The Underrated Charmer of a Northern California Town in Wine Country – Your Guide to the Food and Wine Wonders of Healdsburg
AAfter honing what I thought was a decent knowledge base for a 30-year-old budding wine lover, a trip to Healdsburg, California, a quaint town in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, taught me what I didn’t even realize I needed.
I arrived on a cold and rainy December day to a warm welcome. Imagine a charming central plaza with windows of cheerful shops and welcoming tasting rooms inviting you to enter.
The Healdsburg Hotel, a boutique hotel with a modern yet Californian aesthetic, brings a touch of laid-back luxury to a still relatively undiscovered enclave of Northern California’s wine country. Healdsburg is a hidden city gem in every way, bringing the benefits of Napa without the hype. The low-key haven gains a steady following of repeat visitors who fall in love with the lesser-discovered northwest side of the mountains in wine country.
With five Michelin-starred restaurants in Healdsburg alone and plenty of nods from James Beard, the area is certainly not light when it comes to food and wine. Pairing local wines with fresh local produce is a Healdsburg obsession.
While most think of Pinot Noir when it comes to Sonoma, the region’s winemakers speak passionately about the creativity the land lends to their craft. The structure of the terroir gives way to many different grape varieties. The City of Healdsburg aims to celebrate the best that the land has to offer.
Once I settled into my spacious room at the Healdsburg Hotel, I headed off to a Williamson Wines for lunch paired with wine. The winery’s founders, Dawn and Bill Williamson, invite their wine club members to regular tasting lunches featuring cheeses, spices, and chef-prepared dishes that showcase the wonders of their wines. Locals and visitors chat casually about the thoughtfully crested courses and wide range of wines, all harvested in Sonoma with passion by Williamson’s family team.
Soon it was time for more wine at Marine Layer, just down the street. Focusing on coastal wines, Marine Layer brings a contemporary space, where wine lovers can munch on deliciously complex and brightly colored vegan dishes. I learned again how even a simple vegetable can elevate the wine experience. Marine Layer’s new tasting room has only been open for a few months — and it’s already boosting the cool factor of Healdsburg’s town square.
I ended my first evening in Healdsburg with a five-course dinner at the Healdsburg Hotel’s Dry Creek Kitchen, where celebrity chef Charlie Palmer and his team (the chef splits his time between Healdsburg and New York) offer sophisticated dishes to the city laid back in an unostentatious way.
After being undecided on my food choices, the chefs at Dry Creek Kitchen stepped in and prepared a five-course meal paired with wines, no choices required. Top level local flavors more than satisfied. Just like the service anything but pretentious.
Healdsburg Wine Art Land
My first full day in Healdsburg brought an unexpected combination – wine tasting room/art gallery. The unique Harris Gallery is owned by an adorable father and son duo who are not only talented artists but also wine merchants.
Artist A3L3XZAND3R and his father MC Harris have transformed a historic building in the heart of Healdsburg into a space that brings together wine tasting and visual art viewing. The father and son team enlisted renowned winemaker Wells Guthrie to help develop their wine, all with labels adorned with their signature fine art.
I spent the rest of the day with Linda, a local darling who guides tours for Wine Country Walking Tours. We wandered from tasting room to tasting room, sampling bites from nearby restaurants. Which basically meant that Linda drove me from one of her friends to one of her friends, each eager to share their wine and food.
“It’s the kind of town you can hug,” Linda says of her hometown of Healdsburg. It is certainly a city where you can eat well.
Take The Matheson, a lively new restaurant in another renovated historic building. The Matheson offers three floors of dining space, including an epic patio overlooking the square, perfect for sipping wine in the sun.
Ending the night at Jordan Winery capped off my Healdsburg getaway perfectly. The dedicated family behind Jordan Winery seem humble and welcoming despite their widely known and award-winning Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s surprising that this is a true family business when you consider the prevalence of Jordanian wine on many wine lists and stores across the country.
The Jordan Estate is as impressive as the wine. The 1,200 acres of vineyards are centered around a 50-year-old French Bordeaux-inspired estate built by the parents of John Jordan, who set out to create California wine that rivals the standards of legendary French sommeliers. Their bold venture helped put California wine on the map.
The estate house has three elegantly renovated suites for loyal wine members. Only a wine tasting could take you away from the roaring fireplace, plush king-size bed and soaking tub in the spacious suite. Or maybe another good meal.
Jordan’s in-house culinary team grows all the produce they use on the land. In addition to growing ingredients for their dishes, the team has set up butterfly, hummingbird and bee sanctuaries to support the local ecosystem.
Of course, you’ll also want to check out the new Montage Healdsburg complex, which is almost a wine world in its own right. (Read PaperCity‘s full story on Montage here.)
You’re in Healdsburg, another side of Sonoma County where it’s easy to fall in love with food and wine. And much more.