2 Days in Healdsburg, CA

There are a lot of charming small towns that everyone says makes for great weekend getaways, but when you get there, you’re disappointed by the lack of things to do, other than browsing through some bad antique shops and galleries, of which there seem to be way too many. Healdsburg, CA is not one of them. In fact, Healdsburg is what every small town should be–cute and picturesque, with fantastic food options, and a lot of things to do nearby. You can easily go to the beach, go for a bike ride, play golf, or, more importantly, visit some nearby vineyards in Sonoma County.

bergamot alley
bergamot alley
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wines for sale
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throwing back a beer (or two)

The evening that we arrived, we made our way to downtown Healdsburg, a very pleasant town square filled with ice cream shops, wine tasting rooms and bookstores. Since we had an hour before dinner, we grabbed a quick drink at Bergamot Alley, a bar with a fun, kitschy vibe. They have a very interesting wine list with bottles sourced from all over the world, while the beers tend to be from local craft breweries. You can also order some bottles from their retail store and drink it at the bar for just a $20 corkage fee.

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when in sonoma, do a pinot noir
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butterleaf salad with shaved zucchini, red onions, toasted walnuts, pecorino di roca & grilled lemon vinaigrette
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grilled calamari with white beans, pickled onions and arugula

The highlight of our evening was our dinner at Scopa, where I enjoyed some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had in recent memory. Every local I spoke to absolutely raved about Scopa, and after our meal, or perhaps even sooner than that, I was a believer. It’s everything you want red sauce Italian to be–homey, generous and comforting in every sort of way. The ingredients are fresh and everything is prepared with a purpose. The dishes are simple, yet very effective–you could really taste the olive oil and the pesto on the burrata cheese, or with the calamari, despite the char, you could taste the lift of the citrus seasonings underneath. Scopa understands that the ingredients have so much to say, and the way they prepare their food ensures that you have a full and lively conversation with each one.

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house-made ciabatta bread with dry creek extra virgin olive oil
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polpette calabrese – spicy meatballs with smoked mozzarella in tomato sauce
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squash blossom and zucchini pizza
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tomasso’s sugo calabrese – spaghettini with tomato braised beef and pork rib sugo and pecorino cheese
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nonna’s tomato-braised chicken with sauteed greens and soft polenta

The delicious chunky, juicy meatballs arrived piping hot, a tangy pork and beef blend that had just the right notes of sweet and spicy. The signature dish, the Tomasso’s Sugo Calabrese, was absolutely on fleek. Chunky, meaty, sweet, spicy–what isn’t there to love with flavors like these? As if we didn’t overdo it with the carbs, we ordered some of the house bread, mainly to sop up all of the lovely tomato sauce and and the burrata, but also to devour it on its own–bread with a good crust and a soft, blistery interior is not something you say no to. We were certainly ready to absorb all that wine for tomorrow.

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jasmine hirsch giving a tour
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the blocks up close
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ross cobb talking about sugar content
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vines up close

In my experience, the vineyards in Sonoma County are a lot more spread out than in Napa, but they are well worth the drive. Hirsch Vineyards is very much off the beaten path. It’s deep in the redwood forests of Cazadero, and it’s a very windy and oftentimes treacherous drive from Central Healdsburg (long stretches of one-way dirt roads!), but the views of the coast along the way are stunning. Because it is so out of the way, with a limited staff on the grounds permanently, Hirsch isn’t one of those vineyards that conducts daily tastings and tours, but luckily, they were throwing their annual luncheon for members right when we were in town, so we were able to taste a few bottles and walk around the vineyard.

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enjoying our wine
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let the tastings begin!
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a glass of pinot
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the perfect farm-to-table lunch
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the terrific hirsch staff
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the grand finale–cheese from soyoung scanlan

Hirsch is known for its pinot noirs, although it does grow some chardonnay on the cooler 4 lots on the western side of the vineyard. Juliana, the director of client services at Hirsch, personally greeted each one of us with a glass of the chardonnay, which was crisp and clean, and slightly fruity. We toured the grounds with Jasmine Hirsch, daughter of founder David Hirsch, and winemaker Ross Cobb, and learned some interesting facts along the way–such as how Jasmine’s father dropped out of Columbia in the 70s and rolled up his sleeves to grow some grapes in California, and how it takes 7 years for a lot to even produce decent fruit–and then sat down to a wonderful farm-to-table picnic luncheon catered by Shed in Healdsburg. We also tasted some more wine, of course, such as the excellent Block 8 pinot noir, and the very drinkable “vin du soif” Bohan Dillon pinot noir. After a few more healthy pours for the backseat drivers, we made our way to the next vineyard.

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kistler vineyards
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amber waves of grain

A 1.5 hour drive back to the main roads brought us to Kistler Vineyards in Sebastopol. Kistler is a small, family owned winery that produces chardonnay and pinot noir using old world Burgundian techniques. I’m still not quite sure what “Burgundian” means, but I get the feeling that it means making a wine that is less processed and more natural in taste. Their wines are available exclusively to mailing list members, although anyone can request to book a tour.

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bottles of chardonnay and pinto noir at kistler
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wine and cheese

We tried a series of chardonnays, starting with the 2012 Trenton Roadhouse, an acidic chardonnay with some fruity notes and some weight to it, followed by the 2012 McCrea Vineyard, which was my favorite due to its lighter and more spirited characteristics, and concluded with the 2012 Hyde Vineyard chardonnay, a wine of weight with some steely, sulfuric traits. The tasting concluded with the 2012 Sonoma Coast pinot noir, which was very fruity and pleasant. We were served some delicious cheeses to complement our wines. I loved the creamy cow cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and a sheep cheese from Bellweather Farms.

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at noble folk
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ice cream!
campo fina
campo fina
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bocce rules
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let the games begin
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campari soda

Afterwards, we drove back into town and ate some delicious ice cream at Noble Folk, and then spent some time at Campo Fina, the sister restaurant to Scopa, where we drank Campari sodas in the back and played some bocce. Bocce is definitely a thing in the Bay area, it’s a game that involves throwing some balls towards the middle of a sand court and trying to get your ball to to some mark as close as possible. To tell you the truth, I was a lot more into the campari soda than the game. Maybe if I were more coordinated then it would be a different story.

at bravas
at bravas
dogs are welcome
dogs are welcome
the massive paella pan
the massive paella pan
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dungeness crab toast
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whole trout
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side of kale salad with cheese, onion and fennel
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duck meatballs bocadillos
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spanish bomba rice with sonoma flavors
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sea scallops

For dinner, we had some great traditional Spanish-style tapas at Bravas Bar de Tapas in downtown Healdsburg. I would highly recommend asking for a table in the outdoor patio area, which has a fun, lively atmosphere reminiscent of a summer garden party. The highlight of being on the patio is watching one of the cooks man the massive paella pan, which makes ~40 servings at a time. Clearly, with so much heart and soul put into the preparation, the smoky and briney seafood paella is one of the best things at Bravas. Other standouts included the very refreshing and bright dungeness crab toast, the sea scallops, and my personal favorite, the serrano ham and manchego cheese bocadillo sandwich with truffle paste, the best grilled cheese sandwich that money can buy.

petaluma chicken salad sandwich
petaluma chicken salad sandwich
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sausage and scrambled egg croissant sandwich
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oakville club mezzaluna

On our last day, we made one final tasting appointment at Williams Selyem before heading back to SF. We stopped by Oakville Grocery to pack some sandwiches and other snacks for a picnic lunch at the vineyard. I first discovered Oakville Grocery on a prior trip to Napa, and I fell absolutely in love with their prepared salads and sandwiches. I was ecstatic to discover that they had a branch in Healdsburg, and of course I went overboard and ordered way too many sandwiches. The food was so enticing, it never made it to the vineyard, we just starting eating everything outside of the store. The reuben sandwich, with its crunchy, golden rye bread and juicy, tangy corned beef, was as good as I remembered it, and the mezzaluna, a sandwich with a chicken caesar salad enfolded within a focaccia-like crust, was a rewarding new discovery.

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a preview of williams selyem at dinner

Williams Selyem, like many vineyards in the surrounding region, first started out as a passion project between two friends in the late 70s. Ed Selyem and Burt Williams began winemaking in a garage in 1979, and just two decades later, the duo was able to create a winery of international acclaim. We first tried some of the chardonnays, tasting a natural, unoaked chardonnay, followed by a more buttery and heavy version that had been oak-barreled, and then proceeded to the pinot noirs. The wine at Selyem is also made in the Burgundian style, so certain sips were definitely funkier and more mineral-y. After a tour of the very slick facilities, we ordered some bottles to get shipped home, and then said our goodbyes to Sonoma.


Bergamot Alley
328 Healdsburg Ave
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-8720

Scopa
109A Plaza St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-5282

Hirsch Vineyards
45075 Bohan Dillon Road
Cazadero, CA 95421
vineyard closed to the public but welcomes visitors by advance appointment

Kistler Vineyards
4707 Vine Hill Rd
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 823-5603

Noble Folk
116 Matheson St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 395-4426

Campo Fina
330 Healdsburg Ave
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 395-4640

Bravas Bar de Tapas
420 Center St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-7700

Williams Selyem Winery
7227 Westside Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-6425
vineyard open to active allocation list members and their referred guests

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