In Vino Veritas Part 2

Mimi ON Apr 06, 2009 AT 3:01 pm

Hawkes Wine - Red Winery

Hawkes Wine - Red Winery

At the turn of the century, the old place had been a thriving center for the valley community, acting as general store, post office and ad hoc meeting place. Now though, it was sad and decrepit. John had been a partner in the Silver Palate, an award winning New York eatery, and Carrie was an artist. They bought the abandoned building, and set about creating a place that would reflect their quirky sensibilities and their love of both food, and antique Americana. Says Brown, “We saw an opportunity to revive a beloved place and nurture locals and visitors with great food, wine, espresso, and sell fun, useful, beautiful goods and offer valuable services like catering. During our first year we catered a wake, baby shower and a wedding –we briefly considered a tag line, ‘from the cradle to the grave’, but thought the irony might sound a bit much.”

Hawkes Wine Red Winery

Hawkes Wine Red Winery

While John sadly passed away in 2000, Carrie has stayed onto continue their unique vision, and its individuality is at the core of what makes this area special. From the counter in the store she serves delicious gourmet baguettes to groups of ravenous bicycle riders who religiously make this a pit stop on their two-wheeled tours of the valley and its verdant winding lanes. Carrie’s tapenade is famous and sold nationwide, but only here does it come with Brown’s infectious giggle and breathy sunshine filled voice. The shelves are heaving with locally vinted wines from small producers, and if you’re planning a picnic, Jimtown General Store can put the whole basket together for you. While your food’s being made, browse the shelves of fascinating American antiques. Toys, signage, furniture, and all manner of quirky objects, are curated with a finely tuned eye.

Hawkes Winery

Hawkes Winery

Next to the store is one of the valley’s hidden enological treasures. A cedar siding-covered old bungalow is home to Hawkes Winery (www.hawkeswine.com). Remodeled with a nod to rural architectural integrity, and honest materials, it looks like something from a Dwell magazine spread, with a steel I-beam arbor over the patio, and inside, crisp white walls and a cool, polished concrete floor. Jacob Hawke, and his father Stephen craft fine Bordeaux-style Cabernets in their winery along with fine un-oaked Chardonnays that are bracing with citrus character. If you’re lucky, Jacob will take you up to the deck that he and his father built themselves, on a wooded slope overlooking the vines, and conduct a tasting with some locally produced charcuterie. He even cures his own salumi in the family bungalow, the sausages hanging mere feet away from his mother’s paintings and the well-played upright piano. The winery is also home to Sonoma’s only teapot museum. Clear Lucite boxes mounted on the wall house Stephen Hawke’s charming collection of rare and ancient tea making vessels.

Winemaker Pouring

Winemaker Pouring

Around the corner from the winery is another store with a side door leading to a cocktail bar that’s frequented by locals and farm workers after a day among the vines. It’s been bought by a hedge fund manager, and there’s talk of it changing and going ‘upmarket’ but with Wall Street’s current woes, who knows if that’ll happen. For now, Jimtown is an oasis of integrity and Dionysian love in a lucre-obsessed world. Brown is optimistic about the future. “Jimtown continues to flourish because it functions as a Valley center, warmly welcoming all. We pride ourselves on being a democratic store. We support the community. Thankfully, the surrounding area has grown in many healthy ways, keeping valuable open space. We’re attracting people who genuinely ‘get’ what makes the Alexander Valley, Healdsburg & Geyserville so special.
               
One of the most rewarding ways to get around Dry Creek Valley is by bike. It’s two-wheel friendly, and if you’re fit you can go from winery to winery all day, tasting to your palates content. It might be wise to spit, not swallow, if you want to avoid a DUI though. Cycles can be rented in Healdsburg, at Wine Country Bikes (www.winecountrybikes.com), the selection and condition is superb. If you’re inclined to cruise the vines from a less conventional point of view, you should probably contact ‘Up and Away’ (www.up-away.com). You guessed it, a hot air balloon. They take off early in the morning from Charles M. Schultz airport, but this is no Charlie Brown operation. Experts captain the craft, with groups of up to eight passengers in the baskets. There’s nothing to compare with floating silently, guided by the wind currents over the valleys below, with the roar of the gas flame and the chatter of the pilot the only thing punctuating the silence. Occasionally the balloon is dropped skilfully to just feet above the vines, so close you can see the grapes, then coaxed up again to glide serenely in the cold morning air. What’s really amazing is how much notice dogs take of the balloons, running in circles, barking at the sky, as if warning of an alien invasion.

Duchamp Hotel

Duchamp Hotel

There are plenty of places to stay in the Alexander Valley, among them some charming guesthouses fashioned from dutifully restored Victorian family homes. If you’re looking for something a bit more modern though, something that jibes with your Jimtown experience, you’d best head to Duchamp. Located in Healdsburg, the Hotel Duchamp (www.duchamphotel.com) has six modern, luxurious cottage suites grouped around a heated pool. The buildings themselves follow what’s best described as an agri-modern vernacular. Like tin-roofed sheds, but beautifully constructed and appointed, with a warm ‘less is more’ interior, the cottages are perfect for anyone that’s not into frilly curtains and lace antimacassars. Each cottage has a private patio on which you can sip wine from the Duchamp Estate Winery, before heading into Healdsburg town center for an evenings dining and strolling.
            
Most food lovers would argue that the finest dining comes from the best ingredients, simply offered with love and honesty. In a corner of the Alexander Valley, that philosophy has been carried further, and is applied not just to food, but also to life itself. Enjoy it, learn from it, and you’ll yearn to be back there as soon as you leave.

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