May 22-25, 2009 – Northern Sonoma Wine Country

July 2, 2009  •  California, Healdsburg, San Francisco, Sonoma, Travel

There’s something about wine country – the lifestyle, the scenery, the restaurant culture that it inspires, and, oh yea, the wine! We set off for northern Sonoma county on a wine trip with 2 other couples, in search of the best of what the Russian River Valley, the Alexander Valley, and the Dry Creek Valley had to offer.

After wandering around the town of Healdsburg for a bit and having lunch at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill (killer truffle fries by the basketful that we enjoyed on their umbrella shaded patio)…

…we headed to a scheduled private winery tour at Twomey in their new estate location just outside of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley.

Twomey is part of Silver Oak wines, owned by our friends the Duncans, and David had arranged for a tour of the facility for our group. We of course followed the tour with tasting and ordering our first cases of wine for the weekend.

Silver Oak purchase a gorgeous facility overlooking the valley from another winery who was struggling, and the views out the back are stunning – whether viewed through the window or your tasting glass!

After heading back into town we settled into Barndiva’s back courtyard for some cocktails and snacks.

The roses were the size of grapefruits surrounding the patio – a clear sign that we were in California where pretty much everything grows well.

After downing a great platter of calamari with a red pepper dipping sauce…

…and some roasted asparagus with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano,

we set off for dinner at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen.

The waiter presented us with a morsel of salmon tartare for an amuse bouche.

Then I watched our friends devour a potato soup that began with a great presentation of the condiments first, over which they poured the actual soup.

The result was dreamy.

I started with a spinach salad that was topped with a quail egg…

…but had to pause mid-course to watch the preparation of glasses for the bottle of wine we ordered. This process entailed lining up 6 glasses, a ceremonial opening of the wine bottle, a gentle swish of wine into each glass, a taste offered to one of us, and finally each diner being poured a glass. And this was repeated for each bottle. And we had more than one bottle. In fact we had…well, I won’t rat on anyone!

My entree was pork done two ways – a tenderloin, cooked medium I would like to point out, which is how it should be done…

…and a shoulder cooked sous vide that was melt in your mouth delicious.

Don’t you love when restaurants serve sea salt in these little pots with a salt spoon? Seems so decadent…or illegal…or something! Great dinner to end a great first day in Sonoma.

We were up at a reasonable hour, enjoyed breakfast in our hotel (the Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza, part of the Four Sisters properties),

then set off for another favorite, Silver Oak in Alexander Valley.

We didn’t linger long in the courtyard before heading into the tasting room. We had no appointment here, but we used our now famous line of “We don’t have an appointment, but we’re YPO friends of David Duncan.”

It worked like a charm and we did our part by purchasing more cases of wine…along with a sweater and other stuff we didn’t need but couldn’t resist.

We paused for photos by the gate before heading out for the rest of our tour. And when I say tour I mean I was driving the minivan (I spit when I was tasting) and lugging around the others in our group (who weren’t spitting) – need I say more?

First up, Ferrari-Carano Winery, an impressive Italianate estate set in the Dry Creek Valley. These wines are readily available in liquor stores in Colorado so we just tasted…

…and enjoyed the scenery, before moving on. Our next stop – Preston vineyards and winery, a small, family run organic winery and farm.

I just love a place where the freshly picked produce is for sale as you walk in the front door of the tasting room.

We had purchased a bunch of picnic snacks – olives, meats, breads – from the Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg specifically because we were told what a great picnic spot Preston has. It didn’t disappoint!

We lingered for awhile…

…made friends with the local pigs…

…and chickens, Have I mentioned my farm envy problem before? I know intellectually that I don’t really want to live the farm life, but I’m so drawn to it whenever I see it up close and personal.

We snapped a few photos of the vines…

…including the very baby, tiny grapes that had just formed, before heading over to the final stop of our day at Bella wines.

I had never heard of Bella before, but our friends at Silver Oak said it’s a fun spot because they’ve dug a cave into the hillside. Indeed, they were hosting a special tasting in the caves for Memorial day…

…while outside we enjoyed this spectacular view of the vineyards…

…while listening to Mitch and his band perform their final set and sipping wine.

We headed back for dinner at another Bistro Ralph in Healdsburg, a favorite spot among locals.

What’s better than salt in a little jar? Both salt and pepper, of course!

I know this doesn’t look like much, but these little single bite rolls were perhaps the best bread starter I’ve ever had in my life.

I would never have paired yellowtail with grapefruit with guacamole, but this totally worked.

Although I’m not s huge fan of frisee in my salad.

Sauteed spinach with garlic…need I say more?!

Duck with a great brown sauce over the creamiest polenta…mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. On that note, we were off to bed, tired and satiated.

Up early the next morning we headed out to the third valley of our visit, Alexander Valley, and first up was Jordan, a favorite of all of ours.

Without an appointment (required at Jordan) we had to resort to our “We’re friends of David…” again, and it worked for a great tour, tasting, and another opportunity to buy cases of wine.

If you’ve never been to Jordan, the estate is stunning and it’s well worth your time to make an appointment and spend some time there.

The drive back through the valley was as beautiful as our trip through Tuscany last year.

I have a picture of the Chianti region that actually looks almost exactly like this shot.

We took a detour to see the enormous new Coppola facility being built in the northern Sonoma area. It was largely closed for construction, but we discovered a new favorite…

…small juice cans filled with sparkling wine that comes with a straw. Is there any better idea for outdoor concerts that you can think of?!

After a quick tasting we decided to head back to Bella for another day of music and wine since the weather was so perfect and we knew it would be a fun setting.

Mitch continued to cracnk out his music…

…while the guests snacked, danced…


…and enjoyed a new favorite, rose wine for those warm summer afternoons. After a quick clean up, we hopped in a car (with someone else driving) and met the Duncans in Geyserville for dinner at Taverna Santi. How can a town that consists of a single gas station, a small corner market, and three other storefronts boast such a world class Italian restaurant? Wine country just does that!

Sour cherries were in season and made a perfect pairing with goat cheese in this salad.

David had brought a couple of bottles of his “house wine” which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Pressed roast chicken over a bed of fava beens and veggies – succulent is an understatement.

And my husband’s skirt steak with roasted potatoes was equally good.

If you head to Sonoma, we’d highly recommend staying in Healdsburg. The quiet little town is chock full of wine tasting rooms (don’t miss Thumbprint, our new favorite), high quality restaurants, and pretty little shops, all around a central plaza full of roses.

As an afterthought, we stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco on our way to the airport for some seafood.

Not a bad way to end a vacation!


2 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Diana vW says:



  2. Nicola Frost says:

    Michelle, This looks absolutely lovely and delicious! I wish I was a friend of yours and Mr. Duncan’s so I can taste/drink all your heavenly treats! We only have 48 hours in San Fran so I don’t know if a drive up to Sonoma is on Rick’s list. If we do decide to go you gave me some great tips! Thank you and I hope all is well.

    Take care,

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