Find Dazzling Fall Colors in California at These Healdsburg Wineries
New Englanders may sniff at the notion that California foliage changes color with the seasons. But locals know, and visitors discover, that fall colors in California offer the same fiery explosion of yellows, oranges, reds, maroons and purples that East Coasters brag about—especially in Wine Country.
Nowhere in Napa and Sonoma are autumn grapevines, trees, shrub and flowering plants as gloriously burnished with color as the Healdsburg area. From October through December, the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys rival any Technicolor show in Maine, Vermont or Massachusetts, our verdant greens of spring and early summer yielding to ambers and reds, with golden sunsets to match.
Plant physiology is to thank for that. Young leaves contain chlorophyll, which gives them their emerald color and allows them to produce the sugars and starches necessary to produce wine grapes and other fruits and flowers. As fall sunshine diminishes and days become cooler, the leaves take a break, their green color fades and is replaced by anthocyanin pigments of yellow, orange, red, purple and/or brown. The foliage eventually falls off and the plants go dormant through winter. In spring, the life emergence begins again.
The Healdsburg region is rich in vines, trees and plants that show off the fall colors in California: Japanese and Armstrong maple, liquidambar, smoke bush, oak leaf hydrangea, crape myrtle, ginkgo, Chinese pistache, toyon, fruitless olive and many others.
In the particular case of wine grapevines, some of the fall red color seen in the leaves, before they drop to the ground for winter, suffer some sort of vascular stress. This has no impact on fruit quality, although it can reduce yields and vine lifespan. As viticulturists work to relieve the stress, it’s a calendar-worthy color display nonetheless.
Check out these Healdsburg wineries with jaw-dropping fall foliage in Sonoma County from late October to mid December. Wineries are organized by region and location, from Alexander Valley to Russian River Valley to Dry Creek Valley.
Healdsburg Wineries with Beautiful Fall Colors
Jordan Vineyard & Winery
Perhaps nowhere in Healdsburg is the autumnal transformation more succinct than on the buttercup-painted exterior walls of the Jordan chateau. Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) clings to the north-facing walls, morphing each year into a rainbow of colors. On a recent early-November day, the Boston ivy – from which the term “Ivy League” is derived – was in various states of colorization. Bright green patches contrasted with those of yellow, orange and crimson. Some purple leaves broke off their stems just by touch; greener leaves held their position. In winter, the walls will become barren, with the ivy re-awakening in March or so, with a new set of foliage. The Winery Tour & Tasting gives guests an up-close look at the chateau’s fall colors. $40. (View a time-lapse video of the chateau’s transformation).
Silver Oak Cellars
Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley LEED-certified winery was designed as a modern, glass-walled barn, enabling it to seamlessly blend in with its natural surroundings. This means 360-degree views or bright reds, oranges, and yellows clinging onto their prized cabernet sauvignon vines in autumn. Tastings start at $30; the Silver Tour and Taste ($30) gets you out in the vineyards for the perfect photo opp.
Chalk Hill Estate
Situated on a stunning 1,300-acre estate, Chalk Hill has seemingly limitless opportunities for fall to show off throughout their vineyards and untouched, natural wilderness. The winery offers several tasting experiences that get you out of the tasting room and on a scenic drive: the Chairman’s Reserve Tasting ($65), Estate Tour ($50), and the Culinary Tour & Tasting ($120).
Rodney Strong Vineyards
Turn from Old Redwood Highway onto the shared driveway of Rodney Strong Vineyards and J Wine Co.; veer left for J’s bubbly emporium or stay right to the Rodney Strong tasting room, its fountains and autumn-colored trees as beacons. This large-production winery on the eastern edge of Russian River Valley wine country is remarkably visitor-focused, with self-guided tours, multiple tasting opportunities, and a Vine to Table Experience on the Terrace. It’s a pairing tasting that amounts to a full meal ($70-$90), with fall colors all around.
Located just a couple of miles from Healdsburg Square, snag a seat on Twomey’s back patio and sip wine while overlooking expansive fall views of Russian River Valley vineyards, Mount St. Helena and Geyser Peak. Tastings start at $15; patio tastings start at $20. Add a charcuterie board for an extra $10 per person.
MacRostie Vineyards & Winery
Steve MacRostie has made wine in Sonoma County for three decades, and now has a resplendent Russian River Valley tasting room, the Estate House, in which to showcase his Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The Estate House has an inviting patio and lots of east-facing glass windows for indoor viewing of the transformation of fall colors in California in the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley. Seated tastings are $25-$35; the Sunday-only Elevated Experience ($75) includes a tour of the property and tasting of single-vineyard wines, paired to small bites, cheese and chocolate.
Gary Farrell Vineyards
Perched high up on the Russian River’s famed Westside Road, Gary Farrell showcases a birds-eye view of the valley below. No matter the weather, you can take in the autumnal hues: from the patio, glass-walled Salon, or glass-walled reserve room, where the Inspiration Tasting ($75) walks you through six vineyard-designate pinot noirs—Gary Farrell’s specialty—paired with a cheese plate. Other tastings start at $35.
This sprawling, ranch-house-style winery just west of downtown Healdsburg has a breezeway that connects the parking lot to the terrace. On this patio, persimmon-colored umbrellas offer shade, as well as a visual connection to the sweeping autumn view of southern Dry Creek Valley. Daily tastings at the indoor bar start at $20; the private Terrace Tasting of six wines outside is $35. Enjoy the view of yellow-and-red grapevines while playing bocce ball.
Lambert Bridge Winery
Head up the gravel driveway on any fall day at this Dry Creek Valley winery and find yourself surrounded by brilliant fall foliage of goldenrod, blood orange and crimson. While the tasting room and cellar room are warm and inviting, with a huge fireplace to take away any chill, the prime viewing for the fall colors of California is their private terraced garden and patio, available by reservation. The patio is surrounded by colorful trees and bushes in late October/early November. Purchase a bottle of Lambert Bridge wine to enjoy with the 360-degree cocoon of comforting colors.
The grapes are grown using organic, Biodynamic and sustainable methods, yet there is much more to Quivira than winemaking. The estate also raises fruits, vegetables, medicinal herbs, flowers, chickens and livestock, and hosts beehives. With all this diversity, the fall colors are dazzling. The Estate Tour is the recommended way to go, with an in-depth tour of the vineyards and gardens, followed by a tasting of estate wines and estate-raised charcuterie. $40.
Any favorite wineries you’d like to see added to the list? Please leave a comment.