Northern California Wine Country: A Sunday in Healdsburg
After spending a year abroad, I'm excited to explore more of the western US and especially more of my back yard in California. Having Europe at my fingertips was certainly special and gave me a true appreciation of the weekend jaunt. I now realized that travel doesn’t just have to be those grandiose trips that require months of planning. I now appreciate the ability to just go and explore a bit closer to home.
Living in San Francisco sure has its perks. With outdoor activities available throughout the year, there's no shortage of adventure. Driving up to wine country is one of my favorites. While we've been to Sonoma and Napa quite a few times, we were looking for a new area to explore with Dan's family. We ended up in Healdsburg, still in Sonoma County, but a bit further north. Sonoma and Napa are wonderful, but can be quite busy, pricey, and sometimes more commercial. We wanted more of a relaxed vibe. Healdsburg sure fit the bill. We spent a long afternoon at Bella Winery tasting delicious Pinots and Zinfandels after enjoying a picnic out on the lawn.
If you're looking for a relaxing day away from the city this summer, wine tasting in Healdsburg will be perfect. You can even explore Healdsburg if you're staying for a few days up in the area. In this post, I'm sharing how to make the most of your day in Northern California wine country.
How to Get There
You'll need a car for your day in Healdsburg. I suggest renting or using Zipcar or Getaround. If you plan on drinking a lot (it catches up with you quickly), you should hire a car service. If you're going in a big group, check out Chariot Charters.
If you're coming from San Francisco, take 101 North across the Golden Gate Bridge and continue for about 65 miles. You'll see signs for Napa and Sonoma, but like I said before, the extra distance is worth it. Take the Dry Creek Rd exit. Note that reception can be spotty, so make sure you have your Google Maps directions started before you get off the exit.
Stop for picnic supplies
Most of the wineries in Healdsburg allow you to picnic on property. Stop at Dry Creek General Store on your way north. Dan loved the True Italian sandwich. The tuna was great too! Don't forget a chocolate chip cookie.
The number of wineries you visit will depend on what time you leave from the city. If you want to visit more than 1, I would try to leave the city by 10am. You should never really plan on visiting more than 3 and I'm a big fan of less is more when it comes to planning a day in Northern California wine country. You may fall in love with the first one you visit and decide to buy a bottle...or two to enjoy after your tasting. The wineries are typically open from 11-4:30pm. Tasting fees are typically $15-$30, but are sometimes waived if you buy a bottle or join a wine club.
I suggest driving to the furthest winery you're interested in visiting and then making your way back, unless of course you're anticipating that the closest one will be your favorite :) The drive up to Healdsburg takes about an hour and half. If you go up on a weekend from San Francisco, you can expect a lot of traffic on the way back into the city. The drive could take at least 2 hours if not more. Snacks and water on the way back are encouraged. We stopped at a cherry stand on the side of the road.
Bella - my new favorite. Nestled at the end of quiet W. Dry Creek Road, we essentially spent the whole afternoon picnicking and drinking wine amongst the olive trees. You'll feel right at home with the lovely staff and chill vibe. Bella is also dog and family friendly. Try to taste with John - he absolutely made our day with pours of some of the special vintages. They have some great Zinfandels. We especially loved the Lily Hill. They finish the tasting with a deliciously sweet dessert wine paired with a sea salt chocolate peanut butter cup. Fabulous!
Preston Farm and Winery - an organic and biodynamic farm and winery just down the road from Bella on your way back to Dry Creek Road. We didn't try the wines because we were full from Bella, but they have a great honor farm store where you leave cash and a box and simply write down what you purchased. Perhaps, you could stop on the way to Bella for some extra treats to picnic. Preston also had a great picnic area and cute tasting room.
Dry Creek Vineyard - also known for their Zinfandels. They're located across from the Dry Creek General Store. You're allowed to bring a picnic. Tastings are on the more expensive side at $30.
Lambert Bridge - absolutely next on my list! I've heard amazing things about Lambert Bridge. This winery has been recommended to me by multiple people, but we just didn't have enough time.
What to Wear
Always check the weather in wine country because it's typically much warmer in Healdsburg than in the city. That being said, make sure to always bring a light jacket because it can be quite breezy. Also, if you plan on sitting outside, sunscreen is a must.
Wine country is casual. Think breezy tops and dresses. You can't go wrong with neutrals and a jean jacket. A hat is essential.
TBP Wine Tasting Tips
> Many of the wineries in Healdsburg do not require bookings like those in Sonoma and Napa. That said, always check before you go and sometimes they offer special tours if you book in advance.
> If you don't like a wine or feel like you've had too much, you can empty your glass in a discard containers. It's not rude.
> Some of the busy wineries in Napa and Sonoma will rush you through a tasting, but don't be intimidated. Take your time. You can even walk around or outside before going back to the bar for your next pour.
> Make friends with the pouring staff. You may get larger pours or even get a chance to try more premium wines reserved for club members. Plus, it's the decent thing to do :)
> Wine tastings begin with whites and then move to reds. You'll start with the lighter reds such as Pinot Noir, and then move to fuller bodies. You may end with a sweeter dessert wine.
> Don't forget your ID! Legal drinking age is 21 in the States.
> Don't be afraid to ask for another taste of a few wines, especially if you're thinking of buying. That's the point of going anyway.
> If you do purchase wine, make sure to ask for recommendations for the optimal time to drink. Sometimes they'll tell you the wine will be much better after aging a few more years. Make sure you follow proper aging procedure.
> If you live out of the area, most wineries will ship to you.