THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN Sunday, September 1, 2002

Travel


The Shelford House bed-and-breakfast Inn in Cloverdale.

The Gables Inn is on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.

Hope-Merrill House Inn in Geyserville.

Sonoma's bins, inns

Celebrated wine country chock-full of quaint bed and breakfasts, rows of vineyards

By ROBERT FLETCHER ALLEN             
Special to The Californian

     Had I died and gone to heaven?
     If so, I approve.

     We were guests in Hope-Merrill House of Geyserville, an eight-guestroom, vintage Victorian, turn-of-the-century bed-and-breakfast inn in the heart of Sonoma County, and had just spent one of the most restful, fulfilling night's sleep of our lives.

     We have a more than passive appreciation of wine, as well as a curious interest in the history of California's wine country. Couple that with a typical summertime lethargy and a week's available time, a little trip to Sonoma seemed in order.

     We'd never ventured out in the B&B travel mode. Frankly, we'd never been drawn in that direction, fearing very ordinary, "bath down-the-hall" accommodations, without even basic privacy. But thankfully, research can be your best friend.

     Searching the Internet, I discovered the Wine Country Inns of Sonoma County, a collection of affiliated., high-quality inns dedicated to a degree of uniformity to give visitors a strict, dependable standard from which to choose. Their individual style, architecture, amenities and other features are totally their own. Importantly, they feature private baths.

     As we were interested in the Russian River District, Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and selected wineries near Santa Rosa, we had certainly chosen the right inn for a part of our week's stay in wine country.

     After an incredible breakfast and even better coffee at Hope-Merrill House, we began by criss-crossing the pleasant lanes that connect various wineries through the Russian River District.

     The vines were in luxuriant growth with clusters of new berries and/or fully developed grapes in various stages of ripening. We stopped at a half-dozen smaller wineries to taste a number of the Fume Blanc and Chardonnay, chatting with the winemakers and other travelers.

     It was a warm day with cloudless sky as we drove along, appreciating the intense beauty of these well kept vineyards and cozy tasting rooms.

     With our interest now piqued in the country inn concept, we toured a couple of others to discover their uniqueness. We found the handsome, Victorian style Shelford House nestled against a wooded backdrop in the Alexander Valley area, offering numerous guest rooms from a full-sized apartment to single bedrooms. This is a genuinely quiet venue with all sorts of amenities - even a bicycle-built-for-two by which to leisurely tour the countryside and wineries.

     At noon, we encountered the Benchland wine estate of Michel-Schlumberger on Wine Creek Road. We were graciously escorted through the nearby vineyards by the establishment's director, Alain-Martin Pierret.

     We sampled a few of their wines and enjoyed our picnic lunch al fresco style on a shaded patio. Before leaving, we took a brief tour of the cask rooms and bottling facilities.

     The remainder of the day was spent poking around in out-of-the-way shops, other tasting rooms and checking out a few more wine country inns. Polly Grant's Vintage Towers; Camellia Inn, modeled after a 1869 Italian inspired Victorian style; The Haydon Street Inn and The Honor Mansion, all of them impressive hostelries.

     Back at Hope-Merrill House, we were refreshed by a dip in the pool and left for dinner at the renowned Charcuterie restaurant in downtown Healdsburg.

     This is a warm and friendly, smallish restaurant with a cuisine character of its own. The fare reflects the imagination of its chef and the unique, high quality of locally grown produce. Charcuterie (pronounced shay-cute-tree) is French for "pork butcher."

     We continued our tour of the seemingly endless acreage of vineyards with occasional stops for tasting and paused for lunch at the Jimtown Store, opened in 1893 by James Patrick.


A pleasant patio setting is available for
those wanting to try a picnic lunch at
Michel-Schlumberger.

 


Grape at a Sonoma County vineyard are reaching maturity.

 


The interior of Bosworth Mercantile in
Geyserville.

    Over the years this has served as a gossip hub, general store and meeting place for area residents.

     In Geyserville we noticed the unique business front of The George Bosworth Mercantile. The retailer offers an accurate portrayal of a mid-century hardware/apparel/general store, run with absolute diligence by its owner, Harry Bosworth.

     We could have spent a day in there. It's go everything! You can buy one nail, a mousetrap, work boots or an apron, bubble gum or horseshoes. Just name it.

     Then, to top off another near-perfect day we reveled in a fine dinner experience at Taverna Santi, a five minute walk from Hope-Merrill House. Make sure you bring an appetite!

     By plan, we headed south to ply the byways, wine bins and country inns of Santa Rosa. Despite its more urban character, the pleasant rolling hills and sprawling vineyards teem with wine making activity and plentiful history.

     We had booked into The Gables. This unique inn on the outskirts of Santa Rosa proudly claims its place on the National Register of Historic Places. As we arrived, we were greeted by a cordial hostess, shown to our room and offered refreshments as we toured the inviting rooms for guests' use.

     Our second-floor bedroom overlooked a small garden. We felt immediately at home. Breakfast here, as with all of the affiliated inns, is sumptuous and always on time at 9 am.

     For dinner that evening, we chose Syrah in downtown Santa Rosa. The atmosphere and cuisine suited us to a T, with the freshest of locally grown foods and a good wine list. The following night we enjoyed the inventive and delicious fare at Zazu on the outskirts of town.

     One of its great appetizers is batter-fried squash blossoms grown in its own restaurant gardens.

     We discovered a unique "hands on" program offered by Hope-Merrill House, where guests may sign up in advance for a "wananabe" winemaking session. Each fall at harvest time, guests arrive for the experience of a lifetime. They are taken to one of Sonoma's vineyards to harvest the ripened fruit by hand.

     Following this, everyone joins in for the stemming, crushing and barreling. During their stay of several days, each person has a chance to really get involved in the entire process. The novice winemakers are invited back during the spring to blend and bottle, consequently returning home with wine they've produced to share with friends.

     Details for signing up are available from Cosette Scheiber, Hope-Merrill House. P0. Box 42, Geyserville, CA 95441 or by visiting their Web site for other information.

     This entire week proved to be the precise short-trip travel mode we'd been looking for and with the harvest time and "crush" coming up, I recommend this as a good place to stretch your imagination and really have a great time among the bins and inns of Sonoma County.

Book your reservation on line by clicking here or send us an email!

Hope-Merrill House Bed & Breakfast Inn
21253 Geyserville Ave.

P.O. Box 42,  Geyserville, CA  95441
Phone: 800-825-4233 or 707-857-3356