Although Healdsburg gained fame as a Sonoma County Wine Country destination more recently than the town of Sonoma, with their green plazas and preserved historic buildings the two towns have much in common today.
Once a farming and timber town, Healdsburg is a country cousin that has assumed an equal — some might say preeminent — reputation as the center of Sonoma County Wine Country.
Old timers still remember the days when fights that broke out in John & Zeke’s bar spilled out on the sidewalk on Saturday nights. Today, visitors stroll along Healdsburg streets chock-a-block with wine lounges and boutiques.
Healdsburg Wine Tasting
Perhaps because the area’s dining and accommodations are concentrated in this small, walkable town, wine tasting rooms have cropped up on just about every block. It’s easy to stop by one or two on the way to dinner reservations, or to make a day trip entirely on foot, without anyone having to drive.
Healdsburg wine tasting rooms are located in three areas: Most are located around the Plaza and side streets; an eclectic cluster can be found by the Russian River near the steel truss Healdsburg Memorial Bridge; and there’s more to explore on the industrial and residential West Side.
Around the Plaza
This boutique and wine lounge offers chocolate pairing, gifts, and popular Ferrari-Carano wines like their Fumé Blanc and mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon amid country home decor. Find it on the north side of the Plaza — much closer in than the winery’s Villa Fiore hospitality center, which is at the farthest end of Dry Creek Valley from town.
The trinity of Russian River Valley wines comes to Healdsburg in this light-filled corner tasting room with a view of the Plaza: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and old vine Zinfandel. Part of the Jackson Family Wines empire, Hartford is tucked away in a picturesque little valley—should the wine inspire a drive or bike ride.
A few steps south, expansive, cool blue new digs for the Pinot Noir specialists serves up small plates or a box of chicken courtesy of Forestville’s Backyard restaurant.
Inside the “Trust Winery Limited” you’ll find Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Muscat Canelli made and grown by locals with long experience in the real work of making wine.
The food pairings served at this curvy bar on the south side of the Plaza may not always be vegan, but the wines are designated as such — no animal byproducts were used in the winemaking process. Choose from 10 wines daily, included saucily titled blends like “Four Play” and “Threesome.”
A restaurant favorite for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, La Crema keeps their limited release and single vineyard Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast wines behind the bar at this remodeled tasting lounge.
As the new home of Windsor Vineyards, the popular custom-label winery founded by Rodney Strong, this aviation-themed, spacious tasting room on the east side of the Healdsburg Plaza has a wider range of wines on offer, including B.R. Cohn Sonoma Valley Cabernet.
Plaza Side Streets
This is an independent “co-op” tasting room that hosts live music and provides a rare opportunity to taste wines from boutique producers both relatively unknown and somewhat renowned — Heidi Peterson Barrett’s La Sirena, for example.
At Latitude 38.62° N, Longitude -122.86° W., find Pinot Noir with freshness and transparency, and if you’re lucky, dry Riesling — the grape that sent former public radio sound engineer Alan Baker on a winemaking journey — in this brightly styled tasting room on Center Street (tip: just steps from some of the best coffee in Sonoma County).
Across the street, the upstart Banshees host tastings of their now-famously value-priced appellation Pinot Noir as well as single vineyard releases—not at a bar, but at a modish communal farmhouse table amid art and antiques, to an LP soundtrack.
Explore the side streets around Healdsburg Plaza a little more and find Toad Hollow Vineyards, known for Pinot Noir and sweet sparkling wine; Italian varietals at Portalupi Wine; Chardonnay at Selby; surfer-themed tasting at Longboard; scrumptious small bites with big Cabernet at Williamson; and more.
By the River
There’s more to winemaker Guy Davis’ award-winning Pinot Noir, Zin, and more at this “warehouse” winery overlooking the Russian River: you may find the Zazu gourmet food truck parked by a produce garden in full bloom.
Sensuous reds with sensuous labels at this brick-walled tasting room in this old building, originally a winery built before Prohibition.
More wineries are located next door and at Hudson Street Wineries.
The West Side
Three sisters founded this sparkling wine brand in honor of their mother. Now popping corks in new digs constructed in 2016 from three shipping containers that are welded together, and most stylishly so, Breathless makes their sparkling North Coast brut, blanc de blancs, and other wines right next door in the area’s largest custom sparkling wine facility, Rack & Riddle. Just a short walk from the Plaza, they’ve created a landscaped oasis in this industrial zone. Sip sparkling wine and dress up for Polaroid photos in this fun, welcoming lounge.
There’s room for bocce courts and a picnic grove just a few blocks up Grove Street on the tree-shaded grounds of Seghesio.
Founded by an Italian-American family, this winery has a connection to the old Italian Swiss Colony winery that some visitors may remember from touring in the 1960s or from TV commercials: they planted some of the first Sangiovese, key grape of Chianti, in California. Italian whites, reds, and Zinfandel are tops here.
While visiting Healdsburg, stay in a hotel with a vineyard view!
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.