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Sonoma County Wrap

In the last issue of the PinotFile, I related my recent extended trip to Sonoma County. In this follow-up, I will add some additional reviews of Sonoma County wines and provide lodging and restaurant recommendations you can use when you travel there. I am at your beck and call if you need private tasting appointments or assistance in making any winery visit arrangements. June and July are ideal times to visit before harvest.

Staying in Healdsburg

One of my favorites is the Duchamp Hotel located on Foss Street just behind Costeaux Bakery on Healdsburg Ave. Even though it is downtown, it is secluded and quiet with plenty of private parking. Once here, you never have to use your car unless you are going to wineries. Duchamp has six detached, identical, private suites that surround a 50’ pool and spa. The hotel is an adult-only experience. A large garden, “The Grove,” has multiple fountains and can be used for relaxing, private parties, weddings, bridal showers, and corporate retreats. A $20 ticket entitles each guest to eat-in or take-out breakfast or lunch at Costeaux Bakery. The helpful staff can schedule complimentary wine tastings. Rates vary with the seasons. Visit

Duchamp also offers Downtown Suites ONE, an urban luxury 1,150 square feet apartment for up to four adults. It was fully remodeled in 2018 and is only steps away from Chalkboard and Willi’s Seafood restaurants. A second rental, the Urban Luxe Loft is above the Paul Mahder Gallery in downtown. Completed in 2018, it is a one-bedroom, 1,100 square-foot suite with a private street level entrance. It has a kitchen, a wet bar and a dining table for six. A third property, Downtown Suites TWO will be available soon. This is a 2-bedroom, 1-bath suite with a full kitchen, that is located on Healdsburg Avenue. All of these lodgings come with full access to the parking, pool and other services at Duchamp. Visit

Ru’s Outpost consists of three cottages adjacent the Duchamp. Each is furnished in a washed white theme with one bedroom. Gimlet is the largest and has a full kitchen with a large front porch. Clementine has a kitchenette and a large back patio. Fig is the smallest one bedroom with no kitchen. These cottages have access to the Duchamp facilities and a $20 credit for breakfast or lunch at the nearby Costeaux Bakery. Visit

For those on a more modest budget, I would highly recommend the family-friendly Hotel Trio Healdsburg by Marriott located on Dry Creek Road about 2 miles from downtown Healdsburg. A shuttle or bicycles are available. Each large room has a full kitchen. Across the street is Big John’s Market where you can find the makings for dining in or wine country picnics. Visit

Dining in Healdsburg

My favorites include Willi’s Seafood, Chalkboard, Campo Fina, Valette and Barn Diva for wine country cuisine. For upscale Mexican food, go to El Farolito, just off the square and get the Molcajete. For breakfast or Sunday brunch go to Costeaux Bakery or grab coffee and a donut muffin at Downtown Creamery (great ice cream too!). Jimtown Store is an essential visit for all visitors to Healdsburg. Located just 15 minutes from downtown on CA-128, this quaint country store and cafe is a Sonoma County landmark dating to 1895. The cafe offers breakfast and lunch with food that honors local farming by using sustainable, ethically raised, non-GMO California ingredients. The best Italian can be found a few miles north of Healdsburg in Geyserville at Diavola Pizzeria.

Staying in Santa Rosa

There are multiple chain hotels by Marriott, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, and Best Western, but I would check out The Astro Motel. This lodging was built in 1963 as a motor lodge was completely remodeled in 2017 in a fashionable urban style with 34 rooms. Each room is outfitted with original mid-century modern furnishings and much of it is for sale. Located downtown on Santa Rosa Ave., it is a haven for bike enthusiasts. Visit The owners also offer the Spinster Sisters Restaurant in Santa Rosa, my hands-down favorite place to dine in Santa Rosa. It has been named one of the essential restaurants of Sonoma County and Michelin wrote that the restaurant “reeks of good taste, not only in design but in their delicious range of food.

Dining in Santa Rosa

My favorites in addition to Spinsters Sisters include Sazón, Willie Bird’s, Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar, Cascabel and the venerable Willie’s Wine Bar which recently re-opened after the original restaurant was destroyed in the 2017 fire.

Staying in Sebastopol

I often base my stays in the Russian River Valley in Sebastopol at the Fairfield Inn & Suites. Other options to consider are the rental houses offered by Furthermore Winery that include a vineyard ranch house and a second quaint house in Occidental. If you have a large group, I would recommend The Lone Palm Wine Country Retreat and Offsite offered through airbnb. The magnificent property has 5 bedrooms, 3 baths and can sleep up to 16 guests. Located in a secluded, wooded, hillside with all the requisite amenities and only a 10 minute drive to downtown Sebastopol. My oldest son recently hosted 25 people here for a weekend retreat to celebrate his 40th birthday. Freeman Vineyard & Winery has a luxurious three bedroom, three bath guest home on the winery’s estate, next to Gloria Vineyard. It is available to wine club members and mailing list customers.

Dining in Sebastopol

My favorites include Underwood Bar & Bistro, Willow Wood Market Cafe and Mexico Lindo, all in nearby Graton, and K&L Bistro, Barrio, Fern Bar, and Backyard (in nearby Forestville).

Some Bests in Sonoma County

Best ice cream: Screamin’ Mimi’s in Sebastopol and Downtown Creamery in Healdsburg.
Best bakery including best bread: Red Bird Bakery in Cotati
Best market: Oliver’s in Cotati and Windsor
Best fish tacos: Handline in Sebastopol
Best hamburger: Underwood Bar & Bistro
Best coffee: Acre in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa
Best Mexican food: El Molino Central, Boyes Hot Springs, Sonoma
Best sushi: Hana in Rohnert Park
Best cheese: Cowgirl Creamery, Pt. Reyes Station
Best crab sandwich: Spud Point Crab Shack, Bodega Bay
Best clam chowder: Tony’s Seafood, Marshall
Best smoked turkey and smoked duck: WillieBird, Santa Rosa

Michelin Guide

California is now home to 90 Michelin-starred restaurants featured in the inaugural Michelin Guide California. Sonoma County restaurants include the following. Three Stars - SingleThread, Healdsburg. One Star - Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Santa Rosa, and Madrona Manor, Healdsburg.

Michelin Bib Gourmand California restaurants for 2019 were recently announced. Restaurants are highlighted that offer high-quality meals that include two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Sonoma County awardees: Backyard, Forestville, Bravas Bar de Tapas, Healdsburg, Chalkboard, Healdsburg, Diavola Pizzeria, Geyserville, El Molino Central, Sonoma, Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen, Ramen Gaijin, Sebastopol, Risibisi, Petaluma, and Stockholme, Petaluma.

Retail Wine

Wine retailers have largely faded from the winescape as wine buyers purchase wine directly from wineries either through tasting rooms or online. One retailer that has continued to thrive is Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa. I always head here when in the Russian River Valley because this no-frills warehouse store offers a huge selection of Sonoma County wines at rock-bottom prices. Unfortunately, Bottle Barn does not have all their wines available online. On my last trip to Sonoma County, I looked for value-priced Pinot Noir wines, particularly those that had won important medals at recent wine competitions. Awards in competitions are often based on price categories so a $12.99 wine is not competing with a $59.99 wine. Here are a few that I tasted. I have included the Bottle Barn price (BB) as well as the producer’s SRP.

2016 Sonnet Tondre’s Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $23.99 (BB), $33.99 (SRP). This stellar vineyard is sourced by a number of producers. I find this wine is a consistent, excellent, well-priced offering from winemaker Tony Craig. It is hard to find, possibly available from Silver Mountain Vineyards website, but every year the wine shows up at Bottle Barn. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Deep aromas of dark berries, purple grape, spice and a hint of toast. The flavors echo the aromas in a mid weight plus style that is very sleek and comforting on the palate. The fruit is ripe, but not overripe. Complimentary oak chimes in with notes of vanilla, anise and tobacco. The finish is long, fruit-filled and juicy. Score: 90

2016 CrossBarn (Paul Hobbs) Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $29.99 (BB), $39.99 (SRP). Gold Medal North Coast Wine Challenge. · Moderate garnet color in the class. Welcoming aromas of red cherry, red cranberry, herbs and dusty path. Delicately composed with a lighter weight core of red cherry fruit. More flavor intensity than one would expect from the elegant style. Very easygoing, with silky tannins, integrated oak, and some length on the finish. This wine exhibits the gossamer side of Pinot Noir and speaks of summer. Score: 90

2016 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.58, 15,741 cases, $25.99 (BB), $35 (SRP). Double Gold and Best of Class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Winemaker Greg Morthole, and consulting winemaker David Ramey. Clones 2A, 23, 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and Pommard. Harvest Brix 26.4º. 5-day cold soak, native yeast fermentation, aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 87% French and 13% Hungarian, 25% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. On the nose, black cherry shows up over time along with aromas of vanilla and charcoal. Much better on the palate, with a plethora of black cherry, black raspberry and spice flavors in a middleweight style. A friendly wine with integrated tannins. A trace of alcoholic warmth shows up on the finish. Score: 89

2016 Balletto Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.59, $19.99 (BB), $29 (SRP). Double Gold 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and Gold Medal at the North Coast Wine Competition. Estate grown and bottled. Winegrower John Balletto and winemaker Anthony Beckman. Aged in 100% French oak barrels, 32% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Enticing aromas of Bing cherry and dark rose petal. Dark cherry and berry fruits are featured in a harmonious, accessible, mid weight style with staying power on the finish. Score: 89

2016 Cinque Insieme Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 220 cases, $12.99 (BB), SRP N/A. Cellared and bottled by Cinque Insieme (CHEEN-kway) in Santa Rosa and crafted by winemaker Justin Lattanzio. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The very savory nose offers aromas of underbrush, pine cone, mulch and fertile earth. Ripe-fruited in a mid weight style, featuring black fruits, a hint of stem and a thread of piney oak. Sleek in the mouth with some finishing length. Score: 87

2017 Line 39 California Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $7.99 (BB), $12.99 (SRP). Vinted and bottled by Line 39 in Parlier, CA. Gold Medal San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, splintered wood and vanilla creme. Light to mid weight in concentration and cherry driven, with underlying notes of oak-driven marzipan and vanilla. A simple, easily quaffable wine. Score: 86

2016 Laurier Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $11.99 (BB), $15.99 (SRP). Vinted and bottled by Laurier Vineyards, Sonoma. Bob Stashak is the winemaker. Part of the Bronco Wine Co. portfolio. Double Gold and Best of Class at the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Small amount of Tannat, Malbec and Proprietary red grapes included (5% or less of each). Aged in American oak barrels. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose is nondescript, even unpleasant, with only a hint of muddled cherry and raisin. Light to mid weight in style, offering flavors of blackest cherry, prune and almonds. A bit awkward in an elegant style with a modest finish. The wine tastes much riper than the ABV would indicate. Score: 84

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