Life during the week is crazy. Having a weekend trip mirror that intensity is pure insanity. It’s great when a getaway is easy and relaxing. That’s what makes it thoroughly enjoyable.
Not too long ago, my husband and I meandered along the 12-mile drive between Healdsburg and River Road in Sonoma County. It’s filled with oaks and redwoods in addition to the many vineyards. There is a lot going on along this scenic route — stunning vistas, interesting wines, artisanal products, and terrific hospitality.
If a lush country retreat is of interest, Vintners Inn by Ferrari Carano is your spot. Located just off River Road, a short distance from Westside Road, the Italian-inspired inn is as tasteful as their eponymous wines. Nestled among vines and gardens, the accommodations are spread out among three two-story buildings. The comfortable rooms boast fireplaces and private balconies with all the amenities. Environmentally conscious, the hotel has its own wastewater treatment facility and uses reclaimed water to irrigate the vineyards and gardens. The gardens supply the popular restaurant (see Dine below).
Freshly brewed coffee is outside your bedroom door — nice before you have breakfast served on the terrace or in the dining room. The warm banana bread (with house-made blueberry jam) was mouth-watering as was the country breakfast with Shiloh Hill Farm eggs and Hobb’s applewood smoked bacon. Also great: The corned beef hash, which is smoked in-house (800-421-2584, vintnersinn.com).
Find another wine country option at Thomas George Estates. Ranch houses dating from the 1920s have been extensively remodeled and now offer luxe accommodations. From a studio to a three bedroom, some have a hot tub and all have access to a pool. In the morning, find fixings for breakfast, including farm-fresh eggs. And don’t miss their olive oil and secret seasoning mix supplied for hot air popcorn (707-431-8031, thomasgeorgeestates.com).
Play & Shop
Westside Road includes 20 wineries and two AVAs (Dry Creek to the north and the Russian River Valley to the south). We chose the following to highlight some of the boutique offerings.
Just outside of Healdsburg, we hit Westside Road and headed south along winding country roads to our first stop at Mill Creek Winery. With stunning views of Dry Creek, the tasting room is designed as a replica of a mill (with working waterwheel and mill pond) reminiscent of those that dotted the land in the early 1900s. You can also savor the wine in the picnic area on the landscaped grounds.
Either way, you’ll be introduced to their estate-grown varietals — all managed by three generations. Favorites included the crisp 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay, the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2010 Merlot with luscious dark berries, made with grapes from their Alexander Valley estate (707-431-2121, millcreekwinery.com).
Virginia Marie Lambrix focuses on Pinots and Chardonnays at her VML winery, but other varietals are produced as well. The stunning tasting room, gorgeous gardens, and fountains — inspired by those in Europe — and outdoor seating combine for the perfect wine experience. Favorites include both the 2012 Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2012 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel, from the high elevation site in Dry Creek, is bold and delicious. For an alluring treat, don’t miss the 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir (707-431-4404, vmlwine.com).
Next up was Thomas George Estates. Having visited previously, it’s always fun to return to this idyllic setting and sip the wines in the 8,000-square-foot cave, outside in the picnic area or in the casual tasting room. Their Russian River location inspires the small-lot, site-specific wines.
Explore the winery as part of a tour or opt for a private tasting in the Library (in the cave) with a yummy cheese and charcuterie pairing. You’ll find their artisan wines to be balanced with complex flavors of delicious fruit. Each of their vineyard-designate wines is noteworthy, like the 2010 Chardonnay and 2011 Pinot Noir from the Starr Ridge Estate and the 2011 Pinot from the Cresta Ridge Estate. Don’t leave without trying the 2010 Timbervine Vineyard Estate Syrah (707-431-8031, thomasgeorgeestates.com).
At Gary Farrell Winery, it’s all about the sweeping views from their ridge top perch — and of course, the wine. Relaxing on the terrace with a wine and cheese pairing is a great way to end your wine tasting day. The wines are balanced and elegant; their single-vineyard wines have been stars since the first vintage in the early 1980s. They have maintained relationships with the same growers for years. Start with the 2009 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay then try the 2011 Stiling Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2011 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel (707-473-2909, garyfarrellwinery.com).
Westside Road is also a spectacular location to ride a bike. Get caught up in its beauty and eliminate any thoughts of that daily 24/7 madness. Shopping in nearby Sebastopol or Healdsburg is a short drive away.
Dinner that night was at the John Ash & Co. restaurant at Vintners Inn. The vaulted ceiling, warm lighting and soft colors enhance the dining experience. The seasonal menu not only leverages the relationship the restaurant enjoys with local farmers but features items harvested from the restaurant’s own garden.
Try the Asian-style ahi tuna tartare served with wakame salad and the calamari fritti kicked up with Thai basil dipping sauce. The pan-seared scallops and Gulf prawns were sweet and tender and the Moroccan spiced lamb was an interesting combination of a grilled chop, ribs and sausage. From the Ferrari-Carano collection, we chose the 2012 Chardonnay and 2011 Siena (a Sangiovese blend). The warm apple and blackberry fruit crisp with a caramel sauce and melting vanilla gelato was great with the 2007 Eldorado Gold and the 2008 Eldorado Noir dessert wines (800-421-2584, vintnersinn.com/dining.asp).
Special Events: The Barlow Street Fair (every Thursday, thebarlow.net/streetfair/)
Russian River Valley Winegrowers: rrvw.org
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley: wdcv.com
Westside Road Wineries Association: westsideroadwineries.com
Sonoma County Visitors Bureau: sonomacounty.com