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November 8, 2009

Passing Through Healdsburg in the Fall of 2009

Filed under: Northern California Wine Country, Travel, Wine — anotherheader @ 8:32 pm


A large tomato at the Duchamp WInery

The seasons have turned to fall.  For us, it was time for our sometimes-annual trip to Northern California’s wine country ostensibly to pick up our allotment of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  What started as a trip that paid for itself by saving the wine shipping costs has now turned into a short trip to the lifestyles of the somewhat rich and marginally famous.  It has been a nice break from the stresses of work.

This year we packed our bags, loaded up the old dog Nick into the car for what would be his last trip and headed north.  We left earlier in the day this year, but the Bay Bridge was closed and the jam of Friday traffic squeezing towards the Golden Gate Bridge moved at a crawl.  Eventually the speed increased and we made it to Williams Selyem with just enough time to pick up our box of wine.  It was a short drive from the Russian River Valley winery to our room at Duchamp Hotel in Healdsburg.


The pool at the Duchamp Hotel in Healdsburg

Nick was happy that we reached our destination.  A trip this length was pretty much at his limit.  When he was young, the Nick Dog was terrified of riding in the “truck.”  As an older dog, he enjoyed the experience.  For him, it’s like a walk without the walking.  That’s a good thing when your body hurts.  There’s no chance to check pee-mail messages along the way, but the other new smells are still there.


A scaled-up version of the bottle drying rack that Marcel Duchamp bought and then passed as his art work

The Duchamp Hotel is a small hotel with six rooms each in separate buildings.  We often stay in the nearby Hotel Healdsburg.  This time, the Hotel Healdsburg was booked so we opted for the stylish Duchamp.  Without a fully occupied front desk, the Duchamp was like a cross between a guesthouse and a hotel.  The stay was quiet and peaceful.  Nick was particularly happy that he was welcome at the hotel.

After settling into the room, we strolled the half block to Cyrus.  We had dinner reservations for later in the evening, but we had heard that Cyrus’s specialty cocktails were worth sampling and indeed they were.  There’s much more about our dinner and cocktails at Cyrus in the link.

On Saturday, after a casual start to the day, we headed out for a road bike ride. We headed south and then through the golden-yellow tinged vineyards and the musty post harvest smells of the wine country to Chalk Hill Road.  Climbing past Chalk Hill, we turned left on 128 and spun through vine-carpeted plains of Alexander Valley.  Another left on Alexander Valley Road and a short cut on Lytton Station Road took us to the rolling Lytton Springs Road.  A left on to the gentle climb of Dry Creek Road took us underneath Highway 101 and back to Healdsburg.  With a right turn on Grove Street and a left on North Street, we were back at the Duchamp.  We figure the ride covered about 35 miles and was finished in about three and a half hours.  With the autumn light and the changing colors of the manicured vineyards, road bike rides this time of year in wine country are always inspiring.


Art at the Duchamp WInery

Our ride would have been faster but we made a couple of stops.  Typically we’re not much for combining long rides and wine tasting, but we noticed that the Chalk Hill Winery is now open for tasting without a prior appointment.  We’d passed by the winery many times in the past and were intrigued.  This time, they were open for visits, so we climbed up the winery’s road into the sprawling wine estate.  The vineyards and buildings of the Chalk Hill Winery occupy the closed end of a small valley in a true “Life Styles of the Rich and Famous” fashion.  Amongst it all, the wine was good, and this was a worthwhile stop even in the midst of a long-ish bike ride.  Later, a stop for a good sandwich at the Jimtown Store saved us from another dose of power food.

We arrived back at the room in time for a walk for Nick.  Nick usually wants long walks when he visits new places.  This time he was sadly content with just short trips.


"Eye Changed My Mind"

Healdsburg on Halloween evening was full of costumed trick-or-treaters raiding the shops that had stayed open on the Plaza for the occasion.  The small town feel of Healdsburg remains amongst the upscale wineries, luxury hotels, and fine restaurants.

The next day we visited the Duchamp winery for a private tasting that was arranged as part of our room booking.  Duchamp is named for and inspired by the eclectic French artist of the early 20th Century, Marcel Duchamp.  The winery and its high-density vineyard occupy the area around an old slaughterhouse.  Pat and Peter Lenz, the owners, left a successful winery and restaurant on Long Island in the 80’s and moved to the warm weather of California.  After a stop in Calistoga, the couple moved to Healdsburg and started the low-key Duchamp Winery and Hotel.


Becky loves tomatoes

In the repurposed slaughterhouse, we tasted Duchamps’ concentrated Syrahs as were learned about the wines and winery from Peter.  The concrete walls of the slaughterhouse were also housing the “The Seduction of Duchamp” art exhibit.  Art works were scattered in the corners amongst the stripped down cranes and winches of the old slaughterhouse.  Pat is the artist of the house and is responsible for the large sculptures that are scattered around the winery and the hotel.

A couple more winery visits on and we were on our way back home.  Traffic this time was much better and we were home early.  Nick was happy to be back.  We could see that he liked coming along and not being left behind, but still the trip was a challenge.  He was staying very close to us now.  He did not feel well.  Just as the leaves on the vines were dying, so was Nick.


1 Comment »

  1. We’re glad you enjoyed your visit to Chalk Hill. Please come see us again soon.

    Comment by Tom Jackson — November 10, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

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