Despite 2020’s Sonoma-area fires, centralized Healdsburg continues to draw grape enthusiasts.
As my plane descended into the San Francisco airport, the sky turned an eerie shade of persimmon, and a faint scent of smoke filled the cabin. The flight was my first during the pandemic, and the macabre ambiance caused by the nearby wildfires was, honestly, a bit unsettling. We pushed through gray clouds of smoke, and I reminded myself that several days of wine tasting in California’s most illustrious terroirs would more than compensate for my brief unease.
I was right. I was headed to Healdsburg, one of Sonoma’s idyllic towns, perfectly centralized for experiencing three of wine country’s more than 18 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.
Healdsburg has a way of rising from the ashes. In fact, as Atlantans, we might call it our fellow Phoenix city. Wildfires are to Californians what hurricanes are to Southerners. They’re dangerous and unpredictable, but they don’t paralyze us. As I made my way throughout Healdsburg, tasting unique wines and sampling local cuisine, I discovered a city that is resilient and people who are strong.
With three AVAs within a few miles of Healdsburg, I made it a point to visit a winery in each one. Plus, wine tasting is perhaps one of the safest socially distanced activities. As of my trip in the fall, each tasting took place outdoors.
At DaVero Farms and Winery, one mile from Healdsburg and part of the Dry Creek Valley AVA, guests are treated to a tour of the biodynamic farm and gardens before sitting amid flowers and trees for a private Italian varietal wine tasting and seasonal food pairing. Director Andrew Hock says his goal is to “tear down the pretentious walls around wine and make it for everyone.” As such, he lets guests’ tastebuds lead, never hinting at what they should or should not taste in their glasses.
My next stop was to Alexander Valley to experience the area by sipping under the trees and amid the vines at Jordan Winery. The 1,200-acre vineyard and winery offer various ways to enjoy cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay vintages. The vineyard hike takes adventurous wine drinkers on a 4-miler through the vineyards and climbs more than 300 feet of elevation. The Paris on the Terrace lunch is a two-hour, five-course food and wine pairing prepared by chef Todd Knoll that all but transports diners to a French bistro. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of head winemaker Maggie Kruse, who just celebrated her 15th harvest with Jordan and her first as head winemaker.
Finally, I traveled to Bricoleur Vineyards, one of Russian River Valley’s newest wineries that is already solidifying itself as a top-notch maker due to its legendary staff. Here, fourth generation California winemaker Cary Gott (of the same family as the famed Gott’s Roadside in neighboring Napa) helms the winemaking while executive chef Shane McAnelly presides over the food. The result is a balanced partnership in which food and wine waltz in harmony. Visitors to Bricoleur can choose from a variety of tastings, most of which showcase the food and wine partnership between Gott and McAnelly. I enjoyed the Sip & Savor option. During this ultimate tasting experience, I sampled six wines along with six small bites of paired dishes.
Like me, plan to rest your head at Harmon Guest House, one of Healdsburg’s latest hotels in the heart of town. With 39 rooms, you’ll be treated to a boutique affair. Each guest room is complete with a balcony or patio with views of the property’s creek, mountains or interior courtyard. Guests are enveloped in the surrounding trees, offering a cozy respite after a day of wine tasting. For drinks, head to the hotel’s The Rooftop for picturesque views of Fitch Mountain before making your way across the street to Mateo’s Cocina Latina for fresh agua fresca, seasonal margaritas and Yucatan inspired fare with California flair.
Despite being faced with a difficult 2020 followed by devastating fires, Healdsburg presses on. Most of the fires were kept at bay while harvest forged ahead. Hell hath no fury like a threatened winemaker. The 2020 vintages were produced, and I am already dreaming about my return to sample the fruits of the harvest.
IF YOU GO
Mateo’s Cocina Latina
Dry Creek Kitchen
DaVero Farms & Winery
Bon Ton Studio
Harmon Guest House
Wellness columnist at Simply Buckhead and dog columnist at Atlanta Pet Life. Lifestyle writer specializing in women's interests, travel, people and interiors.