Fall for Sonoma

Make the most of your stay in wine country.

With dozens of tasting opportunities in walkable quintessential Sonoma Wine Country, it’s easy to fall in love with charming downtown Healdsburg—stuffed with classy shops, vintage dealers, local artisanal products, museums and endless restaurant options with farm-to-table dining selections. Founded in 1857 by Harmon Heald, Healdsburg’s most identifiable site is the downtown Spanish-style leafy green plaza with a copper-topped gazebo.

Healdsburg is an ideal base for wine tasting exploration as this wine and culinary epicenter is 20 minutes north of Santa Rosa and the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (with direct flights from nine U.S. cities) and less than a 2-hour drive from Oakland and San Francisco. Santa Rosa is only an hour flight from LA. Situated at the intersection of the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys, in the heart of Sonoma County, Healdsburg is an easy central jumping off point for Sonoma, Napa, Marin or Mendocino.

Known for its fresh produce, dairy and meats, Sonoma is a foodie’s paradise. Many restaurants in the area change menus frequently to showcase the best of Sonoma Valley’s ingredients. Discover the friendly intimate Baci Café and Wine Bar for pasta, loaded turkey sandwiches made with homemade bread from Troubadour and warm pie slices accompanied with homemade small-batch ice cream in local flavors from Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar. There are dozens of high-quality dining choices around town, with variety to satiate any appetite.

Sonoma County’s wine country is known for some of the world’s most acclaimed vineyards

Sonoma boasts smaller, quieter and more intimate family owned wineries than Napa, making it easier to immerse oneself in local wine culture. Most famous for its Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, many of the finest regional wine appellations in the world surround Healdsburg.

Take a bucolic road trip through the Dry Creek Valley into Lake Sonoma and by numerous wineries like Europeanesque Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery estate where guests can stroll the gardens and take in a flight of classic or reserve wines on their panoramic vineyard terrace. Another stunner nestled within lush gardens and towering redwood groves is Flowers Vineyards and Winery where a Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay sampled with a charcuterie board with seasonal fare makes a perfect afternoon.

For an extraordinary wine and food pairing, book the Reserve Experience at Hamel Family Wines, a fully estate-grown biodynamic vineyard located on 124 acres in a rare region favorable for Cabernet. This privately guided tour includes their wine cave followed by a tasting of four reserve wines paired with Michelin-worthy canapes all in view of the sprawling vineyards and mountains.

A thousand feet above sea level, Coursey Graves Bennett Valley Estate feels like stepping into a garden painting by Monet with its naturally dyed lake accented by an arched bridge and stunning hillsides. Be prepared to spiral up past a narrow gate to this lush vineyard paradise and modern tasting room atop the rocky slopes of Bennett Mountain. As part of the pre-booked Estate Vertical Experience, a private tour inside the mountaintop wine cave shows off vino aged in terracotta vessels brought from Italy. The cool weather here and rocky soils mimic Bordeaux conditions, producing highly concentrated fruit and outstanding wine.

Put Kunde Family Winery on your wine agenda, as this fifth-generation 1,850-acre estate in the heart of Sonoma Valley comes with a lengthy list of wines. Venture into their 32,000-square-foot cave where the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock” was filmed. The comedy was based on a 1976 wine competition where California wine defeated French wine in a blind taste test.

Soak up the vino with a stop in Santa Rosa for decadent Johnny Doughnuts and enjoy varieties like citrus rosemary and apple Cinnabon. Farther down the road in Sebastopol, find the Sunday Maker’s Market at The Barlow with local products and pup-friendly Blue Ridge Kitchen known for its farmhouse-style wood grill dishes for a truly satisfying way to round out a culinary adventure.

The Ruse is an unexpected wine country stay like no other

Slowly pull up to the front of The Ruse and images of New England may come to mind. The grey siding and white trim of this Healdsburg inn, enhanced with white roses and a dark grey statement fence, accent an elegant “R” and let you know you’ve arrived. Sun filters through the inn’s surrounding trees with one looking as if it’s showing off its autumnal hues, while the smell of sweet lilac perfumes the air. 

Past a koi pond and through the inn’s check-in foyer, a welcoming heated pool and jacuzzi are hugged by umbrellas and chaise loungers. Have you arrived in the Hamptons at your own private estate? The Ruse, set on 3 private acres, features only 11 rooms, including four new standalone suites lining the hotel’s very own 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed putting course and adult playground.

From the poolscape, it’s hard not to be enamored with the ancient trees anchoring the property. At night, glowing orbs hang from its branches creating an enchanting setting for late night jacuzzi soaks under the stars. Numerous seating areas with firepits and shade allow for socialization or privacy.

Perhaps the highlight of the property is The Corkscrew, a challenging 18-hole putting course equipped with Scotty Cameron golf gear that proves fun for all abilities. Inquire with the concierge about access to the private Mayacama Club, a premier wine country golf course and spa destination developed by the same family as The Ruse. Like adult summer camp, guests can also flex their skills at bocce ball or test their pickleball prowess on one of six courts on the property.

The four suites feature outdoor private shaded patios that will excite a designer’s mind with a black-framed canopy bed enhanced by a padded leather headboard accent (and uber-comfy mattress), carefully selected hand-painted art, a wooden desk, a gold structural statement chandelier and a gas fireplace. The style might be coined modern “farmhouse chic,” providing an understated luxurious feel, like a friend’s invitation to stay at their carefully decorated home. A grand-sized bathroom with double sinks and gold faucets comes with large bottles of Ruse signature soap, lotion and sunscreen. The shower is big enough for two, with double shower heads cascading from both sides, while a soaking tub entices with a beckoning bath bomb.

Each morning, look forward to the home-cooked complimentary breakfast, made to order in the restaurant bar lounge pavilion with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that bring the California sunshine streaming in. Chef Craig Linowski concocts gourmet breakfast medleys with inventive flavor combinations using hyper local produce. Most days, enjoy being the only diners at the time—a super special feeling like having a grand private villa. Over breakfast of coffee, fresh-squeezed OJ and artful bowls of yogurt doused with fruit, nuts, seeds, coconut flakes and flower petals, the chef may offer the secrets of the surrounding area to explore while tantalizing the breakfast palette with a second course of fried egg and asparagus atop a bowl of grits (or grains) seasoned with bits of grilled radish and cauliflower, sweet potato, garlic and greens.

Whether you’re visiting to sample from an abundance of world class wineries, feast from the best farm to table dining, or just to explore the idyllic countryside of lush valleys and redwood forests that cradle Lake Sonoma and the Russian River, you will delight in everything…but the leaving. It’s no wonder Sonoma County’s motto is “Where life opens up.”

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