Magazine article Sunset

Savoring Harvesttime in Sonoma County

Magazine article Sunset

Savoring Harvesttime in Sonoma County

Article excerpt

Enjoy small towns and wine touring in Alexander and Dry Creek valleys, 90 minutes north of the Golden Gate

BANKED BY CLASSIC Californian farmland, the Russian River cuts west near Healdsburg and crosses U.S. 101, then flows south and west, creating valleys on either side of the highway. East of 101, in the Alexander Valley, alluvial deposits have created deep, rich soil--land that has been cultivated over generations by the same proud families. Plantings have changed from hops to prunes to, today, grapes that produce fine wines. West of 101, the valley of Dry Creek, a tributary of the Russian, is also thick with vineyards, and dotted with small but committed family farms.

Healdsburg, a hospitable town with a sociable, shaded plaza, is literally fed by this land's glorious gifts to table and glass, making it a great base for a country weekend.

Late October through November is quietly spectacular. The days are bright but bracing, the valley floors go bright gold and then berry-colored with the changing foliage of the vines, and the hillsides redden with oaks and madrones. Even so, because it's off-season, choice B & Bs are available on much shorter notice, and the valley's many restaurants handle drop-ins with greater relaxation.

You can hike the trails around Lake Sonoma Recreation Area, at the head of the Dry Creek Valley; call (707) 433-9483. Or bike the wine valleys (Spoke Folk Cyclery, at 249 Center Street, has rentals and offers an imaginative printed menu of routes; call 433-7171). But this is such fine wine country that many visitors will be happy with a browse in town, some leisurely tasting, good meals, and a reposeful place to sleep.

Winerygoing. In the Alexander Valley, some good bets are Chalk Hill, Field Stone, Jordan (phenomenal Cabernet Sauvignon), Murphy-Goode (ask to try the Fume Blanc reserve), de Lorimier. Be sure to stop at the Jimtown Store, a 99-year-old country store updated with gentle wit and a glowing palette of colors, where you can settle down to a tasty patio picnic or pack one to go. …

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