Just after the Gold Rush of 1849, Healdsburg and the Alexander Valley began to grow exponentially. Today, find a relaxed environment in which to explore the verdant area with its award-winning wines, zeal for local products and friendly residents.
Instead of trying to see everything, we toured just the southern part of the valley with an overnight stay in neighboring Healdsburg. Under crystal clear skies, we turned off Highway 101 onto Chalk Hill Road. We were greeted by a winding roadway that snaked under a canopy of moss hanging from valley oak trees and beautiful blooming acacia trees lining the shoulders.
The wine country charm of Healdsburg offers visitors a variety of places to stay from the ultra luxurious to country inns to the hippest of green. We tried two of them.
Staying at Les Mars Hotel is like checking into a sumptuous European property. A member of the Relais & Châteaux group, this hotel exudes elegance. From the four-poster bed, vaulted ceilings, Jacuzzi tub, fireplace, antique furnishings, wine and cheese in the library, and personal service, it’s all about style. The hotel is steps from Healdsburg’s historic square — leave your car and walk to the center of town. 877-431-1700, www.hotellesmars.com
The eco-chic h2hotel is LEED gold certified. The property has recycled wood and materials throughout, an undulating roof with succulents, solar panels and smart sensors for in-room electricity control. Our spacious patio room included bamboo flooring; organic sheets, towels and robes; and carafes of sparkling and still purified water (refill stations are on every floor). The artwork reflects the hotel’s hip, green philosophy — the Spoonfall water wall incorporates rainwater from the roof falling over actual spoons. 707-431-2202, www.h2hotel.com
Walking to the tasting rooms in downtown Healdsburg is one way to enjoy the region’s wines. Another is to pedal (find complimentary bikes at the h2hotel) or drive to the wineries in the surrounding valleys. We drove to our first stop in the Alexander Valley AVA, best known for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Named after Cyrus Alexander who moved to the area in the mid-1800s, Alexander Valley Winery proudly takes its name from the parcel of land he first obtained. Now three generations live and work on their sustainably farmed property. The 2008 Redemption Zin is rich and delicious and the Cyrus — a blend of Bordeaux varietals from the land originally owned by Cyrus Alexander — is a tribute to the early explorer. 800-888-7209, www.avvwine.com
About midway up the valley, Hawkes Winery has a small tasting room on Highway 128. The owners have been growing grapes in the valley for over 30 years. Today, three separate ranches produce mostly Cabernet Sauvignon — intense fruit and delicious. You’ll find another one of their tasting rooms in downtown Sonoma. 707-433-4295, www.hawkeswine.com
The Robert Young Estate Winery boasts five generations who have been farming their land. And the family pioneer, Robert, first planted Cabernet Sauvignon in the Alexander Valley in 1963. Try the small-lot releases in the intimate tasting room. 707-431-4811, www.ryew.com
On the way into Healdsburg, stop at Jordan Winery. Driven by sustainable farming, Jordan was one of the first wineries certified in the Sonoma Green Business Program and dedicates three-quarters of its land as a natural habitat. Make an appointment to sample their prized wines (especially the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon) and sumptuous extra virgin olive oil in their secret cellar. 707-431-5250, www.jordanwinery.com
For the ultimate in pleasure, book a spa treatment in the privacy in your room at Les Mars, or work out those kinks in either of the hotels’ pools.
Don’t forget to support the wineries you visit by purchasing wines and other products. For unique antiques, specialty foods and home goods, it’s Jimtown Store. 707-433-1212, www.jimtown.com
Downtown Healdsburg is full of fashion and home decor boutiques, bakeries and tasting rooms. Ride a bike or take a stroll — either way, there’s an interesting selection of artisan goods made locally and globally. And if you’re visiting on a Wednesday or Saturday (spring through fall), the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market will be in full swing. www.healdsburgfarmersmarket.org
We began our culinary adventure in the Alexander Valley at one of the local favorites: Jimtown Store. When first opened in 1893, it was the general store, post office and meeting place for the valley residents. Today, this landmark is still a gathering place for locally driven food and wine. There’s a terrific selection of sandwiches (smoked brisket with bourbon barbeque sauce is a winner), house-made tortilla chips, chopped olive spreads, just-baked cookies, and more. They even have their own Jimtown wine. A 1955 red Ford pickup, usually parked in front or at the farmers’ market, is their mascot. 707-433-1212, www.jimtown.com
Healdsburg has an abundance of popular restaurants around the square — we began our adventure at Barndiva. Local sourcing and sustainable farming are guiding principles behind the owners’ commitment to the food scene. A beautifully back-lit bar, high ceilings and expansive garden seating and outdoor bar area provide diners with a distinctive setting in which to enjoy a delectable meal. The creamy lobster risotto is sinfully delicious, and the Meyer lemon tart is a sweet finish. 707-431-0100, www.barndiva.com
Spoonbar is conveniently located off the h2hotel lobby. Open, airy and bustling on a recent Sunday evening, the marketplace drives the cuisine. You’ll find whatever is coming from nearby farms on the menu as well as in the handcrafted cocktails — like the blackberry margarita; chicken cracklings; and the chilled scallops with fennel, beech mushrooms and cilantro. 707-433-7222, www.h2hotel.com
At Les Mar, savor a French continental breakfast delivered to your room. The flakey croissants and rich coffee are an especially wonderful way to start the day. And at h2hotel, we picked up a newspaper, coffee, fruit, and muffins at the complimentary and generous breakfast bar before heading back to San Francisco.