Skipstone ranch vineyard

(More than) 36 Hours of eating and wine touring in NorCal

Scroll down to content

When your birthday weekend revolves around the first Canadian/American holiday of the summer, it’s hard not to want to use it as an excuse to have a weekend away. When planning this trip, I looked at what was available for the best bang for the buck on points and it seemed all roads pointed towards San Francisco. An extended long weekend in NorCal for me, always has to lead to wine country and on this trip, through Sonoma County. With help from the SingleThread restaurant concierge, I was able to plan an amazing few days away for the July long.

SATURDAY AM – Happy Canada Day: A 6am flight means boarding in YVR when the sun is rising. Always an inspiring way to start a vacation.


For as many times as I’d been to San Francisco, I’d never been to the Saturday Ferry Market Farmer’s Market. It’s sat on my “must” list for so many years and an 8am arrival at SFO meant the timing to hit the market on the way up north was perfect.  I was giddy in anticipation, and with only a short 30 minute drive from the airport and I was there!


Ferry Market SFO

While I have access to amazing summer fruit where I live, nothing compares to the sweet juiciness of California fruit from the Farmer’s Market.

Strawberry Ferry Market

Stone fruit ferry market

I saw my Chef friend Rodolfo Castellanos visit the Ferry Market a few months ago on his Instagram feed, so I asked him if he thought there were any can’t misses for my visit. His #1 recommendation? RoliRoti for the porchetta sandwich. Rodolfo has never led me astray, and while I was there in the morning, I’m not fussy about when it comes to breakfast-appropriate food.

RoliRoti Ferry Market
I am mesmerized by meats rolling on sticks. The potatoes underneath are my heaven.
RoliRoti porchetta
Yum to this porchetta sandwich. Kudos to Chef Rodolfo, who’s never let me down.


galette ferry market
With the Ferry Market checked off my list, I was back into the car to head north into wine country.

Even though I’ve done it many times, a trip over the Golden Gate Bridge is always iconic.

SATURDAY LUNCH: While I had a few ideas of what I wanted to do once I hit Northern Sonoma, there was only one stop I had in mind before that. I’d read an article in Lucky Peach about El Molino Central, a Mexican restaurant in Boyes Hot Springs, (kind of but not) on the way to Healdsburg. My interest was piqued when I’d read that owner Karen Taylor was a disciple (and still friend) of Diana Kennedy,  who decided to open up a village molino (mill) as a place for the Mexican community to go to wet mill their masa. That idea led to also opening a road side stand selling “mind blowing traditional Mexican dishes”

el molino central

El Molino Central tamale tostada
Mole tamale wrapped in a banana leaf was the closest to Oaxaca-perfection I’ve had outside of Mexico. The tostadas were a bit of a let down, (I had Chef Rodolfo’s tuna tostada from Poleo in my head) but the light crispy fish tacos more than made up for any disappointment.

I over-ordered, of course, but with a full tummy I was ready to finish the final stretch up north and get to my first wine tasting.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: When I made my booking at SingleThread restaurant, I was put in touch with their concierge who asked me about my interests in wine (and other activities). Having visited Napa a number of times and the Sonoma Valley as well, I had a good idea of the types of experiences I was looking for. Seeing as it was my birthday, (and because I love it), I wanted to do some sparkling tastings along with some places doing Bordeaux-style reds. I’d already spent some time myself doing research on these types of places, but the concierge’s recommendations helped to focus my search. I’m not interested in big tour bus tastings, but rather intimate experiences, and that’s just what we found at Nalle.

Nalle Winery
Nalle is a generational family run winery with tastings held in their wine cellar “potato bunker”. The small, intimate feeling at Nalle was exactly the type of tasting I enjoy.

SATURDAY LATE AFTERNOON: We checked into the lovely Bella Luna Inn located  in the heart of Healdsburg. It was the perfect location to call home for the next few days.


The tasting I was most excited about was at Breathless, where they offer a sabrage experience. Of course I was in.

Susy Bando Breathless sparkling
Signing the waiver… I guess there was a chance I could cut my arm off or lose an eye…
Susy Bando sabrage Breathless Healdsburg
With some flourish, the top came flying off. I made sure to watch the angle so I wouldn’t lose too much.


Susy Bando Breathless sabrage

Breathless Sparkling Healdsburg

SATURDAY DINNER: After too much sparkling wine and a rest, we walked into town to explore what Healdsburg had to offer. It’s a charming place with a good food/drink scene, so it wasn’t difficult to find good places to eat. SHED was the pick for night #1.

Because I was a bit sparkling’ed out, I chose Rose (which I’m also totally in to these days).

shed healdsburg strawberry

shed healdsburg salad
SHED salad with Baby Lettuces, Shaved Vegetables, Millet, Sea Buckthorn, Red Wine Vinaigrette
shed healdsburg duck lentils
Carrots, lentils and shredded duck leg.

SUNDAY MORNING – Happy Birthday to Me: I thought the perfect way to start my birthday morning was with a hike. Armstrong  Redwoods State Park was a suggestion from the concierge and the hour plus hike turned out to be perfect.

Armstrong Redwoods susy bando

Located close to Armstrong was Iron Horse Vineyards, another winery specializing in sparkling wine. While the winery, and tasting area, was bigger production than I’d usually choose, I’d read that on that Sunday, they had the Oyster Girls traveling oyster bar onsite, so you could taste with a side of freshly shucked oysters. SOLD.

Iron Horse Sparkling oysters



Seeing as we were in the neighbourhood, and on recommendation from friends, we made a quick stop for a complementary tasting at Merry Edwards as well.

Merry Edwards wine
Located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, known for their Pinot Noirs, Merry Edwards is a delicious example of what the region has to offer.

SUNDAY LUNCH: The innkeeper at Bella Luna couldn’t stop raving about the sandwiches at the Dry Creek General Store, so of course we had to stop. We realized it was us and the masses coming in for a bite, but at least the long line up gave me the opportunity to decide from the massive menu what to eat.

Dry Creek General store sandwich pimento cheese
Pimento cheese and ham melt – house-made basil pesto, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes on focaccia, grill

Not wanting to over indulge before I over-indulged at dinner, I limited myself to just one more tasting for the day.

I’d been to Ridge Vineyards in Lytton Springs many years back and remembered enjoying the wine there. When we arrived though, the tasting room was closed for a barbecue and wine tasting event. The staff were kind enough, to alleviate my disappointment by allowing us to go in and taste what was on offer at their event. SUPER BONUS BIRTHDAY GIFT TO ME!

Ridge winery

SUNDAY EVENING: Dinner at SingleThread was the reason for being in Healdsburg and an experience worthy of its own post. But here are some of the highlights.

Singlethread Healdsburg Connaughton

MONDAY AM: High up in the hills west of Healdsburg is an overlook for Lake Sonoma worth checking out. It was a peaceful way to start the morning.

Lake Sonoma overlook fort

Lake sonoma

I can’t remember how A. Rafanelli Winery got onto my “list” but it was there and I was curious about it. A call the day before got us a reservation and while they said they only had 2 wines to taste, it still seemed worth checking out. When we arrived in the tasting room, we were handed a glass of wine and encouraged to walk their beautiful vineyard as we tasted.

A rafanelli wine tasting vineyard

A Rafanelli wine
The 2nd glass was poured in the barrel/tasting room. While there were only 2 wines to taste, both were very good!

MONDAY LUNCH: When travelling, a question that is often asked to the staff in restaurants is where they themselves go to eat. It’s often a great way to validate my own choices or to find out something new. At SingleThread, one of the sommeliers told us about a pizzeria in Sebastopol opened by a former Sous Chef of The French Laundry. Vignette Pizzeria wasn’t on my radar, but seemed like a great place to check out.

Mark Hopper Vignette pizzeria sebastopol
Chef Mark Hopper’s sourdough starter makes for a tasty dough. The crust on a pizza is often overlooked as just a vehicle for the toppings. At Vignette, the crust is something you finish every last bite of.
Vignette pizzeria sebastopol bianco
Bianco with mozzarella di bufala, aged provalone, fontina, parmigiano, mushrooms and (“crack sauce”) chili honey
Vignette pizzeria sebastopol meatball
Meatball parm pizza with San Marzano tomatoes, housemade meatballs, parmigiano, and mozzarella di bufala.

MONDAY AFTERNOON: Many years ago, I did a tasting at Hanzell winery in Sonoma. It was an intimate guided tour which took me through the rolling hills of the vineyard and finished with a tasting where I felt like a queen in a castle. It was the kind of tour that has ruined any other winery tour for me, which is the reason I rarely take them. But on this trip, with the help of the SingleThread concierge, I’d be able to find something special like Hanzell.

When you go wine tasting, people always ask where else you’ve visited/ or are visiting. When I mentioned Skipstone to others, not one person had heard of it before. I wasn’t sure if that boded well, but I had faith. I’d been in touch with Brian from the winery and had a good feeling about things and upon entering the gates to this winery/ranch in the back of the Alexander Valley, I knew I’d made the right decision.

Skipstone ranch vineyard

Brian, the GM of Skipstone took us on a walking tour of the vineyards. He did a wonderful job of explaining topography and nuances of the land and weather and how that affected the decision of which grapes were planted where. There is so much thought and effort behind wine and I’m fascinated to gain as much knowledge as I can. I am a process person and it also helps to (sometimes) understand the price tags on different wines.

After an hour’s walk in the sun, we finally stopped at a lovely table the in the middle of the vineyard for a tasting.

Skipstone ranch vineyard wine
The wines at Skipstone are beyond special and while they’re pricy, I knew I had to go home with a bottle.

MONDAY PM: There somewhere a point on these whirlwind weekenders where I hit the wall in terms of drinking wine and making any decisions on food. Instead, I wanted to sit at the bar at Dukes Spirited Cocktails for a couple and dinner could be an afterthought.

Dukes Cocktails Healdsburg
A bit “wined ” out, I was happy to go for a cocktail. I started with an Erotic City, made with vodka, strawberry beet shrub, yuzu and lemon. So many of my favorite flavours shaken together in a drink.
Dukes Cocktails Healdsburg mezcal
The Siren – Vida Mezcal, Cucumber, Lime, Lemongrass, Jalapeño, Bergamot, Rao Ram

We were at Dukes longer than I thought and by the time I started thinking food again, most things were closed.  Chalkboard was supposed to still be open, but we were told their kitchen was closed when we walked through their door a bit after 8:30pm. We promised to order quickly and easily and before you knew it these dishes were placed on the table.

Chalkboard Healdsburg salad
Little gem salad with radish, mixed herbs, avocado, beet puree, wheat berries and Green Goddess dressing
Chalkboard Healdsburg corn
Grilled Brentwood corn with chipotle crema, cilantro, lime and queso fresco.
Chalkboard Healdsburg fried chicken
Buttermilk fried chicken thighs with vinegar hot sauce, basil and caraway yogurt dip

TUESDAY AM – Happy 4th of July: When I booked Healdsburg, I knew that the drive back to San Francisco would be along the coast. When I’d done a wine country trip with my friends a few years ago, we drove along the coast and stopped at Hog Island in Tomales Bay on the way. I knew I had to have a repeat visit.

Hog Island Marshall Oyster Farm located at Tomales Bay is a fun experience similar to Taylor’s Shellfish on the Chuckanut in Washington State. I love the idea of shucking and slurping oysters outside and had a great time there on  my last visit.

Things have changed a bit on this visit, where most of the shucking is done by the staff at “the Boat” and reservations are now required, but I had fun nonetheless.


Hog Island oyster bar

Hog Island oyster bourbon
Barbecue bourbon chipotle butter oysters.
Hog Island bbq oyster
While I always love a raw oyster, I am still dreaming of these buttery bbq’s…

Hog Island oyster

With Hog Island crossed off my list for this time, it was smooth sailing back to the Bay.

Bolinas Bay

Super duper burger
A quick stop at Uniqlo downtown and in need of a something to eat before heading to the airport to go home, Super Duper burger hit the spot.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: