by Dorothy Aksamit
hen you turn onto
the Dry Creek exit just past Santa Rosa, you enter a decompression chamber
as cozy neighborhoods replace urban sprawl and a leafy plaza replaces megamalls.
Welcome to Healdsburg.
Arriving at five oclock we found a two-story Italianate Victorian house
behind a white picket fence. We dropped our bags in The Vineyard Suite Diamo
Grazie, located along a path behind the main house of Honor Mansion.
Wine and cheese tastings were well underway in the small parlor where all the guests quickly became acquainted. One honeymooning couple from Canada was visiting wineries from Sonoma to Sideways country as they put it.
The hors doeuvres table turned out to be a challenge if we still planned to have dinner. Beautifully presented were, not only a cheese tray, but also a bountiful fruit tray, a salmon spread and freshly baked cookies.
shamelessly sampled each
others orders. The crispy beer-battered green beans
were a hit.
When we booked our rooms we had asked Cathi to make reservations for us at
casual, mid-range restaurants. Cathi and Steve Fowler, owners of Honor Mansion
are both locals in possession of Sonomas secrets.
Zin Restaurant and Wine Bar, a block from the square, started on the right
note with street parking practically at their door. We shamelessly sampled
each others orders. The crispy beer-battered green beans were a hit.
Grilled peach salad with ham, frissee and goat cheese, topped with toasted
walnuts and drizzled with Zinfandel Vinaigrette got my vote. Grilled delta
asparagus accompanied a succulent leg of lamb for my husbands entrée.
Of course we had to order Zin, a 2002 Sonoma County Randy Zin.
Between dinners we drove along country roads that barely cut a swath through rolling vineyards. Cathi had directed us to six of the 49 wineries of Dry Creek Valley, most of them small and family owned. Following winetasting mantra we saw, smelled, swirled, sipped (we switched days as designated driver) and savored wines of the Dry Creek appellation.
At Mauritson Family winery we found the assistant wine maker, Heidi Von Der
Mehden, in charge of wine tasting. We were intrigued with the name, Rockpile
Zin. Heidi told us that to receive the Rockpile appellation, the vines must
be planted above the fog line which is over 800 feet in elevation. She then
directed us to Rockpile to see for ourselves.
Seghesio Family Vineyards were walking distance from Honor Mansion. Stopping
to chat with the gardener, we were given a demonstration in vine grafting.
In the tasting room a cellar, vintage 1895 I jumped at the chance
to buy one of my favorite Italian varietals, a robust 2003 Barbera.
Bella, a modest wooden building set on a knoll surrounded by gently rolling
vineyards, is my idea of the quintessential Sonoma Winery. A bachelorette
party in the wine bar cave added a festive note.
Our favorite lunch stop had ties to the past. In Jimtown Store, in Alexander
Valley, theres something for everyone, from Americana memorabilia to
old-fashioned candy to the deli with scrumptious sandwiches and salads. We
shared a balsamic roasted eggplant & peppers sandwich with Jimtowns
artichoke, olive and caper spread, as well as a salad of peppery greens and
beets with mustard vinaigrette.
Between wining and dining we couldnt wait to get back to Honor Mansion.
I dont want to rave too much because I want to keep it a secret. There
are only 13 rooms, (ours had a patio hot tub), but with sumptuous breakfasts,
swimming pool, tennis courts, putting green, a mesmerizing koi pond and enthusiastic
owners who love where they live, Honor Mansion has a level of luxury that
would be difficult to match anywhere at any price.
Dorothy Aksamit is a freelance travel writer based in Marin County, California.
Inviting Pool at Honor Mansion Beckons After a Day of Wine Tasting
Dorothy Aksamit photo