Article by Anna Cavaliere, photos by W.C. Enoteca

Just 80 miles north of San Francisco, in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, is the town of Healdsburg.  Situated within easy walking distance of the town’s historic square, and its chic shops, restaurants and tasting rooms, is the Honor Mansion. This AAA Four Diamond award small luxury resort has earned itself a stellar reputation for unsurpassed level of service, great food, stunning surroundings, and hospitality bar none. This was what Steve and Cathi Fowler set out to achieve when they purchased the property in 1994 and, after an extensive 6-month renovation, the home was restored to its original beauty – and then some.  Originally built in 1883 in the Italianate Victorian Style, nowadays guests can relax and be pampered in luxury in one of their thirteen rooms and suites. All are exquisitely decorated and include private baths, feather beds, Egyptian towels, European linens, imported toiletries, and fresh flowers. And, just in case you forgot to pack a toothbrush or some other essential, a “Butler’s Basket’ comes to the rescue.

The full gourmet breakfast is a leisurely affair, a time to savour lovingly prepared delicacies that tantalize your taste buds.  In addition to fruit dishes, guests can choose Honor Mansion Breakfast Strata or Honor Mansion Eggs Benedict, both of which I can highly recommend. Rest assured you will not suffer hunger pangs. For 24 hours a day guests have access to Cappuccino machine, soda fridge, cookies and snacks. Your thirst can be quenched at the wine appetizer hour. The stunning grounds are surrounded by 120 rose bushes, along with vegetable and herb gardens. A quarter acre Zinfandel vineyard is the perfect backdrop for those looking for peace and tranquility, as are the two outdoor spa pavilions where you can treat yourself to a relaxing massage. For visitors hankering to exercise their muscles, the property offers a quarter mile jogging/walking trail, a regulation croquet lawn, tournament bocce ball court, basketball, tennis courts, and a PGA designed putting green. Other amenities such as personal voicemail and internet service will appeal to the seasoned traveler.Guests come from around the globe to stay at the Mansion and, with such a magnificent ambiance it’s no wonder that the average stay is more than five nights.  All details on the Honor Mansion can be obtained by visiting www.honormansion.com, calling 1-800-554-4667 or writing innkeeper@honormansion.com.


A stay at the Honor Mansion is incomplete with a visit to the more than 100 wineries to be discovered in and around Sonoma County. Sadly, time restraints were such that we had to content ourselves with a visit to only a handful.

Bella Winery

Owners Scott and Lynn Allan came across the property on a bike tour and promptly fell in love with the area. Located at 9711 West Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, and standing on Lily Hill, the vineyard is one of three that were bought in 1996 (one is in Alexander Valley). Their first vintage was in 1999, with 95% of all they produced sold directly to their wine club members, with the remaining going to restaurants in New York and California. Completed in 2003, their caves boast 5,200 square feet of barrel storage and working space, along with 1,500 square feet of entertainment space that comprises a dining room, tasting area and music room. Here members can attend winemaker dinners, wine tastings, cooking classes and musical performances.
Focusing on unique Zinfandel and Rhone varietals, and employing their philosophy of strictly limited production, they concentrate on small portions of the vineyard for wines that reflect unique concentration and high quality fruit. Approximately 50% of their wines are put into French and American oak, with no more than 20% in new oak.The winery produces about 7,000 cases yearly of “serious wines for fun times”, with single-vineyard Zinfandel wines being their forte
We were introduced to Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2006, rich in flavour and colour, which delivered a delightful nose and a palate full of fruit. Strong tannins make this wine, and the 2006 Big River Ranch Zinfandel, ideally suited for cellaring for another 4-6 years. More information can be obtained by visiting www.bellawinery.com.

Dutcher Crossing
Winemaker Kerry Damskey released the first wines in November 2004.  Current owner, Debra Mathy purchased the winery in 2007 and, with her hands-on on-site approach, continues to build the winery’s brand.  Originally planted with Cabernet Sauvignon in the 70’s, replanting began 10 years ago with new clones of Cabernet. In 2003 the process was continued with Syrah, Petite Sirah and additional clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and lastly Rhone-style grapes.


Approximately 8,000 cases, mostly Zinfandel and Cabernet, are produced with a predominance of reds. The 2008 vintage displays amazing fruit, but is in limited quantity. The wines are sold only in California, or direct to consumers via on-line ordering for shipment to 30 states (sadly not in Canada).



All of the near dozen wines we tasted were exceptional, but a few stood out. One was the 2008 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a blend enhanced by 5% Viognier and 2% Semillon, which results in a rich, crisp, and inviting wine.  Easy sipping, it marries well with shrimp and oysters.  Another favourite was the glorious and complex 2007 Maple Vineyard “Bill’s Block” Zinfandel, enhanced with Petite Sirah, Mataro, and Carignane, that produces sensuous mouthfeel of fruit along with a hint of spice for a lingering and smooth finish.  The block where the grapes are grown is one of the top Zinfandel blocks in the country.

Wanting to create great wines that are unique, they source about 50% of the grapes to obtain the best quality fruit. The last gift Debra received from her father was a high-wheel bicycle, and this icon graces the new label as ‘commemoration of the journey and road ahead … and testament to the winery’s pursuit of small-lot winemaking .. as well as the timeless qualities of an artisan approach to life”.  www.dutchercrossingwinery.com.

Passalacqua Winery
Owners Jason and Noelle Passalacqua launched Passalacqua Winery in 2004, continuing the fourth generation of the family’s wine-making tradition. Its location at 3805 Lambert Bridge Road in historic Dry Creek Valley, overlooks an enchanting valley below.  Their three acres of vineyards are all planted with Zinfandel, but they also source grapes from other growers.

Wines are crafted by renowned winemaker Margaret Davenport, previously with Clos du Bois Winery. Individuals and groups can be accommodated in one of the winery’s two bars and private tasting areas, and experience for themselves these quality wines. Note that not all wines may be available for tasting, as some of those with small production are pulled out of general tasting, and then reserved and shipped to wine club members.

The 2007 Chardonnay, steel fermented, is fresh and clean, and goes down smoothly. The 2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, aged 9 months in French oak, displays characteristics of butterscotch aromas and flavours of peach and ripe pear and plays out with a lingering finish. The 2006 Estate Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, has a delicate nose of ripe raspberries, good tannins and plum flavour that gives way to a velvety finish. Aged in Hungarian oak, the bottle’s label honours Edith Passalacqua. Their oldest vines, 90+ years from the Maple Vineyard, produced grapes used for their 2005 Zinfandel Maple Vineyard, and the 2006 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine.  This last example exhibits rounded berry fruit aromas along with delicate peppery notes.
Plans are to keep production to less than 5,000 cases, 75% of which will be the red variety. Future plans to sell the wine by the case will make purchases by consumers more cost effective. With the exception of a few select restaurants, all of the 5,000 cases produced are exclusively available at either their tasting room on Lambert Bridge Road, or via their website at www.PassalacquaWinery.com for
shipment to most states.

Mauritson Vineyards and Winery
Carrying on the work begun by his forefathers 133 years ago, Clay Mauritson launched his winery in 1998 and built the existing facility and tasting room in 2002 at 2859 Dry Creek Road.

Clay’s philosophy is that exceptional fruit is needed to make exceptional wine.  The approximate 270 acres of estate vineyards, together with sourcing from other growers’ vineyards and appellations, guarantees the winery’s access to a variety of terroir or farming styles and, thus, the best of Sonoma’s fruit.

The family’s original Rockpile homestead and ranch, where premium mountain fruit is grown, numbered 4,000 acres by the early 1960’s. However, all but 700 of these acres were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop Lake Sonoma. The Rockpile Appellation has an elevation that spans between 800-200 feet, and it sits on an active earthquake fault.  Its rough terrain is tempered with a unique climatic condition of low moisture, moderate air temperature, and a constant breeze. The stressing of the vines results in low yields of highly concentrated fruit to render compelling wines.

The commanding 2007 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel is fashioned from tiny berries, from nine distinctly different blocks of Zinfandel. Ultimately, this translates into a wine with explosive flavours of berries on the palate, which begins with a hint of sweetness but finishes dry and strong. The 2007 harvest is touted as being one of the best vintages for Zinfandel in the past 15 years.

The 2006 Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel is a “Zin made like a Cabernet”.  Aged for 2 years in French oak, this ‘dual personality’ wine rewards the consumer with the pronounced fruitiness, minerality and spiciness of a Zin, along with Cabernet’s complexity and tannins. These characteristic not only make the wine drinkable now, but gives it another ten years of cellaring potential.
So that each wine is an exemplary reflection of each vineyard, fermentation of their wines is typically open-top, with punchdowns made by hand, along with the use of native yeasts. A firm believer in adopting uthentic methods in developing other style wines, Clay planted four of the ‘big five’ Portuguese varietals, including the Torega Nacional, on the Rockpile property to produce their port-style “Independence”. Go to www.mauritsonwines.com for more information.

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Located in the heart of Healdsburg, at 700 Grove Street, The Seghesio Family Vineyards has been in operation since 1895 when its founder Edoardo Seghesio first planted Zinfandel on his Alexander Valley property. This ‘green’ winery is committed to minimizing its impact on the land and ecosystem, and undertakes a variety of sustainability practices (energy and water usage) and organic production exercises (composting, native and seeded cover crops, etc.) to ensure a high quality of hand-farmed fruit. Their lifeline is the Zinfandel grape, but the winery also stays true to its roots of Italian varietals such as Arneis, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Fiano (Sonoma’s first grower of this variety).
After nearly a century of grape-growing, in 1983 the family produced its first wines under the Seghesio label. By 1993 approximately 130,000 cases were produced but a decision was made to focus on quality instead of quality and today about 85,000 cases are produced and exported to 40 countries, including Canada. In the tasting room, the public can enjoy the wines, which can be followed with a tasting menu of a changing selection of family recipes that have been handed down through the generations.

Along with a special lunch prepared for our pleasure, we relished a variety of wines including the Arneis 2008, made with the little-known Piedmont Arneis grape variety, and fermented in stainless steel. This wine’s fresh flavour of pear and stone fruit is impeccably coupled with minerality and notes of citrus. It is a wonderful accompaniment to mild cheeses, spicy Thai and Indian cuisine, sushi, risotto and seafood. Their Super Tuscan “2003 Omaggio”,is made with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon (also grown on their property) and 40% Sangiovese and undergoes 16 months barrel aging in French oak (40% new). It can be ideally served with game dishes, beef and lamb.

To learn more about Seghesio Family Vineyards, go to www.seghesio.com.

ZINfully delicious gastronomy

Costeaux French Bakery & Café

When it was founded in 1923 in Healdsburg by Karl and Nancy Seppi, this French-American bakery produced just breads. They’ve expanded since those days, and this family-owned and operated eatery now offers breakfast all day long, lunch and hot entrees, and sandwiches – all of which are made with fresh and local ingredients, and all positively fabulous!

Accommodating dining service for up to 80 people, this locale can also handle on-site private parties and receptions. Freshly baked products include sourdough bread, specialty breads, dessert, pastries and cookies, cakes and wedding cakes to name a few. Their claim to fame is a record in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest pumpkin pie in the world. They also participated in the Largest Tortilla In the World
Contest, and were recently named the 2009 Nationally Acclaimed Retail Bakery of the Year. For the second year in a row, their signature Ciabatta won the Best of Show for Professional French Bread, with their Walnut Baguette and Rustic Batard garnering double gold medals.
On July 14th, for Bastille Day celebrations, the bakery puts on their own show of Can-Can dancers as well as activities for children. Breakfast with Santa on weekends in December is a popular annual event, too.

Since its inception, the bakery has been a favourite with the locals but, in peak season, they have to share this gem with wine country enthusiasts and visitors from other parts of California, the U.S. and even international destinations.
With a firm tradition of community service, the family constantly gives back to the town in myriad ways, including the donation of a large cake that served more than 3,000 attendees who celebrated Healdsburg’s 150th anniversary in 2007. For award winning cuisine, and flawless service, visit this premier venue at 417 Healdsburg Avenue, www.costeaux.com.

Chef/owner Josh Silvers, and his wife Regina, opened Syrah in 1999 to glowing reviews, since then earning recognition as one of the best dining establishments in Santa Rosa. Josh’s initial foray into the culinary arts began with mastering French cuisine. Later in his career, he worked under Cindy Pawlcyn at Mustard’s Grill in Napa, where he embraced a freer approach to California homestyle cooking.  An active Slow Food member, his cooking incorporates a wide selection of organic and sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables available to him. The end results are comfort food dishes that taste as wonderful as they look!

You can make your selection from their seasonal and revolving menu, or choose either a four or seven-course “tasting menu”, with optional wine pairing.  The chef, guided by his whims, will then prepare a special menu for your table, taking into account any food allergies, preferences, and aversions.  You will not be disappointed! Look on your local bookstore shelf for the book “Down Home, Downtown” which Josh co-authored released in September 2009.

It’s only natural that Syrah occupies place of honour on the restaurant’s wine offerings, along with other Rhone varietals. The ever-changing wine list, however, also comprises prevalent varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as some little-known types.

Located on 205 - 5th Street in Santa Rosa, this eatery’s industrial décor offers a clear view of the kitchen, which adds another dimension to your dining experience. Call 707 568-4002 or visit www.syrahbistro.com for information and reservations.

Pan Roasted Liberty Farms Duck Breast: “Black Barley Risotto”, Swiss Chard Pomegranate Molasses & DaVero Vinaigrette.
Grilled Montana Legend New York Steak  - Rock Shrimp, Potato, and Leek Hash, Choron Butter


Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar
Chef/owner Mark Stark can be justly proud of the thirty different menu items that demonstrate his boundless creativity. 

Our 3-course dinner began with Tasmanian Salmon Crudo, blood Orange, Black Bean-Chill Oil and Charred Rare Ahi, Cucumber, Avocado, Truffled Soy, accompanied by a 2007 Longbard Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River.  There followed the Flash Fried Fresh Calamari, Orange Chili Gremolata and Grilled Local Asparagus “Old Bay”.  The third course was Dean’s Salt and Pepper Baby Back Riblets, with a side of the Uni & Bay Scallop ‘macaroni (a new take on macaroni and cheese).  A scrumptious dessert of Bev’s famous Mudslide Shooters completed our unforgettable dinner.
The restaurant is small in size, but the informal atmosphere packs a large dose of relaxing fun for diners. This upbeat bar is located at 403 Healdsburg Avenue, in Healdsburg. Visitors can call 707 433-9122 for more information or reservations.

 Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar
When Zin opened in 1999, co-owners and childhood friends Jeff Mall and Scott Silva utilized their unique talents to establish the restaurant as one of the most popular dining destinations in Sonoma.

Executive Chef Jeff Mall graduated from The Culinary Institute of America, and returned to California where he worked with a number of respected chefs and ultimately created his own version of Americana comfort dishes.  Jeff uses fresh ingredients, especially the seasonal vegetables grown in their own garden (they’re famous for their heirloom tomatoes) and uses these to make their own catsup, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise and pickles.

Their Blue Plate Special, varied according to season, can run the range of “Maple Roast Turkey with Drunken Cranberry Sauce, Sage Sausage Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy” to “Spicy Meatloaf with Wild Mushroom Zin Gravy, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Fresh Peas and Carrots”. For me, the dinner’s highlight was the beer battered fried green beans - a true celebration of taste.   
With a degree in Hospitality Management from  the University of San Francisco under his belt, Scott Silva went on to study food and wine pairings at Ecole Hotelliere Lausanne in Switzerland.  Arriving back in California, he took up a number of positions as food and beverage manager, the perfect training ground for creating Zin’s famous Wine Bar … a veritable showcase of Sonoma County wines that partner harmoniously with the restaurant’s seasonal dishes.  Visit www.zinrestaurant.com to learn more about this eatery.







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