Together, Healdsburg and its sister region of Dry Creek are equal parts quaint town and quintessential Northern California at its best. The region also happens to be among the most important (and biggest) wine-growing regions in the United States. Its downtown – which boasts several hotels and bed and breakfast options – is completely walkable, with chic wineries, restaurants and shops littered throughout. Just beyond the main downtown area are hundreds of wineries of varying sizes as well. The vineyards explode with beauty in the fall – especially during harvest – making now the perfect time to plan your trip. (Reading this after finding online at later date? You are in luck! It also happens to be perfect in the winter and spring, as well.)
There is a smattering of fabulous places from which to choose to lay one’s head in the area, but the new kid on the block – Montage Healdsburg – is among the most impressive. The sexy hideaway opened in January 2021 and is spread over 258 lush acres of forest and vineyards. There are 130 ultra-plush bungalow-style guestrooms and suites, each chic and contemporary but with an environmentally conscious design. Of particular note as it relates to accommodations directly, is the resort’s Guest House. The three-bedroom, 4,600-sq.-ft. masterpiece of design boasts a fully-equipped kitchen, marble bathrooms, an outdoor hot tub and furnished wrap-around balcony with a small table for dining, daybeds and lounges. The views from the balcony – primarily of the iconic Alexander Valley and Mount St. Helena – will take your breath away. It is also pretty darned cool to see actual Merlot, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes growing on property from one’s rooms, all of which will be bottled at Katz’ Aperture Cellars Winery production building. (As a part of this partnership, Montage Healdsburg also invites guests to join Katz at Aperture Cellars Winery for tastings, a rare experience reserved exclusively for resort guests.)
Perhaps the only thing better than those views are the smells and tastes coming from the kitchen at Montage. Prepare to have your taste buds tickled at every turn here thanks to the terroir-to-table philosophy of the food and beverage programs left and right. Hazel Hill, Montage’s signature California cuisine-meets-French classics eatery, is all about locally sourced, seasonally driven everything from the food to the craft beers to the wines. If weather permits, opt to eat al fresco. Though there are not any “misses” on the menu, my favorites are the chilled corn soup, saffron chittara (a type of pasta) with Dungeness crab, fennel and Calabrian chile, wagyu strip loin duck fat potatoes, Alaskan halibut with sauce Véronique and the duck breast with Bing cherries. Should you prefer to visit Hazel Hill a bit earlier, brunch is also a full sensory experience well worth the splurge.
Beyond Hazel Hill, the lobby’s Scout Field Bar offers creative cocktails and a fantastic wine list with French-infused noshes, and the poolside Hudson Springs Bar and Grill offers a coastal-inspired menu of fresh seafood and other upscale classics. Insider tip: stop at the resort’s gourmet market – the Healdsburg Country Store – to stock up on snacks for the room. After a long day of wine tasting, you will want a bite in bed!
Sip and Savor
Speaking of wine, your cup with figuratively and literally run over in the region.
Next, hit up Wilson Winery. It is run by a female winemaker and is an area landmark, and not only for its wine and historic barn building. On the lawn, you would be hard-pressed to miss the 26-foot-tall steel coyote, which the owners bought from an artist who had it on display at Burning Man. And yes, you can climb it for the photo opp of a lifetime. (Please only do with their supervision and before tastings!)
ZO Wines is a great spot for tasting thanks to its wine wheel. Rather than simply savor a flight of wines, your wine guide will take you on an adventure in tasting using a ZO colorful tasting wheel, where you are able to use your own senses to determine the flavors you personally taste in each glass (not what sometime tells you that you should taste). The interactive experience makes novices wine lovers feel comfortable, and it challenges veteran tasters to come up with new ways to describe each sip, smell and swirl in each glass.
If you’re a pinot person, head over to Gary Farrell Vineyard next for its Inspiration Tasting, where an estate sommelier will guide you through a specially curated flight of six highly allocated, vineyard designate pinot noirs, from various neighborhoods of the area. Along the way, he/she will present vineyard photos and soil selections, to further connect to the “terroir” that makes each wine unique. The wines are presented with luscious cheeses, to boot.
And then there is Ferrari-Carano. Yes, the iconic Ferrari-Carano, which owns 1,600 total acres of vineyards across 24 ranches. Most people don’t realize the wine giant, which was founded by a husband-and-wife team of Italian descent, is located in the heart of Healdsburg. The estate is something out of a movie, complete with overflowing gardens, a full Tuscan villa, fountains, statues and tasting experiences for the ages. Certainly its terrace tasting is special, but if available, splurge on the private wine tasting in their Prevail Room, deep in the heart of their winemaking facility in a VIP room fit for a king.
Oh, did you think you were done? Not by a longshot….
No trip to Healdsburg is complete without a stop at Medlock Ames. With nearly 340 acres, you’d expect this to be a behemoth vineyard. However, by design Medlock Ames only farms 55 acres, leaving the majority of the land in its natural state. As such, the vineyards and farms are also home to mature oak trees, wildflowers, vegetables and tons of wildlife. The best way to see it all is via its Ranch Tour and Tasting, which takes guests on a stroll through the all-organically farmed Bell Mountain vineyards, olive groves and vegetable gardens. It also offers an in-depth look at its state-of-the-art winery and barrel cellar before providing a wine educator-led wine tasting paired with local cheeses and bites directly from the garden that was just visited.
Be sure to make a reservation at Chalk Hill for a Culinary Estate Tour or wine/food pairing of the moment. Chalk Hill Estate Winery is owned by American billionaire Bill Foley, and it shows. The 1,300-acre estate is home 300 acres of vineyards, as well as wilderness areas, a working winery, a hospitality center, culinary garden, stables, a equestrian pavilion, sports fields, fishing and swimming ponds and more. Beyond standard wine tastings, Chalk Hill offers daily estate tours – via open-air Hummer with a personal guide and driver – followed by seated tastings paired with cheese on the expansive patio, which offers 360-degree panoramic views. If seeking something extra-special, they also offer an immersive, four-course, farm-to-fork culinary experience with wine pairings.
And finally, we come to House of Flowers, which is a chardonnay and pinot noir lover’s dream. There, rather than a traditional taste, opt for the Bottles & Provisions adventure, which will showcase the vineyard’s best estate wines alongside local, seasonal bites. This unique experience includes a half bottle of wine per guest, accompanied by food pairings crafted by the House of Flowers culinary team. Mix and match half bottles and make it a party with friends or the one you love for sure. (You’re welcome!)
Beyond being known for its wine, Healdsburg is one of the true birthplaces of the farm-to-table movement, and nearly every restaurant in the area puts the concept into action is some delicious way (as evidenced by Montage’s offerings above). Some of my other favorite spots in which to dine, if you saved enough room, are:
Bravas Bar de Tapas, a tapas bar where it is almost impossible to stop ordering small bites. Hailed by Travel + Leisure as “one of the top 20 tapas restaurants in the U.S.,” Bravas serves up traditional Spanish and modern tapas-style dining in Wine Country by James Beard nominees Mark and Terri Stark.
Valette is one of the best culinary adventures in California. Over a glass of wine nearly two decades ago, two brothers dreamt of a restaurant that would provide a canvas for Sonoma County farmers, winemakers and artisans to showcase their crafts. The restaurant would be located in downtown Healdsburg, the heart of Sonoma County – and the location where their great-grandfather operated bakeries. They opened Valette in 2015, realizing their dream.
Dry Creek Kitchen, which is celebrity chef Charlie Palmer’s hot spot with killer cocktails to match the eye-poppingly posh and progressive food menu.
Need other suggestions? Wine Road makes it easy for me to pick regions, amenities and specialty wineries based on personal preference. Use this tool for long weekends getaways.
Featured photo: Hazel Hill at Montage Healdsburg. Photo credit: Christian Horan.