Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Wining and Dining in Healdsburg Part 1

Wining and Dining in Healdsburg Part 1
Mark Gapinski, CSW

I’ve been fortunate to visit some of the world’s great wine towns: Montalcino in Tuscany, Lograño in Rioja, Bernkastel in the Moselle and Beaune in Burgundy. All are in the middle of wine-producing areas and feature tasting rooms, fine dining, and interesting shops. One of my favorite wine towns in the United States is Healdsburg in the Sonoma Valley. Recently, my wife and I spent a few days there. I’m happy to report on some great wining and dining experiences that might be helpful when you‘re planning your next visit.

We based ourselves at The Duchamp Hotel, just a short walk from Healdsburg Plaza. The Duchamp features six detached cottages arrayed around a swimming pool and hot tub area. The cottages are furnished in a modern, euro-feel style that was especially comfortable.

We arrived in Healdsburg a little earlier than we had anticipated, so we put our extra time to good use by stopping by the Siduri tasting room off the square. It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon, and the town was pretty dead. The young man working in the tasting room seemed genuinely excited to see a customer, especially one who loves talking about wine. He generously poured us a tasting of six single vineyard Pinot Noirs ranging from Oregon in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. That’s 1001 miles of Pinot Noir! True to my tendencies, my favorite was from the Zena Crown vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. We currently stock the Siduri Russian River and Willamette Valley Pinots if you’d like to get an idea of their style.

The next morning, after a quick breakfast at Costeaux, a French bakery across the street from the Duchamp and a stop at the Oakville Grocery to snag a take away lunch, we were on the road to Sebastapol for our first visit of the day, a winery I have long admired, Littorai.

My good friends Al and Jan Webber are also friends with Littorai founder and winemake Ted Lemon. I want to thank them for helping to arrange our visit. Ted received his enology degree at the Université de Dijon and became the first American winemaker and vineyard manager at Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault. He has worked at many prestigious Burgundy estates, including the iconic Domaine Dujac in Morey St. Denis. Needless to say, Ted’s style is very terroir focused, striving to produce wines of place. His approach to vineyard management could best be termed reverential. Viticultural practices are about 85% biodynamic, with the remainder being organic. Animals are allowed to roam the vineyards to graze on cover crops between rows and provide fertilizer. If making great wines starts in the vineyard, it is no wonder that Littorai wines are routinely among the best.

(Pictured below are Ted Lemon, my wife Connie, and me.)

We tasted a couple of Chardonnays including the 2021 Mays Canyon. This Chardonnay was bright and refreshing with lemon notes and a nice mineral streak that reminded me of Chablis. The fires made 2020 a very difficult year. Littorai made no wine from their Sonoma Coast vineyards except for the Mays Canyon. Fruit from the Anderson Valley vineyards was heavily sorted, and a lot was declassified. Thus, much smaller quantities of the 2020 Pinots were produced, but the quality was excellent. We tasted the 2020 Savoy and Wentling E Block Pinots, and both were delicious, elegant wines with enough power to require a few years of aging to really hit their stride. We were delighted to be able to meet Ted during our visit! LIttorai wines are beautifully made by people passionate about their craft.  Unfortunately they are not distributed in Indiana, but next time you are in Chicago, they are well worth seeking out.

After enjoying our Oakville Grocery pack lunch, we ventured to our next tasting. Vérité is a Jackson Family Wines property located in a somewhat remote area east of Healdsburg. Jess Jackson sought to produce a world-class wine from the prime vineyards he owned in the Sonoma Valley. In 1997 he successfully convinced vigneron and Bordeaux native Pierre Seillan to come to Sonoma to produce such a wine, and Vérité came to life. Success came quickly. The first Vérité vintage, a 1998 Merlot-based blend, received 95 points from the major wine publications. Subsequently, Vérité wines have received 17 perfect 100-point scores from the Wine Advocate. Having taken their place among the world’s best, Vérité wines are priced accordingly. The 2018s retail somewhere well north of $400.

Vigneron Peter Seillan and his daughter, Hélène, are responsible for creating the blend that will make up each wine. As many as 50 different samples to choose from are open on the blending table. It takes a while, but in the end, each wine tastes exactly how they’d like it to. The wines we tasted were superb. They were beguiling in that the aromas and tastes seemed both new world and old world at the same time. Each wine revealed itself slowly, with new aromas and tastes emerging with each sampling. All three had excellent structure (tannins and acid) that will enable them to develop for many years in the bottle. It was instructive to compare the 2019 and 2010 Le Désir. While the 2010 is still only a youngster, it was intriguing to see the evolution of flavors. I would be hard-pressed to declare a favorite, but in the end, I think the 2019 Le Désir would be my choice. I want to thank Deanna Dwyer from Jackson Family Wines Spire Collection for arranging our visit.

After these tastings, I can’t possibly tell you about our dinner that night without appearing to be an insufferable hedonist. Perhaps in a week or two.

Mark Gapinski's Trip to Healdsburg Part 2....