When it comes to wine and the wine country, I’m all in. I love to drink it, I love to learn about it, drive through it and just soak it all in. The scenery that is… So when I was invited recently on a short getaway to Healdsburg in Sonoma County, they had me at, can you join us…. My reasoning was that while I have visited the Napa Valley on numerous occasions, I had never been to Healdsburg, and well, isn’t that reason enough?
My flight from SNA to Santa Rosa on Alaska Airlines was an easy breezy hour and 10 minutes. The airport, named after Charles M Schultz, is possibly the quaintest little airport I have ever seen. The peanuts characters are everywhere and it comes complete with an information booth replica of Lucy’s, “the Dr. is in”
A quick 15 minute drive took us to the center of town and the charming Hotel Le Mars, a 16 room jewel and I mean JEWEL of a hotel and part of the Relais and Chateaux collection of properties. If you had wealthy friends who owned a French country house, you would want it to look just like this. Elegant and intimate at the same time. Each room is spacious and beautifully decorated with sumptuous linens, four poster beds, fireplaces and luxurious baths. We were warmly greeted by our host, General Manager, Brian Sommer. The staff is young, very attentive and eager to please. We enjoyed a complimentary reception in the lobby with lovely nibbles sent over by Chef Shane McAnelly, from the adjacent Chalkboard Restaurant. Be sure to order the pork belly biscuits and warm homemade pretzels. They are happiness and comfort on a plate.
Healdsburg is a wonderful mix of charming shops with top notch dining options but still with a quaint small town feel. Someone said it’s “Like Napa before it became so full of itself” I didn’t say it so don’t get mad at me. I think what they mean is there is a vibe and a charm to this area that is unspoiled, perhaps less commercialized, and certainly less congested than then neighboring Napa Valley.
We left the hotel and strolled a whole block to reach Valette. Named after Chef/owner, Dustin Valette, the restaurant was full and the atmosphere was lively and sophisticated. Chef came over to chat with us and we learned that he is really a local boy, albeit one with quite an impressive resume. I loved his food, I loved that the staff really knew about each dish and seemed genuinely excited to have us try each one as it was served, and finally I loved that his dad presided over the bar area and acted as the official greeter.
We started with a platter of wonderful house made charcuterie and then moved on to a series of small plates that were one more inventive and delicious than the next. I believe they call it the “Trust Me” tasting menu. Being a pasta fiend, I especially loved the house made semolina pasta with olive oil poached tomatoes. Truly a memorable meal. Speaking of memorable, there was this dessert… It is sweetly called Bread, Butter and Jam and consists of a strawberry “jam” over a toasted brioche and a scoop of salted butter ice cream. I’m not even a dessert person but this was crazy good.
The next day after breakfast, we were greeted in the lobby by Dave our guide from Adventures in Cycling. We were issued helmets and briefed on safety and the route we would be biking. Anyone that didn’t want to bike could ride along in the chase van with his lovely wife, and still enjoy the day and scenery. It had been a while since I had been on a bike but as they say, you never forget. It was a beautiful, leisurely ride through the Dry Creek Valley. Every bend in the road was prettier than the next.
We stopped in at the beautiful Passalacqua Winery for a private tasting with winemaker Jessica Boone. It’s an idyllic setting and definitely worth a visit. They make lovely wines and I particularly liked the Estate Cab. The wines can only be purchased on site or through the wine club so I made sure to take some home for further “research”. J After our tour I sat in the shade and bonded with Addie, the resident yellow lab. Addie is a champion napper and we had a nice cuddle. Could this day get any better???
We left to continue on our ride with the promise of a picnic lunch at Noci Sonoma. I think to understand what this 24 acre parcel will be (because it’s a work in progress) you must visit their website. We were there when they were still clearing, planting and building what will be a very unique place to visit, wander, shop, dine, and probably get your hands dirty, if that’s what you want to do. I am definitely going back because I can’t wait to see how it all evolves. I’m not sure they even know yet, which is what makes it so interesting.
Later, back in town I got a chance to wander off on my own, which I love to do on any trip, there are some wonderful unique shops, antiques and even thrift stores that were worth a visit. I have a rep for finding cool things in thrift stores. That’s a whole post for another time. The following morning we met for breakfast a few doors down at Shed.
It is a combination café/gourmet food shop/garden décor/deli/gift shop. Let’s just say that had I visited with my sister-in- law, who is my spirit shopping buddy, we could have done some serious damage. I had the poached eggs on crusty grilled farm bread with crispy prosciutto which was fantastic, but then someone gave me a taste of their Baked Lemon Ricotta Pancake. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. It was that good.
Sadly, my visit to Healdsburg and Sonoma County was quickly coming to a close and we headed back to the airport for our quick flight back to the OC. Amazingly, it felt like I had been there longer than a mere two days. It’s that kind of a place. It has that ability to immediately make you stop, breath, look, listen, taste and enjoy- and I certainly did! Going back up there in August…there’s this ricotta pancake and my new friend Addie…