One of my favorite things to do in Northern California is indulge in long lunches at wineries, ideally with panoramic vineyard views. I appreciate the opportunity to sample hard-to-find bottlings with fine food, and more important, it’s just great fun. On this trip, we took time for three such lunches: one in the Dry Creek Valley several miles north of the town of Healdsburg, one in Healdsburg itself and one in Carneros in southern Sonoma County. Each was a delight. I only regret that we didn’t have the chance to try Jordan’s “Paris on the Terrace” lunch, which was sold out by the time we tried to make reservations. Next time!
Located along a wonderfully picturesque winding road in the tranquil Dry Creek Valley, this winery opened to visitors in 2018. Owner Mary Roy took winemaking classes remotely from University of California, Davis. After she graduated, she sold her radiology clinic outside Chicago and bought this winery and the vineyards around it. She also creates the delicious lunches served on Cāpo Creek’s hillside patio, overlooking a plot of old Zinfandel vines stretching to the opposite side of the valley.
On the day we visited, we had the splendid view entirely to ourselves; there were no other guests. We sat at a shady table overlooking the vineyards and nibbled olives grown on the property, paired with a rosé of Grenache and Zinfandel that had some surprising dark-orange acids and a zing of spiciness. The wine also worked well with a cool and silky plum soup garnished with basil ice cream. Next, a full-bodied blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier both mirrored and cut through the fattiness of some squash gratin with fontina.
The reds were even better. A mozzarella-stuffed piquillo pepper with a balsamic reduction brought out the peppery side of some surprisingly tannic Grenache Noir, and my favorite, the “Eva’s Vineyard” Old Vine Zinfandel had dark (but not heavy) fruit enhanced by a note of sweet green tobacco and well-integrated tannins. It was an ideal foil for a savory kolacky filled with fontina and topped with melted leek. The bowl of spaghetti Bolognese wouldn’t have thrilled an Italian, but it tasted just fine with an elegant Rhône-style blend. And finally, a ripe and dusky Cabernet Sauvignon — the only wine not made from estate fruit — had a lift of freshness and zesty acidity. It was surprisingly good with cassis ice cream.
This lunch was not inexpensive, but the quality of the food and wine and the exclusivity of the experience merited the price. It was my favorite winery lunch of the trip.
7171 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Tel. (707) 608-8448
As delightful as it is to dine overlooking vineyards, I also appreciate being able to walk to a wine-focused lunch. Williamson has a contemporary tasting room and restaurant in downtown Healdsburg, a few minutes on foot from the Hotel Les Mars and SingleThread Inn. The company doesn’t have a distributor, which means its wines are available for sale only at the tasting room or via its website. They have cloying names, like “Enchant” and “Seduce,” and the winery is not doing itself any favors by listing the names of top Bordeaux châteaux alongside the Williamson wines intended to emulate them. For example, the “Impulse” Cabernet is a delicious wine that I would have enjoyed much more without the comparison to Château Margaux. I’ve been to Château Margaux, and it’s no Château Margaux.
That said, our lunch felt indulgent, and the wines were excellent. We booked the “Reserve Wines” food pairing from among the several options on the website and sat down on the front patio. Adam, our good-humored waiter and tasting guide, started us off with the “Amourette” Chardonnay, Williamson’s answer to Montrachet. I can’t deny that it had well-balanced butteriness, lively acidity and driving focus. The wine mellowed with a small but luxurious sandwich of toasted brioche topped with fresh blue crab and Kaluga caviar. With a hard-to-match dish of white asparagus coated in a mushroom demi-glace and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, we sipped the “Passion” Pinot Noir. This spicy and fruity wine cut right through the earthy richness of the dish. The aforementioned “Impulse” Cabernet was fragrant and complex, with rich fruit and supple tannins. It was a superb palate refresher between bites of perfectly medium-rare New York strip steak topped with blue cheese compound butter and grated duck egg. And the “Cherish Mélange,” a Merlot-based blend inspired by Cheval Blanc, echoed the raspberries and chocolate curls topping corn financier in the dessert.
Adam offered to pour us tastes of other wines that caught our eye, and I was curious about the “Bliss” Sparkling Shiraz. An Australian invention, sparkling Shiraz gets little respect; at best it resembles a decent Lambrusco. But Williamson lavishes care on the stuff, aging it for 22 months in French oak. It has a basket of fruit flavors — blackberry, plum, cranberry, sour cherry — followed by a touch of vanilla and some rather dusty tannins. It’s a serious wine! If you have the opportunity, give it a try. I can’t imagine you’ll find a better example.
18 Matheson Street, Healdsburg. Tel. (707) 433-1500
Carneros, an appellation that spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, is a cooler area well-suited to the production of sparkling wine. Justly acclaimed Domaine Carneros is perhaps the area’s most famous producer, with its grand château-like winery on the road up to Napa, but it’s certainly not the only one. I also am very fond of Gloria Ferrer, which (like Domaine Carneros) employs the time-consuming Méthode Traditionelle to make its estimable wines, as they do in the Champagne region.
An allée of olive trees curves through the vineyards leading up to the hillside winery and tasting room, which has an umbrella-shaded terrace with magnificent views across a wide swath of the valley. Our knowledgeable waiter welcomed us to the “Culinary Wine Pairing” we had reserved with glasses of Gloria Ferrer Brut, the winery’s signature sparkler. It had bit of toastiness in its aroma — always a good sign — along with refined bubbles, juicy acidity and a hint of red berries. Some 2017 Demi-Sec was savory with a touch of sweetness, rather like the ripe tomatoes in the accompanying gazpacho. The next two wines came simultaneously, pairing with a course of two contrasting tostadas. The 2017 Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine made entirely from Chardonnay, also had a wonderful toasty note, and it worked well with the shrimp ceviche topped with avocado mousse, watercress and pineapple-jicama salsa. A fruity but very focused and taut 2018 José S. Ferrer Pinot Noir, a still wine, held up to the tostada topped with tomato-chipotle-braised chicken and white-bean purée. Best was the beautiful 2015 Carneros Cuvée Brut Rosé, which tasted surprisingly good with a lemon bar with blackberries. Our waiter also brought over a sample of the darkly fruity Gravel Knob Vineyard Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown on the slope right behind the winery. It had a notable through-line and impressive polish.
The food here lacked the refinement of that at Williamson, and the busy terrace didn’t have the exclusivity of that at Cāpo Creek. Bu it was absolutely blissful, sipping finely crafted sparkling wines while taking in broad vistas of manicured vineyards and distant green-gold ridges. I hope I have an excuse to return soon.
23555 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Tel. (707) 933-1917
Advance reservations are required for all of the above.