Russian River Valley Tour

We call it research…

Just like anyone who is interested in wine, Mark and I love to explore different wine regions.  Every year, we join forces with another couple and hit the road for a “wine journey”.  The four of us have tromped all over Santa Barbara, Napa, Sonoma, the Willamette Valley, the Chianti, Montepulciano and Montalcino regions in Italy; and we’ve loved every place we’ve found.

One member of our group is a huge lover of Russian River Pinot Noir, so this year we decided to explore the Northern California Wine Region, and it did not disappoint!  We rented a Wine Country Farmhouse in a vineyard in Healdsburg, California as our home base.  It was a lovely house with all the amenities we could want, so we spent our days tasting wine and our evenings making dinners to pair with the wines that we brought home.



We explored so many vineyards and wineries!  We can highly recommend Healdsburg Wine Tours!  Sid will pick you up for your private tour and drive you around while you get the lay of the land!  Sid set up some great experiences for us with some exclusive Alexander Valley wineries we would have never found on our own.  We started our tour at Medlock Ames with a tour of the farm and winery and a lovely wine tasting.  Kathleen Kelly prepared a delicious wine and food pairing for us at Kelly & Young Wines and we ended our day with some wonderful Viognier at Starlite Vineyards.  All of these wineries treated us to a great day of fine wines, but it’s the people you meet that make the day most memorable!  So, when we go home and open our shipments from these wineries, we’ll savor both the wines and the memories!


Medlock Ames Wine Tasting

We spent the next two days finding wineries and tasting rooms in and around Healdsburg.  Here’s a list of our top picks…these are wines that are worth the trip!

Gary Farrell Winery – Excellent Pinot Noir and beautiful views from the tasting room!

Thomas George Estates – You have to love any winery in a cave!

Sanglier Cellars – It was great to meet a fellow Texan living the wine life in California!

Hawley Winery – Not just winemakers in the family, but also woodworkers!  Go to their tasting room and check out their barrel-stave wine bar!


As always, we work on finding great food to go with great wine!  Usually, that means lunch at a restaurant and cooking dinner “at home” after wine-tasting.  As usual, we hit some great lunch places!  We stuffed ourselves at Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa while making our way to Healdsburg…pork belly dumplings, truffle fries, BBQ duck, Mu Shu Bacon Crepes and a terrific Chassuer Pinot Noir!  Other notable restaurants:

Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar – Great seafood plates for sharing…and the chef recognizes the gourmet factor that can be found in Fritos!

Bravas Bar de Tapas– Excellent Spanish tapas!  Our server actually convinced us Texans that “riblets” were a food and not what is found on a McDonald’s McRib Sandwich!  “Not bad” was the collective judgment of the table.

Barndiva – A “must try” with a great farm to table menu!  Beautiful setting and elegant dishes!

When we cook “at home” on vacation, we try to make sure it will be as standout as any restaurant we would find.  That means finding the best places to shop.  So, we found The Healdsburg Shed and loaded up on goodies.  Later, we found ourselves making tomato bruschetta with burrata cheese, home-made gnocchi with “deconstructed meatballs”, and duck-egg croque-monsieur, as we watched the sun go down over the vineyards every evening.

Most of the time, we “wing-it’ when it comes to menu planning on vacation, but we did have one special dinner in mind before we even left Houston.  We set our hearts on re-creating a delicious Bistecca Fiornetina we all shared at Antico Ristoro di Cambi in Florence, Italy the year before.  We heard that Big John’s Market had the best meat counter in town, so we stopped in to order a couple of Porterhouse steaks.  The service is so good at Big John’s that the Butcher came out to see what we were going to do with these glorious cuts of meat, just to make sure he got it right.  When we told him “Bistecca Fiorentina”, he went on to explain how Thomas Keller at the French Laundry uses a torch to sear the outside before grilling the steak.  Noting that we probably did not have a torch at our rental house, he told us we could get similar sear results with a super-hot cast-iron skillet.  Between the fresh beef and produce, this recipe, and tips from Big John’s Butcher, we had a delicious meal that night!  We paired our steak with a 2011 Thomas George Zinfandel…that meal was a highlight of the vacation!

They say that “all good things must come to an end” but when it comes to our annual wine trips, I couldn’t disagree more.  As we return home with our friends, some of the wine we discover always comes home with us.  Each time we open a bottle, we reminisce about our last journey and plan the next one!

If you’re headed to the Northern California Wine Country in the near future, contact me for more information!

All the Best,


Shannon Noelle Crow