One of the best things about California Wine Country is that there always are new restaurants and tasting rooms to explore.
We live here—in the northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg—so we get to enjoy this perk year-round. For visitors, however, a tactical approach is necessary to cram the best of the best into one vacation.
With that in mind, consider my wife and me your personal Sonoma County research assistants, and heed our advice about the following restaurants and tasting experience that opened toward the end of 2016.
Foodies all over the world cheered in December at the opening of Single Thread, a new high-end restaurant in Healdsburg.
Executive chef Kyle Connaughton, who most recently ran the experimental kitchen at The Fat Duck in Bray, England, helms the eatery, which offers one seating of an 11-course, fixed-price meal each night. Connaughton did the bulk of his culinary training in Japan, and as a result, Single Thread features an overwhelmingly Japanese vibe. Most dishes also incorporate fresh and seasonal produce grown on the restaurant’s nearby five-acre farm, which is run by Katina Connaughton, the chef’s wife.
The meal at Single Thread costs $294 per person (and does not include wine), and is set up like a Japanese kaiseki, which comprises a progression of courses that celebrate the seasons. According to Connaughton, the place also revolves around the Japanese concept of shun, which has to do with seasonality, but takes it down to a micro level.
My wife and I dined at Single Thread on the last night of media previews, and were blown away at how different it was. The flavors were familiar, yet we felt like we had hopped on a plane and flown to Japan for the night.
Our favorite part is the canape course, which kicked off the evening with 12 or 13 different single-bite dishes. Sure, the rest of the plates were amazing, but we could have eaten the little ones all night long.
The second recent restaurant opening in this part of the county is a bit more curious; it’s a new eatery from filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola that sports a hard-to-pronounce name and a Native American themed menu.
The name: Werowocomoco, is pronounced Wero-wo-como-ko, and it is at Virginia Dare Winery, Coppola’s newest property. Named after a 17th century Algonquin settlement, the restaurant follows in the footsteps of Virginia Dare Winery’s heritage, which is steeped in Native American folklore and early American winemaking.
The restaurant menu focuses on local ingredients what Coppola calls “a zestful accent.” The resulting dishes are peculiar, but delicious. Like fry bread tacos. And venison chili. Or bison ribs with a berry barbecue sauce and river-harvested wild rice with cranberries.
The restaurant’s interior is small—with only 66 seats—but Werowocomoco has a big patio, with views of the Alexander Valley. The views alone make the experience worthwhile.
Wine tastings often blend together (no pun intended) in Wine Country. You’re swirling. You’re sipping. Often you’re at a bar. Perhaps this is why three new tasting experiences grabbed our attention toward the end of 2016.
The first offering, from Gary Farrell Vineyards, in the Russian River Valley, unfolds in a “glamping” tent overlooking the wilderness just beyond the winery crushpad. Yes, you’re swirling and sipping exquisite chardonnay and pinot noir. But you’re swirling and sipping from inside a luxury tent. The experience was born of necessity; the folks at Gary Farrell had to refurbish their tasting room, and wanted to offer guests some sort of high-end alternative in the interim. This $35-per-person gig was their answer.
Technically, the new option is called the “Woodland Tasting.” Each seats up to 10 people. Each lasts about an hour. Each is run by a VIP host. And each requires that you make reservations, so plan ahead.
Viewfinder Tip: Consider visiting Wine Country mid-week to avoid weekend crowds.
The second new tasting option is actually at a brand-new small-batch winery: Reeve Wines.
This property, out in the Dry Creek Valley, specializes in lighter wines—rose, riesling, and pinor noir. Tastings, which are $15 apiece, are held on a patio at a villa in the woods; when the 45-minute experience is done, hosts Kelly and Noah Dorrance invite guests to walk around and meet the goats.
The 50-acre property at Reeve also has a four-bedroom home that is available as a vacation rental. Because the home sits up on a bench of mountains on the north side of the valley, the spacious patio and pool deck serve unobstructed and panoramic views of the entire region. Another benefit of staying in the house: Your “minibar” is the on-site cellar, which comprises Reeve wines and select wines from other family-owned local wineries.
The third and final new-ish tasting experience in northern Sonoma these days is right in the middle of downtown Healdsburg: Siduri Wines.
This winery is a single-vineyard pinot house, and the tasting experience includes samples from the winery’s offerings from Sonoma County, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County. Tastings are served through a draught system; if you want food with your wine, you can opt to have small food pairings with each pour, too.
Prices for the experiences vary from $20 to $45. Whichever way you go, you’ll be in epicurean heaven.
What are your favorite Wine Country destinations?