Healdsburg Wine Tour
CRAIG OUTHIER September 6, 2022
Savor the fruits of picking season in Sonoma County’s out-of-the-way wonder.
Name-checked on countless Best Small Towns in America lists and endowed with a buxom selection of tasting rooms and boutiques, Healdsburg is a secret no more. Once a little-visited outlier on the Sonoma wine trail, the town now sits squarely on the wine-getaway A-list – propelled by a flurry of positive press coverage over the past decade.
Still, the thing I love best about the Sonoma County town is leaving it – or more precisely, hopping on a bike and gliding around the rolling, winery-encrusted foothills just a few miles up the road from all those boutiques, restaurants and galleries.
“Let me know if you want to slow down the pace,” the tour gu
ide tells our small group, as we gear down and round a bend on leafy West Dry Creek Road. After my biking experiences in Napa – hotter, more congested and generally just hairier – this self-propelled wine tour is literally a breath of fresh air.
Founded by a Midwestern land-squatter in the years following the Gold Rush, Healdsburg resides about 30 miles north of Sonoma and Napa, but those 30 miles buys you a lot – less hubbub, shorter waits and a sleepier, more genteel vibe, even with the new notoriety. And for a town of 11,000, it boasts one of the densest hospitality biomes you’ll find in California, which explains all those best-small-town accolades.
The smallness is not so unusual. The confluence of art, wine, food and fitness is something else.
Hoofing it Downtown
Can’t decide whether to start your walking tour of downtown Healdsburg with a visit to an art gallery or a wine tasting? Cover both in one fell swoop at The Harris Gallery Art & Wine Collection (theharrisgallery.com), a singular marriage of two great Northern California traditions that will effortlessly eat up a half day of your visit.
Founded in the early 2000s by abstract painter M.C. Harris and his son, A3L3XZAND3R, the gallery is set in a gorgeous, turn-of-the-century stacked granite building with distinctive Italianate arches. It originally served as the town’s first bank. Today it houses Harris’ bold, colorist landscapes and subtly vaginal, O’Keeffe-ish floral canvases; and A3L3XZAND3R’s eerily ennobling scenes of windswept clouds and silent countrysides. Both artists’ work is democratically positioned throughout the gallery’s many offices, hallways and anterooms.
The gallery also has a pleasant outdoor lounge where you can sample the Harrises’ proprietary collection of austere, Burgundy-style wines. Favoring grapes from the Anderson Valley north of Healdsburg, where cool sea winds create an advantageously taxing climate for winegrowers, the Harris family turns the outsourced fruit over to winemakers Wells Guthrie and Leo Hansen, who create low-alcohol, naturalistic stunners like the 2020 Sterling Ranch Chenin Blanc, replet
e with honeydew and mineral notes. Each vintage includes wine-label art created by the Harris boys themselves, adding a fun second dimension for collectors or talking point for dinner parties.
My suggestion: Start with the tasting, then order a full glass and tour the gallery. Makes those cloudscapes and suggestive tulips even more engrossing.
The Harris Gallery is one of roughly two dozen fine art shops in Healdsburg, not counting the de facto artist exhibits you’ll find in its many tasting rooms. Sometimes the tasting room itself is the artwork, which is certainly the case at Marine Layer Wines on Center Street, launched in 2021. Designed by local Sonoma design firm Hommeboys, the tasting room has a lounge-y, low-slung chicness that’s unmistakably Californian – if you’ve never sipped Chenin Blanc on a futon, here’s your chance – combined with magisterial steel tones and arches. Cool place, and the wines – sourced from various vineyards around the Sonoma Coast, including Marine Layer’s own estate vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills – are uniformly complex and balanced, including a tartly high-toned 2019 Lyra Pinot Noir.
Stepping out into the midday sunlight, you’ll find another 35 or so tasting rooms lined up on Center Street and nearby storefronts – and considering the Darwinistic dynamic at play here, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find a dud in the bunch.
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