BackgroundEvery once in a while I get to go somewhere good for work. This was one of those times. I had a work trip to San Francisco that needed to happen in May, so I figured why not plan it around Memorial Day.
Planning a trip to California wine country is quite a challenge. There are so many places to visit, but they are very spread out and many require appointments. The last time we visited we spent a few nights in Healdsburg and then a few nights in Yountville. With less time, we decided to stay in Healdsburg this time and stick to the quieter Sonoma County side.
Day 1My meeting was Tuesday, so we flew into San Francisco on Thursday night and made a long weekend out of it. We rented a car (from National of course - gotta love the Executive Emerald Aisle!) and spent the first night at the Hilton San Francisco Airport before heading North the next morning.
Our first stop was Muir Woods. The goal was to get a little bit of nature before the complete gluttony began. Muir Woods is about an hour north of the airport. We left the hotel at 9am so we missed morning traffic and had a nice drive through the city.
We arrived at Muir Woods around 10am, and both of the parking lots were full. We parked on the road about a 15 minute walk away, and by the time we returned there was a line of cars as far as we could see. Note to self: get there early.
Muir Woods was declared a national monument in 1908. The forest of old growth Coastal Redwoods includes trees that are over 250 feet tall and almost 1200 years old.
After Muir Woods, we headed about an hour and a half north to Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastapol. Some people have Disneyland, we have Iron Horse.
Their website perfectly describes the Iron Horse vibe: "At the end of a rural road, on a hill overlooking undulating hills of grape vines, the “tasting room” is a simple wooden shelf." We love this place.
The "Late Disgourged" and one other were camera shy
The weather, wine, and atmosphere were downright perfect, so we hung out for a few hours just enjoying the view.
Next stop, Healdsburg to check into the Inn. Not so fast... Along the way we passed Thomas George Estates, which was recommended by a local that we met at Iron Horse, so we HAD to stop. Their tasting room is in a cave - always nice to see the barrels.
We finally made it to Healdsburg around 4pm and checked in to the Haydon Street Inn. I'm usually not a fan of bed and breakfasts, but walking distance to the square for under $300 per night forced me to be a little more open minded.
We stayed in the Turret Room, which had a private bath, claw foot tub, and fireplace.
Dinner that night was at Dry Creek Kitchen: an amuse bouche, followed by appetizers of scallop en croute and goat cheese anglotti, and entrees of Alaskan halibut and crispy duck. Entirely too full for dessert so the walk back to the Inn was quite pleasant.
Day 2Given the time difference, we "slept in" until 4, which gave us a little bit of time before the 9am breakfast. Not enough can be said about the breakfasts at the Haydon Street Inn. Seriously. On this morning we started with a berry smoothie in a tall shot glass served with a cranberry scone, then had a martini glass full of fresh fruit, and THEN had stuffed French toast. Chef John rocks.
We had some time to kill before heading out to the wineries, so we wandered over to the Healdsburg Farmers' market to walk off breakfast.
At 10:30, our driver from Sonoma Sterling Limosine picked us up for a day of tasting. Car services are not cheap, but we figured it was cheaper than a DUI so we should splurge and enjoy ourselves. I found Sonoma Sterling Limo via Yelp, and would definitely use them again.
Our first stop was Alexander Valley Vineyards for a cave tour and a cheese pairing tasting.
The cave tour took about an hour and included six barrel tastings - three different wines, each from French and American oak.
The highlight of the tour for Andy was when someone spotted this little snake near the cave entrance.
After the cave tour, we settled in to a picnic bench on the porch for prearranged tasting, which included five wines paired with five Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (though we somehow wound up with nine wines...). No Complaints.
By now it was about 1pm and our next appointment was back in Healdsburg at David Ramey. Along the way we decided to stop at Syryker, which according to the Frommers website is one of the "10 best wineries with a view". Seven tasting here.
Ramey Wine Cellars is a warehouse in downtown Healdsburg. What it lacks in vistas it makes up for in wine.
For some reason, we then headed to Dry Creek Vineyards where we had 7 more tastings and I bought the most fabulous wine purse ever (seen here at Houston Heights Bingo).
We got back to the Inn around 5:30, just in time for a power nap before 6pm "wine time" where Chef John made yummy pizzas in the wood-fired oven.
We ended the day at Bistro Ralph, located on the square in Healdsburg. We had to wait a bit for our 7pm reservation, but they poured us some J Cuvee 20 to make us more agreeable :) Dinner included their tasty rolls, calamari appetizer, flank steak over a monster pile of frites, shortribs over fingerling potatoes, and an ice cream sundae for dessert. Once again, the walk home was much appreciated.
Day 3Are you freaking kidding me ??? Sunday's breakfast began with a mimosa, followed by strawberry "soup" and a banana chocolate chip muffin, followed by some fresh fruit, and THEN eggs benedict with house made Canadian bacon.
Our first stop today was Rochioli. We were the third couple there and they hadn't even opened.
They were not serving the pinot for which they are known, but we enjoyed the rose de pinot. Perfect for the hot summer in Houston.
Over pizza the night before, fellow guests mentioned the stunning views at Everett Ridge. The patio was perfect, and we enjoyed the eight tastings (paired with a bowl of cheese balls that we first laughed at and then devoured).
Our next stop, following the advice of the Inn guests, was Truett Hurst. This would be THE place to picnic, that is, if we had any foresight to pick up a snack along the way. We spotted what looked like 3d glasses and were told that they helped you to see salmon in the river. To be clear, ANY tinted lenses would help cut the glare in the water so that you can see fish. Oh, and it also would have helped if it was, um, salmon season. We tasted 8 wines here, including one called "the black sheep", which did not explain why there was a black goat out back...
We had an appointment at Jordan at 3, which left us time for a quick stop. Because the Inn-mates had done good with the other two recommendations, we continued on their list and stopped at Trentadue. Meh. Come to think of it, they might have mentioned that it had a good view of Alexander Valley, which it did.
We were on time for our reservation but opted to sit at the bar for a bit to wait for a table on the patio. We sipped some J and ordered a cast iron pot full of "BD Frites" (think home made ruffles). Yum. Once seated, we decided to order the chef's tasting menu. We considered the wine pairing, but our waiter (who rocked) mentioned that it was most whites (due to seafood) and recommended a very nice pinot (Littorai) instead. The meal was worth full size photos, so here goes:
- The BD Frites
- Andy tastes the wine
- Amuse bouche - Chèvre croquettes, Wildflower Honey, Lavender
- Dungeness Crab, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Avocado, Fava Bean, Prosciutto
- Perfectly seared scallop and amazing anglotti
- Lobster puff pastry - why yes that is a fiddlehead fern on top
- Tenderloin, morels, buttery whipped potatoes, fava beans, and a tater tot
- Thank GAWD - a break from eating. Dessert wine
- Rhubarb, a crazy chocolate cake thing, and coconut ice cream
Day 4Alas, all good things must come to an end. I didn't need to be in San Francisco until late afternoon, so the plan for the day was to head over to Napa. Our first appointment was at 10, so we left the Inn around 8 in case of holiday traffic. There was NO traffic and we were in St. Helena within 45 minutes. We made a quick breakfast stop at Grillwoods (yum) and then continued on to Hall.
Before you even get to Hall (Rutherford), you know that it is going to be a special place. The winding private drive, covered with trees and lined with vineyards,
- When you look up the definition of "picture window," it should say "see Hall in Rutherford".
- The grounds feature some fabulous art
- Our tour started in the vineyard
- And then wound down to the production area
- And then inside - grapes travel up the conveyor into the tanks
- And then into the cellar - limestone and brick imported from Austria
- And then into the tasting room - a table for 20 illuminated by a chandelier adorned with 1500 Swarovski crystals
- A close-up of "Chilean Red" - which is an anagram of the word "chandelier" and looks like the underground portion of a grapevine
We were at Hall for a little over two hours and then headed over to Cade for our 1pm tour and tasting appointment.