If you are reading Eve’s Wine 101, the main reason for you to visit the Santa Rosa/Healdsburg area in Sonoma County is presumably for the wine. While we are not going to pick an absolutely favorite wine region, we’d be hard-pressed to select an area that we enjoy more.
We will name a favorite place to stay though. Vintners Resort in Santa Rosa tops our list. We’ve watched it grow from its originally named Vintners Inn under the watchful eyes of owner Rhonda Carano and GM Percy Brandon. Sadly for us, Percy has just moved on to become General Manager of the Allison Inn & Spa in Newburg, Oregon. We were fortunate enough to see him one last time to say our goodbyes. Who knows, maybe it is time for us to report on Oregon wine country? In the meantime, as Eve Wine 101 has already reported, Brian Sommer has been named General Manager and we look forward to meeting with him on our next visit.
Fortunately, our favorite restaurant in Santa Rosa is on the Vintners Resort property. John Ash and Company opened in 1980[!] and was the first Sonoma County restaurant to introduce the concept of cooking with seasonal, locally sourced foods and produce – AKA wine country cuisine. The original chef was, of course, John Ash and the current chef Tom Schmidt is continuing the concept.
The atmosphere is of an elegant country inn, with views of the vineyards on the resort property. Choose from indoor or al fresco dining on the open-air terrace with available heaters if needed. The staff is very knowledgeable and attentive, yet unobtrusive. From our appetizers of Tuna Poke and Beef Carpaccio to our entrees of Bone-In Pork Chop [which Karen said was the best she ever had] and Duck Breast, everything flowed seamlessly. As did our wine, starting with glasses of Roederer Estate Brut and then our BYOB 2013 Bedrock Winery Zinfandel from the Carlisle Vineyard. We were too full for dessert, but not too full for the complimentary dark chocolate truffles.
A little further north in Healdsburg is a wonderful restaurant that somehow we had not managed to visit on previous trips to the area, even though it opened back in 2015: Valette, which is only a block away from the Healdsburg Square. Brothers Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini grew up in Geyserville and envisioned working together using local Sonoma products. Dustin got his culinary training at the CIA in New York and then worked at Bouchon in Napa and Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, among others. Aaron worked as sommelier and front of the house at John Ash [see above!] and at Rustic Restaurant, Francis Ford Coppola’s restaurant at his Geyserville winery. General Manager Harry Bryan recently returned to Valette from a stint at Timber Cove Resort, bringing with him over two decades of industry experience.
From top-tier professionals on down through the entire team, Valette is in a very select group of restaurants where it is clear that everybody wants to be there and enjoys what they do.
With our appetizers of Ahi Poke and Fruit Compote Special with Foie Gras, we enjoyed glasses of the 2020 Valette Rose of Pinot Noir. Yes, they do have their own wine label to complement the selections on their amazing wine list – this rose is made by Bob Cabral [formerly with Williams Selyem, among others] and was delicious. We brought a bottle of 2013 Bedrock Winery Zinfandel from the Bedrock Vineyard to accompany our entrees of Crispy Skinned Steelhead Trout for Karen and Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut for Michael. All the dishes were wonderful, both visually and gustatorily. And this time, we did save room for the peanut and chocolate dessert, “It’s Not A ‘Snickers Bar’, which topped off the evening.
We highly recommended Valette for a special occasion or just to make any occasions special.
Finally, if you find yourself out and about on a Sunday, Monday or Wednesday morning before the wineries open, pay a visit to the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in downtown Santa Rosa. We really enjoyed strolling the grounds of the home and gardens of this world-renowned pioneering horticulturist who experimented with plants for more than 50 years. We took the easy, self-guided tour of gardens ranging from crops, fruits, herbs, flowers, wildlife habit and cactus with informative displays, pictures and mini quiz boxes. Check out the pic of the spineless cactus as big as a small house!
Vintners Resort and John Ash & Company
4350 Barnes Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
344 Center Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Luther Burbank Home & Gardens
204 Santa Rosa Ave
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Michael and Karen Perlis have been pursuing their passion for wine for more than 30 years. They have had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show them the way and after a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as they possibly could, they had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Michael and Karen do their best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers.