A fancy schmancy restaurant with two Michelin Stars). This restaurant also made the Food and Wine Magazine’s list of the 25 best burgers in the United States. Guess what I ordered…
HBG Burger. A delicious burger with these amazing pickles. The best pickles in the world!
We both had cold cucumber soup to start. Yum!
Kara got a seared tuna sandwich... That basically means I got half of that sandwich. Double yum!
It's not only recommended that you share the truffle oil and Parmigianno-Reggiano fries. It's mandatory.
The HBG was amazing. You should go. Now.
After dinner we walked back to the Camellia Inn.
Then we went to bed.
There was no way we were going to miss breakfast again, so the next day we woke up EARLY. I sure was glad we did.
Breakfast was great. The inn had set up a serve-yourself spread. Water. Tea. Coffee. Coffee cake. Orange juice. Breakfast smoothies. Toast. There was an amazing farmer’s souffle with egg, potatoes, and sausage. Great. Just great. It was all great.
After our checkout, we hit the road.
On our way down 101, we were all like, “Look. We’ve got one last day of free tasting on our pass. Let’s use it!” So…
We had to make one last stop.
Can you guess where?
De Loach Vineyards!
We arrived at this Russian River Valley winery at 9:45 am. Since the tasting room wasn’t scheduled to open until 10, we took some time to enjoy the view (That’s what Whoopi always says).
De Loach... De Lish!
Much like our first day of tasting, we were very stoked on the folks that worked at De Loach. Our server poured us a bunch of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs side-by-side.
The highlight of our stop at De Loach was their Zinfandels. We didn’t even know they made those. After buying a bottle, we got back on the road.
We returned to Morgan Hill around 1:00.
Hungry, we decided to get sandwiches at Ricatoni’s and have a picnic at Guglielmo…
Taking a vacation from the vacation.
After lunch we came home to find our first ripe cherry tomato of the season in our garden…
A tomato built for two.
Does it get any better than this?
No. No it does not.