14 Dec 18
Orange County Register
A vineyard warmed by the morning sun in Sonoma County.
Being asked to go to Sonoma County and explore wine country is a dream assignment. After spending three days in northern California, my husband and I returned home with an understanding of Healdsburg that went beyond red wine. Enriching experiences, smarter farming practices, and personable business owners make up a town that we had previously visited only for dinner. We discovered that each winery is a destination unto itself. Truly a territory to toast.
Our first all-encompassing tasting started at Truett Hurst. The winery’s logo: an easy-going, red Adirondack chair hinted at the space’s laid-back atmosphere. After our private tasting, we were guided through the property’s spacious outdoor patio – perfect for socializing. Beyond there, an open space bordering one side of the fence housed chatty goats and a flock of chickens. We took a brief stroll and found ourselves right up against Dry Creek. There, the ecosystem remains untouched; allowing salmon to spawn. Cozy couches and Adirondacks gave Truett Hurst’s surroundings a backyard vibe. We figured this site was an anomaly in a sea of formal wineries. However, it was only the start of our journey. We would soon discover Healdsburg offered much more.
For lunch, we convened at SHED, a multi-use space downtown. The planned layout not only housed a café and retail outlet, but also a beverage bar, meat and cheese counter, plus a meeting venue and classroom upstairs. After exploring SHED, it’s no mystery why it’s the recipient of several James Beard Foundation architectural accolades. We met with SHED’s founders and other community advocates for Sonoma County. Over roasted mushroom tartine and warm winter squash soup with pepitas, we discussed sustainability and biodynamic farming. The conversation also elaborated on how wineries stayed true to their designation.
Night harvesting, for instance, is a form of farming where the labor-intensive tasks are executed in the evenings. Workers are exposed to milder temperatures, and the crops are not rushed to be cooled down. Animals such as mules and donkeys are used to devour weeds; eliminating the need for harsh chemicals. Double pruning crops, sometimes with the help of a machine, make for more efficient productivity down the line. Our extensive discussion covered a variety of topics: growing concerns of an aging workforce compounded with the difficulty of finding replacement labor are now a reality for these wineries. Tighter work Visa distribution and the children of farmers not wanting to pursue the industry also factor into the changing landscape. Before this meeting, we were completely unaware of this part of winemaking.
Returning to the wine trail, we found our way to Quivira Vineyards. Amongst the electric vehicle charging, quaint picnic tables and highly-rated bottles, our favorite part of the tour turned out to be the food! Olives were pickled in-house. Fuyu persimmons plucked straight from the garden. Plus, the best charcuterie we’ve ever encountered. To our delight, it was a locavore specialty that originated from cattle raised down the road. A tip: These culinary treats are only available by appointment when you book an estate tasting or tour. As we strolled through Quivira’s modest garden, a boost of unexpected aromatherapy helped us continue on to our next destination.
At DaVero Farms and Winery, their approach to winemaking is unique. Only Italian varietals are produced and the winery follows a single mantra: “Grow what belongs here. Be patient.” The vineyard lies in a Mediterranean micro-climate, which means dry, hot summers produce lots of Sangiovese, Primitivo, and Pinot Nero grapes. However, DaVero’s original claim to greatness was for a different specialty: Meyer lemon olive oil. In honor of its roots, the reserve tasting experiences incorporate samplings of specialty oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as a minimum of five Italian grape varietals.
Grazing Shetland sheep roam about olive groves and amongst the vineyards. Gregarious pigs follow their natural instincts and till the hard soil, simultaneously uprooting pesky weeds. Flocks of chickens follow behind, picking up seeds from the dirt and preventing unwelcome plants from revisiting. We are witnessing a living example of biodynamic farming, an illustration of this natural relationship between animal and land.
A break from the vineyards led us to explore downtown Healdsburg. We sipped on Golden Milk from The Nectary Juice and Smoothie Bar, which kept us cozy one brisk morning. We popped into Copperfield’s Books, which provides the daily paper to locals, and features an eclectic selection of literature and giftable products. I spotted a pair of slippers in a perfect burgundy hue at PUNCH’s trendy corner apparel shop. But, our hunger led us to met the engaging chef Mateo Granados. His eatery, Mateo’s Cocina Latina, specializes in modern interpretations of Granados’ native Yucatan cuisine. In true Healdsburg fashion, the chef utilizes locally-sourced produce. We left Mateo’s and finished our time downtown with a plate of succulent duck confit that awaited us inside Barndiva.
Breakfast at River Belle Inn.
The best part of our stay was Healdsburg’s River Belle Inn. As the only property along the Russian River, from our perch we were privy to calming views. The owners, Thomas and Mitzi, purchased this fixer-upper and converted it into the peaceful oasis that stands today. (If you ask, it is a story best told by them.)
The couple expanded the inn from three to 12 rooms and paid close attention to modern details while still maintaining its quaint allure. I appreciated one simple detail: The bedrooms were outfitted without clocks and telephones. (Everyone has a smartphone these days, right?) A self-service coffee station was set up by 7 a.m. each morning with a short stack of newsprint available on a chair beside it. Personal touches like these made us feel at home, especially when greeted each morning by Mia, the inn’s Golden Labrador.
Each morning, customized breakfasts included a pastry baked from scratch. Plus, the freedom to choose where and when we wanted to dine. While we spent most of our time out amongst the vines, one evening we decided to unwind at the inn before dinner. The beer and wine happy hour was a welcome break from our busy schedule. The River Belle Inn allowed for as much privacy as we wanted with ample distance between guest rooms. While our schedule was packed, we still seemed to find many opportunities to enjoy the grounds inside and out. Our only regrets were not spending more time in the inn’s sitting room or playing bocce ball in the backyard.
The garden at Jordan Winery.
The final destination of our stay was Jordan Vineyard and Winery. The highly immersive experience began with a hike through rows of vineyards while marketing and communications director Lisa Mattson discussed the Jordan family history and how the massive estate came to fruition. We witnessed their bee-friendly farming, and marveled at how this natural pollination system benefited the Jordan vineyards, and also enriched the surrounding ecosystem. The winery’s resident donkeys, Maverick and Goose, greeted us as we meandered towards the garden. There, we sampled tomatoes and other fruits before we worked our way back to the chateau. Time for lunch!
We were rewarded for our exertion with a thoughtfully curated selection of charcuterie, cheese, vegetables, dried fruit and bread. We mingled in their soon-to-be remodeled dining room as we sipped on a wine flight paired with our meal. Between this spread and meeting their gregarious son – and CEO – John Jordan, our afternoon was not only educational, but delightfully personable. It made for a lasting impression. The entire trip left us with memories that we will share long after we finish our Sonoma County bottle of red.