Winter seems to have faltered in the Inland Northwest this year, bringing weeks of freezing fog but little snow to the region. So, when a trip to Sonoma County, California was suggested, I didn’t think twice. I’ve been hearing about Healdsburg, the small city in the heart of wine country, and was happy to do some research.
Go: With Alaska Airlines offering direct flights from Seattle and Portland to Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Airport, it’s easy to escape, soak up a little sun and spend a few days in wine country. The Charles M. Schulz Airport--look for some familiar faces--has car rental facilities and is only 25 minutes from downtown Healdsburg. (No need to fly into San Francisco and face Golden Gate traffic.)
Eat: The small city of Healdsburg is charming, historic and home to some of the most creative chefs in wine country. Don’t miss dinner at Spoonbar! Chef Louis Maldonado is on the current season of Top Chef New Orleans and his food is as good on the table as it looks on TV. Another standout was Dry Creek Kitchen at the Healdsburg Hotel. The setting is upscale and sophisticated and the food is outstanding. How good was it? When the chef Charlie Palmer stepped out of the kitchen, he was treated to a round of spontaneous applause.
Stay: After three nights tucked into a big bed in a pretty room on the top floor of the Grape Leaf Inn, I could feel the difference. I was rested and refreshed. The rambling historic house is within walking distance of shops, tasting rooms and restaurants in downtown Healdsburg and the inn’s gourmet breakfast and frozen fruit “shooter” was a great way to start each morning. Coffee, tea and cookies are always available for late night snacking or an afternoon pick-me-up.
Taste: I tasted some wonderful wines but Lambert Bridge Winery was a standout. Winemakers JillI Davis and Jennifer Higgins create small-batch wines in a beautiful setting of manicured gardens and valley views. Lambert Bridge is recognized as a food destination. Be sure to book one of chef Bruce Riezenman’s wine-pairing tasting events in the barrel room. Riezenman is also the creator PairIt! of a successful wine-pairing app for iPhone and Android users.
Dip: I didn’t expect to bring home a suitcase full of olive oil, but I did. After tasting Dry Creek Olive Oil Company's oils, I was a believer. I also learned a lot as I sampled, including the fact that to be considered true extra Virgin olive oil, olives have to be picked and pressed within 24 hours, something many of the highest priced European oils might not be able to guarantee. Northern California is gaining stature as an excellent olive growing region and Dry Creek oils took gold at both the New York and Los Angeles international olive oil competitions.
Shop: If you like vintage finds you’ll enjoy Healdsburg Vintage. The rambling antiques mall is filled with everything from vintage clothing to one-of-a-kind architectural salvage. I spent an hour poking into every corner and my find-of-the-day was a $10 sterling silver photo frame.
Tip: The annual Winter WINEland festival each January is a great time to visit.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at email@example.com