Healdsburg Itinerary: Russian River & Environs

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grapes4.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When visiting the achingly cute hamlet of Healdsburg - replete with lovely shops, fabulous markets, quaint tasting rooms and Michelin-starred cuisine - it can be tough to motivate to venture outside city limits.  But with some of the world's foremost vineyards beckoning just beyond, it's a sure thing your efforts will be rewarded with sweeping scenery, warm hospitality and - natch - delicious pours.
Inman Family Wines
We recommend first heading south to the most southerly stop on this itinerary, then stopping to taste at subsequent spots on the list as you venture back towards Healdsburg.  (For your convenience, here is a map of the recommended route.)  Thus, our first stop takes us to Inman, where owners Kathleen and Simon Inman craft cool-climate whites, reds and rosé that stand out for their bright acidity and food-inclined flavor profiles.  Beyond the glass, there's plenty to like about this über-eco-friendly winery, where an emphasis on the likes of renewable resources and recyclable packaging is felt as strongly as the drive towards making world-class wines.  A cozy tasting room with views of the often fog-swathed vineyards nearby is icing on the cake. 

Tasting room @ Olivet Grange Vineyard: 3900 Piner Rd., Santa Rosa, CA 95401 * Open 11am-4pm Thursday through Sunday; vineyard tours available by appointment * (707) 395-0689

Sonoma-Cutrer sonomaCutrer.jpg
Just a few minutes' drive north takes you to Russian River classic Sonoma-Cutrer, where the spot's beginnings date to 1973.  This Chardonnay powerhouse stands out as much for its pedigreed past and strong presence in the market (its flagship wine is the number-one-selling Chardonnay in America's finest restaurants!) as for its impressive, detail-oriented approach to winemaking.  To wit, the winery pursues a unique "Grand Cru" model that incorporates traditional Burgundian techniques such as terroir-focused farming and French oak maturation with modern innovations.  The results show strongly in the spot's pours, which allow you to gain a dynamic knowledge of the Chardonnay variety; it doesn't hurt that the winery also boasts innovative architecture, sprawling grounds and expert staff.

Tasting Room @ 4401 Slusser Rd., Windsor, CA 95492 * Tours and tastings available by appointment * (877) 797-3489

Rodney Strong Vineyards
Thanks to complimentary tastes and a picnic area open to guests, Rodney Strong is a perennial area favorite.  Head to the spot's gracious outdoor space to tuck into a pre-packed lunch, then make your way inside to enjoy pours from an eclectic lineup that encompasses cuvées crafted from 14 estate vineyards in such varied appellations as Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill and Sonoma Coast. Established in 1959 by Sonoma wine pioneer and namesake Rodney Strong, the winery boasts the renown of being Sonoma's 13th bonded winery.  More recently, the spot (under private ownership by the Klein family since 1989) made a mark with its designation as the county's first carbon neutral winery.  Only your visit, we recommend that you not miss at least a few sips of Symmetry, the winery's noted Meritage blend.

Tasting Room @ 11455 Old Redwood Hwy, Healdsburg, CA 95448 * Open daily from 10am-5pm; tours daily at 11am and 3pm  * (707) 431-1533

alderbrook.jpgAlderbrook Winery
Just outside Healdsburg proper (that's right: you're almost back!), you'll find postcard-cute Alderbrook Winery.  Thanks to a comfortable tasting room housed in a B&B-esque farmhouse, Alderbrook enchants with touches that strike as the epitome of wine country hospitality: Cooler months see staff light a roaring fire in the fireplace, and there is always a pleasant hum of activity in the brightly-lit tasting space.  Technically situated in the Dry Creek Valley AVA, Alderbrook is owned by the prolifically successful Terlato family (owners of Terlato Vineyards, Rutherford Hill, Chimney Rock and Sanford), who integrate dynamic visitor experiences like "Vineyard to Bottle" tours and Zinfandel blending activities into their guest programming.  While there, don't miss sampling some of the winery's more esoteric offerings, like a delicious Pinot Gris from Russian River fruit.

Tasting Room @ 2306 Magnolia Dr., Healdsburg, CA 95448 * Open daily from 10am-5pm * (800) 405-5987

Ferrari-Carano Seasons of the Vineyard
The final leg of this itinerary brings you back to the heart of Healdsburg to taste and browse Wine Country-chic wares at Ferrari-Carano's new tasting bar and boutique right on the town plaza.  Pouring sips of this Dry Creek classic's renowned pours (the Fumé Blanc has long been a consumer favorite) as well as those of Anderson Valley's Lazy Creek Vineyards, the spot melds upscale ambiance with attentive and decidedly un-stuffy service.  Beyond the bar, globally-sourced ceramics (think hand-crafted silver and horn accessories, and Italian classics from Vietri) and furnishings share shelf space with covetable décor objets.  In all, it makes a fitting finale to your day - and may just be the place where you find that special something to commemorate your stay.

Tasting Room @ 113 Plaza St., PO Box 1836, Healdsburg, CA 95448 * Open Sun., Tues., Wed., Thurs. 11am-6pm, Fri.-Sat. 11am-7-pm, closed Mondays * (707) 431-2222

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I'd like to recommend La Crema. The lady at the counter actually sent me away from her business with a recommendation of where to go to find what I was looking for (and I did find what I was looking for). Very helpful and courteous. I believe tasting is complimentary (back in Spring '09).

Also nearby is Toad Hollow. I was there last December and tasting was complimentary. They have a stainless-steel chardonnay which was nice, but their Risque sparkler is yummy. The cute wine labels are a plus, at least for me.

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