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Thinking of Healdsburg, California




I am thinking so much of a charming town plaza with towering trees, restaurants, art galleries, antique stores, wine-tasting establishments and even a boutique for cats and dogs.

The town is Healdsburg in Sonoma wine country and, as I write, about 78,000 nearby acres are ablaze.

Overall, roughly one-third of California is covered by forests and the amount of dry, dead trees has increased from one million in 2010 to one hundred and fifty million now. Frightening!

Climate change, less water and insect infestation are doing the damage.

The last time we were in Healdsburg we had dinner with David Stare, who founded Dry Creek Vineyards back in 1972 when it was the first new winery since prohibition ended.

Today, I received an e-mail from his daughter Kim Stare Wallace that says: “Our winery is currently located in a mandatory evacuation area, like much of Sonoma County, so we will remain closed until the evacuation is lifted.

“We continue to monitor the ongoing situation, and we ask for your patience with any shipping or communication delays. We are deeply appreciative of the selfless first responders who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.”

Simi Winery is a two-mile drive north of the town; Dry Creek Vineyards are just over five miles to the north-northwest and Rodney Strong Vineyards can be found two miles south.

We park among towering redwood trees and step into the Simi Winery, that has occupied this spot since Giuseppe Simi and his brother Pietro made their first wine there in 1876.

In the very early 1900s Isabelle Simi took over until 1981 when she died at the age of 95. She was there when my new bride and I first visited in 1978.

We taste their Alexander Valley 2016 cabernet sauvignon and the winemaker explains that Alexander Valley was shaped by dramatic geologic activity — from an ancient landslide that changed the course of the Russian River to earthquake upheavals that redistributed whole sections of land.

The incredible diversity of soil types and microclimates produces wines with velvety textures and bright, luscious flavours.

Simi Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon reflects the best of Alexander Valley, with the bright fruit character and elegance that made this world-class growing region famous. Plum, ripe black cherry, cocoa and cassis are all there. $39.70.

A short drive and here we are at Dry Creek Vineyard where we enjoy their 2016 cabernet sauvignon that is a blend of the five historic Bordeaux varietals — 78 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 10 per cent merlot, 5 per cent cabernet franc, 5 per cent Malbec and 2 per cent petit verdot.

A sip of this and I am reminded why I have been a steadfast fan of this winery that exemplifies all that California is capable of. Just glorious stuff here! $32.

I think of the Dry Creek component grapes and I am reminded of another climate-related story.

Recent appellation law changes in Bordeaux now allow for seven previously banned varieties, such as marselan and touriga nacional. This is to combat climate change and I find it disturbing indeed.

We should not leave Dry Creek without trying their 2016 Heritage Vines zinfandel that also contains a 20 per cent dose of petite sirah and 1 per cent primitivo.

The zinfandel vines are from cuttings in a pre-prohibition era vineyard and they are reminiscent of 100-year-old plants.

On a cool November evening a palate of brambly flavours of black raspberry, dark chocolate, a touch of ginger and silky, smooth tannins would really hit the spot. $27.20.

Off we go south to a winery named after its founder, who was the very first to designate single vineyard sites in California and to taste a wine named after his wife.

I refer to Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2018.

At the Ultimate Wine Challenge, this wine scored 92/100 and was described in this way: “Model aromas of grapefruit pulp and lime peel are exploding from the glass. In the mouth, juicy citrus flavours are balanced by faint green bell pepper and elderflower. Dried green pear lingers pleasantly on the slightly chalky finish.” $25.85.

As of today, firefighters have beaten back a fire that threatened the winery that, at time of writing, was closed until the end of October.

With 80,000 square feet of solar panels Rodney Strong generates enough power to supply 800 homes and has avoided, over 25 years, the creation of 8,700 tonnes of carbon emissions.

Most wineries that we represent are making a real effort to work for minimum, negative, environmental impact.

Wine Spectator magazine gives the Rodney Strong Russian River Valley 2016 pinot noir 91/100 and writes: “Refined, featuring lithe flavours of cherry tart and raspberry, with hints of nutmeg, all supported by medium-grained tannins and fresh acidity. Chocolate, spice and cream details emerge on the rich finish. Drink now.”

This is always one of my favourites, and that this valley is considered by many critics to be one of our world's best spots for pinot noir only helps define its character. $31.55.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit

Life cycle: evacuation warnings were recently in place for the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma Wine Country as a result of a blaze that affected roughly 78,000 acres of land nearby




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Published November 08, 2019 at 7:00 am (Updated November 08, 2019 at 4:44 am)

Thinking of Healdsburg, California

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