Northern Sonoma County
Story and photos by John Blanchette
was headed north of Los Angeles about an hour and a half to the Wine
Country for a midweek getaway. No, not Santa Barbara, but Sonoma. With
the new direct flight from LAX to Santa Rosa/Sonoma Airport just initiated
by Horizon Airlines, Northern Californias beautiful Sonoma County
is an easy escape.
I had reservations with Wine-A-Bay-Go to be my designated
driver and guide through the vineyards during my stay. Owner Jonathan
Garner met me at the airport with his luxury vehicle and within 20 minutes
I was in wine country. If you need assistance with your imbibing itinerary,
Jonathan will design a route for you depending on your preferences in
The Wine-A-Bay-Go deposited me at the lovely No Name
Resort north of Healdsburg in the Chalk Hill area. The town of Healdsburg
is the hub of the Russian River, Alexander, and Dry Creek Valley wine
Nestled among the Lancaster Estate Vineyards, the vacation
home is well appointed with an appealing country elegance and provides
a convenient location from which to explore and graze among some of
the best restaurants and wineries in the Alexander Valley.
Side yard at No Name Resort
For a special treat, celebrated local chef and caterer
Colin Curtis prepared the evening meal for my friends and I staying
at the No Name, featuring a spectacular medley of fish en papillote
(steamed in a paper pouch with a tomato garlic broth) and freshly caught
steelhead trout from the mouth of the Russian River (and then quickly
into my mouth).
Owner Nancy Beaton had arranged some interesting side
tours as well. Over the three days I visited a pickle and sauerkraut
factory, historic country stores, an Italian cooking expert who made
everything in outside wood-burning ovens and some delicious wine and
cheese pairings. Even a little scotch whisky made an appearance.
Sonoma County wine country is first of all spectacularly
beautiful. Tall, straight redwoods line the bucolic two-lane highways,
and gusts of warm summer breezes and fragrant aromas from newly mown
fields drift in the window as you meander through the golden hills crowding
the narrow country roads.
And then you reach the pickle factory and other olfactory
scents come into play. Owner David Ehreth of Alexander Valley Gourmet
left the high tech computer world of the late 1990s to explore the low-tech
world of things sour, sweet and salty. I couldnt stop filling
my face with his crispy and beautifully brined offerings. Theres
no sour in his pickle business, he sells everything he makes and will
soon be moving into larger facilities.
A historic landmark and one of the oldest structures
still standing in the Alexander Valley is the Medlock Ames tasting room.
The hundred-year-old building was once a notorious speakeasy during
prohibition. The winery restored the building complete with green energy
and planted an organic garden and picnic area. They kept the bar and
added an outdoor pizza oven where they cook using ingredients from their
garden and serve slices at wine tastings on the weekends.
Property manager Kenneth Rochford is originally from
Scotland and the pub reflects his eclectic tastes in beer and spirits.
Look for some hard to find peaty island scotches, which he personally
brought back from return visits to his homeland. Of the white wines
I tasted on this tour, Medlock Ames were my favorites.
In the town of Healdsburg a lovely food and wine pairing
was provided by Bill Williamson and his wife Dawn at the Williamson
Wines tasting room across from the town square. Hes a former Australian
physicist and was able to describe the effects of wine on food in scientific
terms. A delicious bargain at $10 per person.
Just outside Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley,
C. Donatiello winerys tasting room is located on a beautifully
landscaped property that offers free concerts on Sundays during the
summer. They produce some excellent Pinot Noirs and for $20 per person
will provide a flight of red and white wines to pair with Bellwether
Creamery cheeses, conducted by the knowledgeable staff.
Jake Hawkes tasting room is located next door
to the landmark Jimtown Store in the Alexander Valley just north of
Healdsburg. Artist and cookbook author Carrie Brown is the proprietor
and makes some of the best sandwiches and spreads in the valley. You
must try the spicy pepper jam, the fig and olive spread, Romesco sauce
or any of the unusual and delicious sandwiches laced with her imaginative
spreads and jellies.
Go next door to the tasting room and see if winemakers
Jake Hawkes or Jeremy Spring will take you to the vineyard picnic area
above their Cabernet vines, where you can indulge with the sandwiches
and their reds, while enjoying a sweeping view of the Alexander Valley.
Winemakers Jake Hawkes (right) and Jeremy Spring
enjoy a view of the Alexander Valley from their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard
For a small winery experience, visit the D & A vineyards
wedged between Dry Creek and the Russian River on some of the richest
soils in the Valley. They make a nice Syrah.
Richard Arrowood recently left Arrowood Vineyards &
Winery to concentrate on his new winery, Amapola Creek, making limited
releases of organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah.
Associate Winemaker Charlie Tolbert gave me a close up view of this
spectacular mountain property in Glen Ellen. They dont have a
tasting room, but wines can be sourced from the website, www.amapolacreek.com.
Oprah Winfrey and Food TV Network chef Domenica
Catelli is a third generation restaurateur in Geyserville
One of the best dining experiences was in the 75-year-old
Catellis restaurant in the picturesque wine country town of Geyserville.
Domenica Catelli and her brother Nicholas are third generation owners
and chefs. You must try the raviolis, thin, delicate and amazingly good.
Dominica cooked for Oprah Winfrey both in Chicago and Santa Barbara
and twice judged on the Food Networks Iron Chef.
Best breakfast can be found at the Downtown Bakery in
Healdsburg, which also boasts two Michelin-starred restaurant Cyrus
and Charlie Palmers Dry Creek Kitchen inside the Healdsburg Hotel.
On Tuesday nights during summer the town square in Healdsburg hosts
free concerts, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Its a popular picnic event with
locals who pack the park.
To learn how to cook in an imported Italian open hearth,
wood-burning oven, take lessons and lunch with cookbook author Andrea
Mugnaini, a next door neighbor to the No Name Resort on No Name Road
Yes, its a place thats making a name for
If You Go:
For a Wine Road map, winery, housing and restaurant
information and lists of events and festivals, contact the Wine Road
Northern Sonoma County at www.wineroad.com,
800-723-6336 or www.healdsburg.org.
Free guides to the area include Discoveries magazine, 101 Things to
Do in Sonoma County and Spotlights Wine Country Guide. The Healdsburg
Tribune is the local paper.
No Name Resort, www.nonameresort.com
Catellis restaurant, www.mycatellis.com
Jimtown Store, www.jimtown.com
Medlock Ames, www.medlockames.com
Sonoma Brinery (formerly Alexander Valley Gourmet), www.sonomabrinery.com
Jake Hawkes, www.hawkeswine.com
Williamson Wines, www.williamsonwines.com
C. Donatiello Winery, www.cdonatiello.com
Andrea Mugnaini, www.mugnaini.com
Colin Curtis, firstname.lastname@example.org
D&A Vineyards, 707-433-1776