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Westside Road & Healdsburg Square Itinerary — A Low-Mileage Countryside, Wine Tasting and Dining Dream Tour

Madrona Manor
Relaxation and Dinner

Day One—Countryside on Westside Road

Breakfast-Madrona Manor

De La Montanya Vineyards & Winery
Hop Kiln Winery
Rochioli Winery
Davis Bynum Winery

Lunch-Picnic from Oakville Grocery Deli @ Davis Bynum

Gary Farrell Winery
Porter Creek Winery

Dinner-Zin Restaurant

Day Two—Healdsburg Plaza

Breakfast-Madrona Manor

Toad Hollow Vineyards
Thumbprint Cellars & Lounge
Selby Winery

Lunch-Restaurant Charcuterie

Front St. Five Winery Complex

Dinner-Dry Creek Kitchen (BYOB)

Day Two—Healdsburg Plaza

For the second day of your excursion focuses on the Healdsburg Plaza area.  If the vineyards are Healdsburg’s lifeblood, the Plaza is its heart.  Here cafés mingle with boutiques, restaurants amongst tasting rooms, all within easy walking range.  There is always a lot to do and discover around the historic Plaza, and on a hot day, the Plaza revels in the shade of its big trees.  Summer Tuesdays you might encounter the charming open-air Farmer’s Market in the late afternoon, and the last Friday of every month is the enjoyable Art Walk from gallery to gallery.  Whatever you do, wander and enjoy these wine tasting highlights as you go along.

After another scrumptious breakfast at the Manor, we’ll start at the Plaza.  The crowds are light at this hour.  To avoid running afoul of the three-hour parking limit that governs most of this area, find the lot behind the Hotel Healdsburg on the west side of the Plaza, where there is no such limit. 

In recent years, many interesting artisan wineries have joined the big players in this neighborhood.  We’re going to focus on the smaller folks, plus a group of wineries about eight blocks away known as the Front Street Five.  By the way, you are shopping for a special wine to match tonight's dinner, at Dry Creek Kitchen. Advance reservations are strongly recommended. Call   (707) 431-0330, or just walk in at 317 Healdsburg Avenue and make them while on this tour.

Begin with Toad Hollow Vineyards, where an interesting partnership of celebrity offers a flagship Chardonnay that is widely distributed throughout the United States.  The friendly, sociable tasting bar has made an excellent addition to the Plaza experience.  If you like your wine light but dry, try the soft, pleasing Rosé of Pinot Noir.  If you like it a little sweet, try the Risqué, a sweet sparkling wine with controlled (6%) residual sugar.  Wonderful with big stinky cheeses or a fruit plate, this is one of the more unusual and popular wines of the area.  Toad Hollow is located at 409A Healdsburg Avenue, just north of the Plaza.

Nearby we move to the newest, perhaps most stylish tasting room in the area, Thumbprint Cellars and Lounge.  Located at 36 North Street and opening at 11am, this tasting room is truly more lounge than cellar, so plan to linger and relax.  The locals have named the Thumbprint Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon wines best in the county several times over.  The Cabernet Franc is our favorite, rich yet food friendly.  Enjoy your pleasant visit here, where the people behind the wines are usually available to help you.

After visiting Thumbprint, wander into the Plaza area, and feel free to browse!  If you visited Barndiva last night, you know where our next destination Selby Winery is located, near the opposite corner of the Plaza.  Find Center Street again on its east side, and walk south past Oakville Grocery to 215 Center Street.

Selby draws from choice vineyards in Sonoma County’s best AVA’s to obtain the best fruit—Dry Creek, Alexander, Russian River and Carneros—all hand harvested.   We especially like the 2001 old-vine Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, which recently won Gold Medal at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.  It is lighter in body and alcohol, but a complex, flavorful treat.

After visiting Selby, you are ready for sustenance at Restaurant Charcuterie, which is not far from where you started.  Don’t forget to move the car to a new space if you have tarried and parked in the three-hour zone.  If you want a meal that is on the light side, the soups and salads here are tasty options.  Located at 335 Healdsburg Avenue, lunch is not available here on Sunday; your alternate is Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar, almost directly across the street at 403 Healdsburg Avenue.

After lunch, hop in the car, and head east up picturesque Matheson Street from the corner of the Plaza and Oakville Grocery.  You will want to turn right on Front Street to reach the so-called Front Street Five.  Though walkable it would be too far, and in the summer too hot, for most people.  The Riverfront Historic District includes Memorial Beach Bridge and a public bathing area along the mighty Russian River, as well as this brightly restored winery complex at the southeast end of town.  The fine collection of artisan wineries, in separate tasting rooms grouped together, is our primary destination.

Huntington Wine Cellars offers several interesting white and red wines.  You will be sure to want to taste the exceptionally elegant Cabernet Franc, lighter in body than the wine earlier at Thumbprint.  This wine is offered only at the winery due to its low production, and is a great match to food.  Its rich, dark color belies its smooth ride across your palate.  A second label in the house, Godwin, focuses on an outstanding, silky smooth blend of Bordeaux varietals, a very pretty wine.  Closed Monday.

Sapphire Hill is only open Friday-Sunday, 11-4:30.  Their renowned 2002 Pinot Noir is a little spicy up front, with intense cherry and a pleasing medium body.  Their selection of Zinfandels is also not to be missed.  We especially like the characteristic smokiness of the Italian styled, old-vine Zinfandel from the Tom Feeney Ranch, but if you like more berry fruit, the Bastoni Vineyard wine, with its 102-year-old field blend of Zinfandel and Carignane, might reign supreme.  Occasionally you will be able to taste wine from the tiny artisan Holdredge here.  John Holdredge doesn’t always keep his posted hours, as his wines are often sold out.  Sometimes they are offered on the by-the-glass lists back at Madrona Manor and other quality spots around town.

Camellia Cellars Tasting Room reflects an interesting history, as the wines were originally made in the basement of the nearby Camellia Inn.  It is also at the forefront of the massive resurgence in Italianate winemaking in this area.  Camellia is a consistent favorite for Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, made with impressive fruit from the Dry Creek Valley to the northwest.  The Diamo Grazie Super Tuscan Sangiovese blend is the big ticket here though.  Sangiovese is typically thought of as a pasta wine, matching tomatoes and marinara with its good acidity.  The immense structure and backbone resulting from the blend matches fowl or rich meats to go with the pasta.  It changes the proportion of Sangiovese, building mid-palate texture and a lingering finish.  This blend is crafted using Camellia’s finest select barrels; the wine won Gold Medal for the 2002 vintage at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.  Open 11-6 daily.

Across the street, the Davis Family Winery is open Thursday–Sunday only, otherwise call ahead for an appointment at (707) 569-0171.  A knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff will welcome you to a selection of awesome wines.  The 2002 Russian River Pinot Noir shows a delightful light texture, layers of red and black cherry fruit, and a lack of wood flavor to complement its special microclimate on Vine Hill near Forestville in the Russian River Valley.  Here again only 2500 painstakingly produced cases are made in total; a very nice olive oil is offered for tasting here as well.

After you have enjoyed the Front Street Five and perhaps wandered over the bridge and along the river, you can make the short drive to back to the Manor to refresh, or if hungry head directly for your dinner destination, Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen at the Hotel Healdsburg, 317 Healdsburg Avenue.  You will be offered a choice of elegant but casual indoor or pleasant outdoor seating.  A full bar is offered, but since you are in the know, you were aware today that you can bring your own wine discoveries along, and enjoy any made with Sonoma County fruit with no corkage charge!  Reservations again recommended at (707) 431-0330.

We hope that you enjoy this tour of the area.  If you are spending more days here, you will want to venture to the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys next.  See you next time!


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WineCountry Online Newsletter Editor: Carolyn Lewis

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