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Exploring the Healdsburg Wine Road

Exploring the Healdsburg Wine Road


Where the Russian River meets the Dry Creek Valley, the small town of Healdsburg grew up in the mid-1800s. Today, under a canopy of redwoods, palms, and magnolia, the historic plaza is still the heart of the town, surrounded by cottages, bungalows, and Victorian mansions. Wine lovers stroll around the town square, stopping in at more than two dozen wine-tasting rooms, from tiny boutique-style Thumbprint Cellars to a complex of several wineries at Old Roma Station, in a circa-1900 warehouse near the river. Headquartered on Healdsburg Avenue, the Visitor’s Bureau advises, “Stop by the Visitor Center and pick up complimentary tasting passes and a free winery map.” And check out our favorite places to taste on the Healdsburg wine road, below.

Before heading out of town to more than 40 wineries strung out in the Dry Creek Valley, Seghesio Family Winery offers a good introduction to the region. Established in 1895 and famous for “old vine” zinfandel, the iconic varietal of the valley, Seghesio opens its doors for tasting, bocce ball, and food-and-wine pairings (call ahead for Our Family Tables food presentations in the cellars).


More than a day’s worth of wine imbibing awaits in the 16-mile-long Dry Creek Valley, where dozens of wineries and nearly 150 grape growers hold forth in barns and farmhouses scattered throughout the vineyards. Inland from the Pacific Ocean by about 30 miles, the climate is warm and dry most days––in the mid-80s in the growing season––and cool and often foggy at night, perfect weather for growing the robust Italian grape varieties and zesty zinfandels for which the valley is famous. Driving out of town over the Mill Street bridge, a Road Narrows sign signals the start of the slow ramble north. 


The first winery built in the valley since Prohibition, Dry Creek Vineyard welcomes visitors in an ivy-covered stone building and at picnic tables under the trees. Among their award-winning wines are Heritage Zinfandel and a cabernet blend called the Mariner.


The Mauritsons have been growing grapes here since 1868, and today produce zins, cabs, syrah, and sauvignon blanc in their sleek, contemporary-style Mauritson Family Winery; 6th-generation (and former college linebacker) Clay Mauritson, continues 140 years of making great wines.


Up the road just north of the Yoakim Bridge, old geezer vines look like ancient gnomes, their fingers flailing from twisted, muscular arms, rooted in the volcanic soil that feeds them––these are the riches of the valley; to be designated as “old vine,” they must be at least 50 years old. In this valley is the densest concentration of old-vine zinfandel vineyards in the world, producing spicy, full-bodied reds, redolent of blackberry, black cherry, and black currant, often with peppery overtones.


At the corner of Dry Creek Road and Yoakim Bridge Road in a Victorian farmhouse and a rustic tasting room, award-winning zins are made from 40-year-old, dry-farmed vines. And, the views from here are spectacular. Don’t miss picking up a jar of Yoakim Bridge Zinfandel Sauce, a blend of wine, raspberries, and secret ingredients.  


Tucked away on West Dry Creek Road, Preston Vineyards has been farming organic grapes for more than 30 years. You can taste and purchase delicious breads baked by Lou Preston in his forno––a wood-fired oven; they may be prune and rosemary, rye, or walnut raisin. On weekdays, the bocce court is available to all comers, and on Sundays, you can bring your own jugs to fill up with Guadagni Red. Also on offer are home-grown olives and olive oil, organic vegetables, fruits, and nuts, you-pick strawberries, and local, artisanal cheeses. 


Ferrari-Carano Winery comprises an elegant contrast to the backwoodsy appeal of most Dry Creek wineries. Fancy iron gates open to lush gardens and an Italianate mansion called Villa Fiore, the House of Flowers, adorned with stone columns, vine-draped arches, and Roman tile roofs. The tasting room is all polished mahogany, mirrors, and black granite. Don’t fail to tiptoe down the stone stairs into the magnificent vaulted cellar where wines age in over a thousand French oak barrels. Among other discoveries are a wooden bridge over a stream, an heirloom rose garden, and a pond filled with water lilies.


A few miles north of Healdsburg and worth a special trip, Francis Ford Coppola Winery (yes, that FF Coppola), is a major destination for wine lovers and foodies, complete with a restaurant, a movie museum, and a huge swimming pool where visitors can splash and spend the day. On display are movie memorabilia, from Oscars to costumes and artifacts from “The Godfather,” “Tucker,” and other movies. The hearty Italian varietals here sport names such as Archimedes, Director’s Cut, Sofia and Votre Sante. Walk out on the terrace for stunning views of the Alexander Valley … another wine story.

The largest of the many wine-oriented events held annually, in April, Passport to Dry Creek Valley draws thousands to 50 or more wineries for generous wine, food and live entertainment.


—By Karen Misuraca
Travel and culture writer Karen Misuraca is the author of Fun With the Family Northern California and founder of DeepCultureTravel.com.

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