Wine Wednesday Series: The Russian River Valley

Jan 30, 2013

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TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen has a background as a food and wine writer and has covered wine regions all over the globe including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria and many of those in his native California, so we decided to launch a new #WineWednesday series where every week we give you a brief snapshot of wine regions all over the globe and insight on how to get there, where to stay and a couple places you might want to visit while there. We’re kicking off the series with a place we visited this past summer up in California’s famed Sonoma County, the Russian River Valley.

Getting There

Sonoma Valley Vineyards
Sonoma Valley Vineyards

You have a couple airport options when planning a trip to the Russian River Valley including both San Francisco International Airport, Oakland, and even San Jose if you don’t mind driving about an hour further, so there are flight options on all the major US carriers whether you’re looking to rack up miles or use them to get here. You can also try to catch a flight to tiny Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa just about 15 miles south of Healdsburg, which is serviced by Alaska/Horizon Airlines, which flies daily to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego and award availability is pretty decent. Remember, Alaska is a partner of British Airways, American and Delta (among many others).


The Sheraton Sonoma County is located right next to the Petaluma River and Marina.
The Sheraton Sonoma County is located right next to the Petaluma River and Marina.

There aren’t that many points properties near town – which is actually a bit refreshing since you’ll find a lot of cool boutique hotels and B&B’s around. However, if you really need to earn or burn points, you will find a Sheraton about 33 miles south in Petaluma ($129 a night or 7,000 Starpoints) as well as both a Courtyard Marriott ($129 or 20,000 points) and a Fairfield Inn & Suites ($109 or 25,000 points) both in Santa Rosa about 15 miles from Healdsburg.

Another good option, also in Santa Rosa, is the Hyatt Vineyard Creek where TPG and I spent a night this summer. It’s a Hyatt Category 3 property, so award nights are 15,000 points, though rates are usually between $100-$200.

Two of the top properties in town are members of Visa Signature hotels, so though you might not be racking up hotel points, you can still get tons of valuable perks like room upgrades, food & beverage credits, free valet and internet when you book through and pay with an eligible card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card,  Citi Hilton HHonors, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more.

Take a dip in the outdoor pool at the Hotel Healdsburg in Napa Valley.
Take a dip in the outdoor pool at the Hotel Healdsburg.

Situated right on the central Plaza, the Hotel Healdsburg is a perennial favorite among weekending San Francisco sophisticates and has a beautiful spa and pool area as well as being home to celebrity chef Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen. Rates start at $310 per night.

Located just around the corner, the other Visa Sig property in town is the 16-room Hotel Les Mars, which has more of a classic French luxury aesthetic accented by European antiques compared to the Hotel Healdsburg’s laidback NorCal vibe.

Brian waiting for our amazing BLTs to be prepared at Zazu on the River.
Brian waiting for our amazing BLTs to be prepared at Zazu on the River at Davis Family Vineyards.

Speaking of Visa Signature, one of the perks of the program is its partnership with the Sonoma County winegrowers association, which means cardholders get perks at the over 200 participating wineries including free tastings, discounts on purchases and more. You can find the full list here, but I’d recommend stopping in at Davis Family Vineyards, right along the actual Russian River, for lunch at the farm-stand-kitchen called Zazu On The River to try their artisanal BLT (the best I’ve ever eaten) before tasting their range of wines (concentrate on the Pinot Noirs).

Some other wineries that provide great experiences thanks to knowledgeable staff and interesting pours include Unti Vineyards with its wide range of European varietals, and Medlock Ames for a more laidback hipster vibe (they have pizza parties and cocktails). You can take a morning hike and have a picnic lunch high above the Alexander Valley at Stonestreet Wines, or take a vineyard tour in a Swiss Army Pinzgauer vehicle at Bella Vineyards before heading to the JCB tasting room in town to taste through a cross-section of Old and New World chardonnays and pinot noirs.

Diavola has some of the best salume and wood-fired pizzas.

Of course, wine country also provides opportunities for great eating, and some of my favorite restaurants up there include Scopa for an Italian feast on Healdsburg Plaza, Barndiva for gourmet farm-fresh fare, and a “farm-to-glass” cocktail at the h2 Hotel’s Spoonbar. I also love the house-cured salume and wood-fired pizzas at Diavola in the tiny town of Geyserville, and the gourmet restaurant at the luxury Farmhouse Inn up on a secluded, woody stretch of road in Forestville.

When you get sick of food and wine, you can spend a day relaxing with trendy city folk poolside at Francis Coppola’s Pools & Cabines (open seasonally and quite busy, so reserve ahead!), head out on the river with River’s Edge Kayak and Canoe, or take a cooking class at Relish.

Whether it’s a quick weekend wine-tasting trip or an extended gourmet getaway, the Russian River Valley is a great place to get a taste of California’s up-and-coming wine and food scene.

Have suggestions of your own about what to do while in the Russian River Valley? Share them in the comments below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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