Not Your Ordinary Wine Tasting! Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery, Exceptional!

Secluded and exclusive Alexander Valley, off the beaten path, excitedly on my way to an afternoon at a private vineyard. Who hasn’t done vino tastings in the wine country? But who has visited an ancient estate set on terraced hillsides amid deep-rooted olive trees, not as ancient as the Puglia old as Jesus olive trees, but nonetheless impressive!

Blue Rock Vineyard & Winery offers private tastings in a hidden Alexander Valley landscape, lush and very European in style. Gorgeous gardens teeming with energetic hummingbirds captivated by fragrant banks of lavender, two adorable vineyard dogs, Oreo and Finnigan, and a beautifully reconstructed stone house first built in 1880, the original site of Villa Maria Winery.

A most elegant and delicious welcome, wine in hand the moment we alight! Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery

There’s wine tasting and then there is wine hospitality, this Thursday jaunt is a delightful combination of both. As you probably know, private experience vineyards are booming and it’s not just a response to the pandemic.  Believe me there are still people who load up a limo and traverse the wine trail, sip and taste and move on to another soulless wine tasting experience. Visit downtown Healdsburg, or zip down the coast to Los Olivos, packed with carousers with a check list of buzzy destinations. Not quite my scene, nor our clients!

Like our travel itineraries, we prefer authentic experiences, not drink and dash. Those who prefer sight-lines of rows and rows of grapes, the terroir as they say, would love an afternoon lunch and tasting experience at Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery. A gaggle of girlfriends joined me, we left Hotel Healdsburg with a driver, 15 minutes from town, turning off the main road in a valley of pale golden hillsides stacked with hay bales toward a long sandy driveway to the vineyard. The restored winery and flowering gardens provide an idyllic background for a refined visit.  Welcomed by two friendly pups and the affable owner, Kenny Khan, who was flanked by staff offering glasses of chilled wine! Barely out of the car, a pleasant warm greeting and instant tasting, enchanting from the get-go! Our clients know I am a nut case on the arrival – set the stage for the perfect visit!

Hospitality is high on the list at Blue Rock.

Kenny led us through the picturesque gardens toward the stone cottage, stopping under a towering shady stone pine, his conversation flowed, sharing his love of wine making and how he came from a humble background in Tennessee to a glorious estate vineyard. He’s friendly and fun, sharing experiences. We toured the stone Vintner’s Cottage which is sometimes available for overnight stays. Restored with antiques, a full gourmet kitchen, an outdoor fireplace and a 130-year-old bocce court and heated pool, it’s a delightful spot for the initial tasting with Kenny and Managing Director, Carla Jeffries. Both Kenny and Carla are relaxed engaging hosts, their passion for wine and this unique estate is evident in their conversation. The refreshing plunge is for weekend guests. Relax on a shaded terrace or lounge in the tranquil sitting room of the naturally cool stone house, dogs on laps, we enjoyed tasting a few different varietals.

Dating back to 1880, the 100-acre Blue Rock Vineyard & Winery estate tells the story of how European winemaking came to Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. Italian immigrants brought with them olive trees, vine cuttings, and knowledge of grape growing. The region’s undulating golden hills and idyllic vistas even look reminiscent of Tuscany itself. Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery was first settled by Italians who worked at the Italian-Swiss Colony winery just down the road. The original stone house was once Villa Maria winery, which closed its doors during the Prohibition Era. Acquired by Kenny and Cheryl Kahn in 1987, the Estate maintains much of its old-world character. It even maintains its original olive trees that are now over 140 years old.

Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery

Adding onto the property, Cheryl and Kenny imported additional olive tree cuttings from Luca, Italy where some of the world’s best oil is produced. You’ll also discover organic vegetable gardens and surrounding hillsides that offer incredible vistas. The hills are also inhabited by wild turkeys, feral pigs, and abundant wildlife. And now, they are making and selling Blue Rock olive oil, it’s delectable, with a pungent finish.

Traversing 46 acres, the hillside vineyard is planted to the five Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec. In 1993, an additional three acres of Syrah were planted on an extreme hillside. The cool mornings and warm days that characterize the Alexander Valley allow Blue Rock’s Bordeaux varietals to develop clarity and finesse.

Handcrafted on site, each vintage maintains its unique personality and charm without the interference of excessive oak or other winemaking techniques found in mass quantity production.

We moseyed up the stone steps to a newer building which was equally charming as the stone cottage. Several unique rooms to enjoy a four-course lunch – oh, you don’t think we just sipped wine, we relished a scrumptious duck confit, a crunchy grain salad and fresh lettuces from the garden, still tasting distinctive wines and chatting about ‘experiences.’ Finishing with balsamic laced vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries! Wandering out, we made a quick visit to an elegant private Club room, where a few gentlemen were savoring a spirited afternoon private Reserve Wine Tasting. I’m certain they were headed outdoors for cigars afterwards, it looked like a convivial party!

Don’t take my word for it, do look at the wine press evaluations which average 93+ points for many of the varietals. Best Barrels is their limited production, flagship wine. True to the name, it just what it sounds like: Best Barrels is made only when the vintner finds something that is both unique and better than anything else. Best Barrels Cabernet Sauvignon is crafted from the oldest vines planted on the Blue Rock Estate in 1987. These chosen Cabernet barrels exhibited deep, rich flavors and aromas, and were loaded with special complexity from the beginning. It is a stunner. Summer whites – Baby Blue Blanc is a delicate combination of Bordeaux white grapes of Sauvignon Blanc. Adding a small, amount of Viognier gives Baby Blue Blanc an aromatic “pop”! This just says Summer Sipping! The Chardonnay was a group favorite and judging by the cases packed into our car, everyone said Yes, Please!

Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery distinctive experience is not your typical tasting. If you are looking to enjoy the unexpected and an experiential vineyard, we highly recommend reaching out to Blue Rock and make an appointment for a decadent afternoon, or let us know and we will personally introduce you!  We can organize car service from downtown Healdsburg and a room reservation or jet up to the nearby Santa Rosa airport for a leisurely afternoon amid the grapes. Do mention the Gaggle of Girls who departed with multiple cases of wine and olive oil!. We would have taken the adorable dogs as well!

Exclusive to our clients, if you are interested in visiting – several options. Private tour and tasting. Vintner’s Table for lunch: two or four course lunch with tastings. Vintner’s Table four course dinner with appetizers and tastings – late afternoon arrival. Mosey the grounds, linger and nosh on appetizers in the lavender garden and enjoy a chef prepared dinner. The property is also available for intimate celebrations!

Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery
The Gaggle of Girl’s, it’s how we roll!

Blue Rock Vineyard and Winery hits all the balanced notes: gracious hospitality, refined tasting environment at a leisurely pace, scrumptious dining and an excellent selection of complex flavorful wines. We will have to return for winter reds! This is what an elegant tasting experience looks like.

Highly Recommend!

Hidden Heady Wine Country Gem. Alila – St. Helena, who knew?!

A European Journey is not quite on my radar yet – I’m plotting, and autumn travel is a very realistic goal. In the meantime, to satisfy my travel yearnings and discover new hotel properties, I’ve relished exploring classically styled boutique properties in the wine country. Although I’ve been cavorting through the wine country for decades, I’ve not always had time to explore smaller hotels, it’s been surprising to see what I’ve missed!

Alila St. Helena

Last summer I bed-hopped around Yountville, hopscotching one by one to each hotel, a few blocks of lovely small properties and truly delectable dining. In truth, St. Helena has always been on the top of my wine country list due to the range of sophisticated galleries, quality boutiques and the iconic downtown theatre with snug sofas!  Following Ty Accornero, former GM of Yountville’s North Block Hotel, who was recently recruited to revitalize the former Las Alcobas as Alila, a premier Hyatt property. The hallmark of Alila Hotels is the combination of innovative design and luxury in unique locations, set apart by an unprecedented level of private space, crafted artisanship, personalized hospitality. Located on St. Helena’s main street, just a few blocks from the eclectic shops and noted restaurants. I was aware of the majestic 1907 era white Georgian style mansion farmhouse surrounded by gorgeous flower gardens, and it fronts acres of Berringer vineyards, but I had never stayed.

If waking up to a serene vineyard view amid ancient oak treetops is appealing, Alila transports. Enjoy a lounger snooze or a lap or two at the pool, a stone’s throw from the grapevines. A leisurely stroll to downtown St. Helena is the most efficient way to explore fine art galleries, sweet boutiques, and local java shops.

Alila Suite with wrap around deck and vineyard view

The 68-room adults only hotel has splendid outdoor terraces and vineyard views, indoor and outdoor meeting space, a heated swimming pool and a full-service spa and fitness center. My corner suite with wrap around decks overlooked rows of grapes and the thick branches of the massive oak treetops nuzzled the edge of the deck, a sumptuous nest! The neutral hued elegant interiors are a soothing blend of luxurious natural fabrics, both the living room and the bedroom had floor-to-ceiling windows, and a very comfy pillow-top bed. My suite had two generous bathrooms, with separate deep soaker tub and shower and an outside deck with another deep soaker tub for star gazing bubble baths! Oh, additionally the mechanized Toto in the main loo, warm and welcoming whenever you wander in! The hotel also has bicycles that guests can use to get around town. The decks encourage an al fresco lifestyle with a fire-pit, sofas, curl up into chairs and an ample dining table for your own intimate wine tasting over the vineyards!

Spa Alila, provides revitalizing and rejuvenating treatments reflective of the wine country. Featuring five treatment rooms, including a couple’s massage suite, a steam room, and a tearoom for quiet relaxation.

Spa Alila

World-class dining is offered at Acacia House by Chris Cosentino, famed TV chef with numerous successful restaurants pinned to his CV.  Can I just mention how tranquil it is to spend the day out and about, return to your deck to collapse, maybe enjoy a snooze, and then wander down to the charming wrap around porch of the mansion for cocktails and dinner? Linger in this elegant dining space, my cozy corner included a view of the indoor bar where the crystal sparkled in the subdued light, the bartender seemed to relish tossing the glimmering silver cocktail shaker and elegantly streaming a liquid concoction into a coupe … an art form affair!  The House Margarita was highly recommended, but dear Ty had Champers delivered to the table the moment I arrived. Now this is Service! The restaurant interior is comfy with private corners to gather and gossip and drool over the scrumptious duck. Breakfast and lunch are also served inside or on the terrace. Meander down the driveway to discover the vegetable and herb garden enhancing the seasonal menu with fresh ingredients. If you dine inside, do mosey to the table directly fronting the kitchen, where the chef ballet is in perpetual motion.

Inspired dinner selections include offerings such as sweet English pea soup, tuna crudo with a sliver of toast, and a salad of endive apple and goat milk gouda. Duck with stone fruit, sweet peaches was an evening special and it was flawless! Oh, the Parker House rolls, I’m not usually a fan, but served piping hot out of the oven with flavored butter, truly tempting and embarrassing how quickly they disappeared!

A common Covid hotel complaint is lack of staffing, but I must say the guys who greeted me at arrival were enthusiastic, helpful and on the spot – no looking around for help at all! The trolly was there and they waited patiently as i sipped complimentary wine at check in! Same at check out, bellman was at the suite before the suitcases, hat boxes and retail therapy bags were piled at the door. Very impressive service all around.

Alila means “Surprise” in Sanskrit! If you are looking for a lovely local St. Helena escape, Alila is the place to be.

Alila St. Helena
Cheers Alila, St. Helena

Call me if you too want Champers delivered the moment you arrive!