In November of 2009, my mother and father came to visit for a weekend before we all headed down to San Diego to spend Thanksgiving with my mother’s parents. My father and I decided to put together an itinerary for a Sunday trip to Healdsburg, which is about an hour and a half North of San Francisco. Healdsburg is known for producing delicious Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. My father provided me with a map and some suggestions, and I put together this:
This was also before I owned a smart phone, so I created a Google map that we could print out and follow, should we need it. It was a wonderful day, filled with delicious Pinot! We picked up several bottles of Pinot and Zinfandel (and one big jug of Red Wine from Martin Ray – the perfect bottle for a large group) to bring home for a dinner party I had planned for that evening with my parents and friends.
My mother and I made a large pot of chili that morning before we left for Healdsburg, which went perfectly with the wines we brought home. The spice and cocoa in the chili was balanced by the fruit in the Pinot Noir, and complimented by the peppery flavors in the Zinfandel. It was a wonderful evening of food and wine, and a learning experience in Sonoma County flavors and pairings.
I recently planned a similar Healdsburg trip with my other roommate (who will be known as Lactard from this point forth). We drove up in the morning on the Friday before New Years Eve and picked up sandwiches at Oakville Grocery, one of my favorite places to pick up sandwiches before a day of wine tasting. I recommend the Mediterranean Grilled Chicken or the Roasted Turkey and Pesto sandwiches.
The plan was to start the day at Iron Horse, but I had recently tried some Old Vine Zinfandel from Seghesio and knew that the tasting room was close to Healdsburg Square, where Oakville Grocery is. So we decided to pop in there for a quick tasting. We tried five wines, including a light and citrusy Pinot Grigio. The highlights of the tasting were most certainly the spicy and fruity Rock Pile Zinfandel and the Old Vines Zinfandel, so I bought one of each. It’s hard to resist such a purchase when I get a 30% industry discount.
Onto Iron Horse, one of my favorite spots for sparkling wine. We did the sparkling flight, which includes 4 tastes: Blanc de Blanc, Classic Vintage Brut, Brut Rose, and Wedding Cuvee. We also tried the Ocean Reserve, Fairy Tale Cuvee, and the 2003 Magnum Brut LD (a special surprise). All the sparklers are fantastic, but the Wedding Cuvee is my favorite. It’s light and crisp, with a touch of sweetness, and a pretty peach color. We walked away with a bottle each of the Blanc de Blanc, Vintage Brut and Wedding Cuvee – all to be brought to the New Years Eve party we would be attending the next day. The design of the tasting “room” is another big highlight at Iron Horse: an outdoor bar with 6 or 7 standing heaters, overlooking their beautiful vineyard.
And just when the sparkling wine was starting to get to my head a little bit, it was time for lunch! We arrived at Martin Ray and the weather was still a little iffy, so we decided to do the tasting first and hoped it would clear up in time to have our sandwiches at the picnic tables. Martin Ray has two collections: Angeline and Martin Ray. Naturally, we did a tasting of each and shared. The Angeline collection is less expensive and lower quality, but still great for the value. Tragically, I found out that Martin Ray is no longer selling their jug of Red, so I purchased some Angeline Pinot Noir. It’s a light and fruity wine, and will be perfect to start off an evening with friends and food.
We were making great time, so we decided to stop at Woodenhead, a winery that I had visited with my parents back in my 2009 trip (note: it’s not on the itinerary above but it was an impromptu stop). The tasting room is in a two-story house with a wooden deck. The L-shaped bar is decorated with some modern paintings and blown glass. It’s a very cozy place to taste wine – delicious wine, at that. They have a large selection of five Pinots, five Zins, a Syrah, and some blends. Their wines are distinctive and smooth, and I would definitely recommend stopping in for a taste! I bought the 2009 Le Bistro Pinot, another great wine for entertaining. It was also Lactard’s favorite.
Our last stop of the day was Hop Kiln. I had been to Hop Kiln before during Wine Road a couple of years ago, so my memory of my previous experience wasn’t exactly crystal clear. But I’m certain I remember there being a circular tasting bar, surrounded by an extensive smattering of samples: bread sticks, pretzels, crackers, dips, chocolate, mustard, jam, sauces… pretty much a buffet. It definitely enhanced the tasting experience, and I’m sure it helped with their sales. But when Lactard and I walked into the tasting room, all of the samples were gone and the entire tasting bar had been moved to the left side of the room. We were told that the buffet evidently violated several health codes, and the only way to keep it going would be to have a person individually serving each sample. Fair enough. In any case, we tried some of their HKG Pinot, the Big Red, the Zin, and my favorite, Thousand Flowers. None of their reds really stand out to me, but the Thousand Flowers is a Chardonnay-based White blend with a balanced combination of citrus and floral notes on the nose, and a tropical fruit palate. It’s a great summer wine, delicious on it’s own or perfect with a light fish. I bought two bottles of Thousand Flowers and a jar of artichoke-lemon dip.
Thanks to my industry discount, I purchased six bottles of wine for only $150.00. But even without an industry discount, you can find great deals in Healdsburg. Four of the bottles I bought will be used for entertaining, and I will try to age the two Zinfandels from Seghesio and save them for a special occasion.
If you’re looking to plan your own trip to Northern Sonoma County, you can also use this itinerary that I created for a friend and his parents: Healdsburg itinerary