Russian River Valley Travel Guide
J Vineyards & Winery: Bubbles and Truffles
In the past, food at winery tasting rooms was meager—a little bread, some cheese and charcuterie. That’s changing rapidly, and among the best of the new gastronomic options is the decadent five-course food-and-wine pairing in J Vineyards & Winery’s Bubble Room. Chef Carl Shelton pairs ambitious dishes like parsnip gnocchi and white truffles with J’s 2010 Vintage Brut; the winery calls it a “tasting experience,” but we call it an excellent lunch. jwine.com.
Benovia Winery: Boutique Pinot
Like many top wineries, Benovia isn’t open for drive-by visits. But winemaker Mike Sullivan’s elegant, single-vineyard Pinots and Chardonnays are more than worth the effort it takes to send an email to make an appointment in advance. The selection changes frequently, but if the winery is pouring its gorgeous 2013 Tilton Hill Pinot Noir, we believe a silent high-five to yourself would be appropriate. benoviawinery.com.
Shed Café: Lemon Pancakes & Sunshine
Start your adventure at Shed’s outdoor café, and good luck not overordering off chef Perry Hoffman’s ultrafresh brunch menu (much of the produce he uses comes from the restaurant’s garden). Everything here is terrific, but Hoffman’s baked lemon-ricotta pancake is especially hard to resist. healdsburgshed.com.
La Crema: Vineyards by Golf Cart
The La Crema Estate at the historic Saralee’s Vineyard was probably this fall’s biggest winery opening. The tasting room, in a restored 1900-era hop barn, is lovely. But what’s even more fun is taking a 90-minute tour of the property by golf cart, with stops along the way to taste La Crema’s new single-vineyard wines from the estate, such as the aromatic 2013 La Crema Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. lacrema.com.
Carlisle Winery: Zinfandel & History
Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery is a walking encyclopedia of Sonoma County’s historic Zinfandel vineyards; if he’s in, ask him about the steps he’s taking to keep these old vineyards alive. His extraordinary old-vine reds, like the 2014 Saitone Ranch Zinfandel, make Carlisle a must-visit (though by appointment only). carlislewinery.com.
Limerick Lane Vineyards: Young Talent, Old Wines
On your way back to Healdsburg, stop outside town at Limerick Lane Vineyards. A storied Zinfandel producer, this winery was in a bleak state when vintners Scot and Jake Bilbro bought it in 2011 (their father, Chris, ran the family’s Marietta Cellars for decades). Now it’s been completely revamped, and the brothers are making some of the best old-vine Syrahs and Zinfandels around. Look out over the gnarly estate vines while tasting the briary 2013 Russian River Zinfandel. limericklanewines.com.
Valette: Locally-Sourced Dinner
This hotly anticipated Healdsburg restaurant from former Dry Creek Kitchen exec chef Dustin Valette opened in late 2015. Housemade charcuterie, produce from nearby farms and Valette’s nuanced but never overly fussy cooking have made it an instant hit (the top-notch wine list doesn’t hurt either). Don’t miss the signature starter: sweet local scallops with domestic caviar and shaved fennel nestled under a dome of puff pastry. It’s perfect with the minerally 2014 Peay Estate Viognier. valettehealdsburg.com.
Flying Goat & La Rosa Market: Coffee & Breakfast Burritos
Leave your hotel in Healdsburg, get yourself a great cup of coffee to go at local fave Flying Goat, then join all the winemakers lining up for chorizo-and-egg breakfast burritos at La Rosa Market and Taqueria in Forestville. 707-887-8741.
Lynmar Estate: Flowers & Flights
Lynmar Estate’s collector’s flight tasting often includes comparative pours of Pinot Noirs from different blocks of the winery’s Quail Hill vineyard. Follow it with a tour of the gorgeous property (scheduled in advance) and decide for yourself whether you prefer the 2014 Bliss Block Pinot to the equally lovely 2014 Block 10 Pinot. lynmarestate.com.
Handline: Roadside Lunch
Sebastopol restaurateur Lowell Sheldon and chef Natalie Goble recently refurbished an old Fosters Freeze and turned it into this laid-back roadside seafood joint. The vibe is ultracasual and the fish is ultrafresh. If there’s a nip in the air, ordering Goble’s fisherman’s stew—cove mussels, Monterey calamari, clams and the day’s catch, zapped with a little lime and chopped fresh herbs—is a no-brainer. peterlowells.com/handline.
The Barlow: Bacon Popcorn & Sparkling Rosé
Set aside a few hours for The Barlow, a 12-acre complex of winery tasting rooms, artisan coffee and juice purveyors, whiskey distillers, and other handcrafty, locavorish, art-and-food-obsessed makers. First stop: Wind Gap Winery’s cool tasting room, where you can try the vibrant 2015 Trousseau Gris if it’s available (otherwise, go for any of winemaker Pax Mahle’s other wines—they’re all superb). Next: Marimar Estate, right around the corner, for impressive Chardonnays. Give yourself a pick-me-up with an espresso from Taylor Maid Farms; after 3 p.m., nosh on the complimentary bacon-caramel popcorn at Zazu Kitchen + Farm while sipping the restaurant’s own Pink Pig Russian River Valley sparkling rosé. thebarlow.net.
Timber Cove Resort: Pinot & The Pacific
For a scenic end to your dreamy weekend, drive out to the coast and stay at the gorgeously remodeled Timber Cove Resort near Jenner. The resort’s tasting-room bar, The Hirsch Room (a partnership with Hirsch Vineyards, one of California’s benchmark Pinot Noir producers), is a great opportunity to do a reserve tasting while listening to the waves crash on the rocks. Then extend your trip for a week, because after waking to a spectacular view over the coast at dawn, why would you ever want to go home? Doubles from $250; timbercoveresort.com.