The Grape Leaf Inn: Not Your Grandmother's B&B

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By Deirdre Bourdet

grapeLeafInn.jpgI am not a B&B person. Victorian frills, lacey linens, antique bathtubs, old-fashioned plumbing and electrical systems, and sterile grandmotherly ambiance do not feature prominently in my ideal vision for romantic or restorative weekends.  And yet, B&Bs across America seem cast in that same Victorian mold, irrespective of price or location. When I accepted an invitation from Richard and Kae Rosenberg to stay the night in their Healdsburg bed and breakfast, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what was in store.  Being proven dead wrong has never felt so good.

Richard and Kae acquired the Inn in late 1998, when they "retired" to Healdsburg after successful careers in LA and Colorado.  Not ones to kick back and relax during retirement, they completely overhauled and redecorated the three dormer Queen Anne structure, and added five new bedrooms, a dining room, state of the art kitchen, lobby area, and a "secret" underground wine cellar concealed behind a bookcase in the dining room. Richard's grandfather ran a real speakeasy during Prohibition, and evidently the apple didn't fall far from the tree.  
grapeLeafInn2.jpgThe cellar bar is the nightly speakeasy, where Richard hosts evening tastings of hard-to-find local wines that are typically not available in tasting rooms or through retail outlets.  The night I visited the Inn, Richard poured a Chenin Blanc from Williams Selyem, a Bordeaux-style blend he had made himself from a friends' grapes, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from his own Rosenberg Estates--another post-retirement business. Richard and Kae also opened a separate Prohibition speakeasy wine bar on Healdsburg Avenue earlier this year, which will re-open next spring in a new location even closer to the main square.  Until Prohibition re-opens, the original underground speakeasy at the Inn is the only place to taste Richard's hand-picked selections, and appreciate his irreverent style. Don't miss the fun collection of posters and pictures in the cellar, and be sure to get the story behind Alicanté Bouschet and the Memorial Garden. If you want Richard's elusive Sonoma County picks sent to you every quarter, you can join the Prohibition Wine Club and conduct your own underground tastings at home.

The presence of a speakeasy isn't the only reason I loved the Grape Leaf Inn, however.  Kae Rosenberg's sensibilities and style inform the rest of the guest experience, from the fresh flowers to the chocolate dipped strawberries.  Each of the twelve guest rooms is tastefully decorated and boasts a modern TV, DVD player, and wireless internet as well as a private bathroom.  Luxurious pressed Frette linens, superbly comfortable beds, Aveda toiletries, and spa-like bathrooms are straight out of a modern hotel, with nary a doily in sight. We stayed in the airy Mourvèdre room, which featured arched ceilings, a gas-powered fireplace, soothing sage green walls, an enormous King-size bed, and a two-person shower/tub with jets.  Turndown service brought tasty Belgian chocolates for the pillows, and a plate of chocolate dipped strawberries for two, just in case we hadn't gorged ourselves to repletion at the numerous local restaurants within walking distance.
 
grapeLeafInn3.jpgKae also masterminds the amazing breakfasts at the Inn, which alternate between sweet and savory themes each day. Her recipes invoke the best local produce and meats, and make good use of the herb garden 'round the back.  The morning I was there, the three course "sweet" extravaganza began with a mixed fruit cinnamon crostini and Flying Goat coffee, followed by a heart-shaped lemon goat cheese cake and strawberries in balsamic syrup. The pièce de résistance, however, was the main course of white chocolate-macadamia pancakes with blackberry syrup, fresh rosemary, chicken apple sausage, and an artichoke-water chestnut mini-frittata.  I was still stuffed from the night before when I arrived at the breakfast table, but the molten white chocolate chunks and crispy macadamia bits required (and prompted) another round of delectable gluttony. Be prepared and don't book an early lunch.

The warm welcome, tasteful appointments, modern comforts, and sheer deliciousness of the Grape Leaf Inn have made it one of the best lodging options in Sonoma County. But the speakeasy spirit and irreverent charm of your hosts put this unique B&B in a category all its own.

Grape Leaf Inn, 539 Johnson Street, Healdsburg. 707.433.8140.

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