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
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
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
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
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
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