A few weeks ago I received the following invitation from a friend of mine, Tony Giovanzana (the Director of Retail Operations at Dry Creek’s Lambert Bridge Winery):
I would like you to be our guest at a very special, once-in-a-lifetime dinner that we are hosting here at the winery. We have partnered with Paula Le Duc for this amazing dinner, six courses of exquisitely prepared cuisine paired with 14 vintages of Crane Creek Cuvee one of our flagship wines. We will be reaching into our library and presenting our 1994 through 2006 vintages. Jill Davis our winemaker and I will guide this intimate group through each flight of this Merlot based Bordeaux blend, hosted in our vaulted ceiling candle lit barrel room. The event date is February 13th with dinner beginning at 6:30pm. I have attached a copy of the menu for your convenient review:
PASSED HORS D’OEURVES
Wine Barrel Smoked Duck
Curried Pumpkin on Walnut Cranberry Crostini
Grilled Black Mission Fig
Wrapped in Boccalone Lardo
Offered “Soft Serve” with Dried Apricot in a savory Cone
Lemongrass Marinated Flank Steak
Coconut, Peanut & Mint
1994, 1995 & 1996 Crane Creek Cuvée
Crisp Pork Belly
Chanterelles, Brabant Potatoes & Lemon-Thyme
1997, 1998 & 1999 Crane Creek Cuvée
Bacon Wrapped Supreme of Poussin
Roasted in a Wood Oven served over a bed of Cannelini Beans with Braised Leeks
2000, 2001 & 2002 Crane Creek Cuvée
Grains of Paradise Pappardelle & Mascarpone
2003, 2004 & 2005 Crane Creek Cuvée
Broken Arrow Ranch Venison
Celery Root Puree, Roasted Red Cipollini, & Huckleberry Beet Reduction
Redwood Hill Crottin
Rosemary Honeycomb, Crisp Walnut “Lattice” & Quince Butter
Cocoa Nib Dentelle Box
Filled with Chocolate Cremeaux, Cassis Poached Pear & Sweet Beet Praline Dust
Would love to have you at the event!
Give it some thought,
I really cracked up when I reached the “Give it some thought” line. As if!
Exactly, two seconds later I called Tony and said, “I would be thrilled to attend. Where should I spend the night? ”
Without missing a beat he replied, “You must stay at Les Mars in Healdsburg. It’s totally unbelievable.”
Which is how I came to spend Valentine’s Day in Healdsburg, all on my own and blissfully happy.
Les Mars Hotel
I entered Les Mars, just steps away from the main square, with sky-high expectations after reading copious rave reviews on this Relais & Chateaux property. Although I’m a tough critic, the next day as I sadly packed my bag singing my version of Michael Buble’s song, “I ( so don’t) wanna go home”, I realized the only thing that hadn’t been 100% perfect was that the bathroom make-up mirror didn’t light up. (When I mentioned this to Katy Ciocca, the hotel’s extraordinarily lovely, gracious G.M., she told me that they had just been ordered.)
The well-traveled Mars family (no relation to the candy bar) set out to create an elegant, sophisticated, European style hotel that offered exceptional Old World style hospitality.
To help realize their vision, the Mars hired Bay Area designer, Helga Horner, who began the project by asking, “How does one live beautiful?”
The answer is self evident in Les Mars’ antique Flemish tapestries, authentic Louis XV furniture, the leather-bound books found in the library’s carved walnut bookcases, the fresh flowers beautifully arranged throughout the 16 room hotel, and the petit private pool perfect for sunning and appreciating a nice glass of wine.
As I entered my glam suite, the Mansion Queen Room, featuring a cathedral high ceiling, flickering gas fireplace, a chilled bottle of wine at the ready, soft music playing, white orchids throughout and two insanely comfortable white, down-covered beds, I knew it was going to be tough to leave the nest. Except if I was heading over to the oversized marble bathroom, complete with Waterworks pewter fixtures, large bottles of Voss water, a deep Jacuzzi tub with accompanying lavender bath salts and scrubs, and assorted Bulgari toiletries—they even lined the drawers with hand-pressed linens. And kudos for supplying easy-to-follow written instructions, even with pictures, for the Jacuzzi, cd/dvd player, and the tv remote.
But stir I must since it was time to head over to Lambert Bridge for the tasting dinner, but not before I stopped downstairs for the complimentary wine (boutique) and cheese (artisan) tasting held in the library. The selection changes nightly and is conducted by the hotel’s consulting sommelier, Ron Washam. Ron is a wealth of wine info and is delighted to arrange special wine tours and tastings for the guests, including some secret off-the beaten wine-road suggestions.
After a glorious night’s sleep I was awakened by a soft tapping on the door, which was my breakfast-in-bed delivery, which consisting of a mélange of fresh berries, thick yogurt, homemade granola and a generous pot of dark coffee (thank God, after all the wine I had the night before) delivered bedside on a solid silver tray with starched linens, fine china, and a mini-bouquet of white roses. What a civilized way to start the day. Wait, a Mimosa would really hit the spot. “Hello… room service?”
Les Mars is not only a top choice for your next romantic getaway but it’s also perfect for a luxe girlfriend getaway. The staff would be happy to arrange spa treatments, bike rentals, gourmet picnics, limo-wine tours, or reserve dinner at Cyrus, the Michelin two-starred restaurant next door.
That evening, as I drove cross the old trestle bridge and caught my first glimpse of the winery nestled into the hillside, it’s stone and rough wood lodge-like tasting room surrounded by an old-fashioned wrap-around porch (a perfect spot for sipping the afternoon away) it brought to mind a Rockefeller Great House.
Two gigantic wooden doors opened to the vaulted redwood tasting room, where about 50 guests were doing a little pre-dinner mingling, enjoying Hors D’Oeuvres and a glass of white wine in front of the welcoming stone fireplace before heading into the elegant candlelit Barrel Room.
I was introduced to Lambert Bridge’s gregarious winemaker, Jill Davis, who’s been producing some pretty spectacular artisanal Bordeaux-styled wines since her first vintage with Lambert Bridge in 2006. Previously, Davis made a name for herself at Beringer Vineyards, Buena Vista Winery and William Hill Winery. She’s passionate about creating classic wines in the old world style: rich, elegant and polished.
During dinner, Jill stood up and proudly introduced us to her brand new associate winemaker and longtime friend, Jennifer Higgins, who also has a stellar background in producing boutique Bordeaux varietals. It was exciting to be at the threshold of what I’m sure will be a revolutionary “Women in Winemaking” dream-team.
The Crane Creek Cuvee were all incredible with a cornucopia of flavor profiles, allowing for some spirited discussions at our table, as to which year paired better with each dish. I could definitely ascertain the different jammy red fruits, tobacco and leather notes, but shhhhh…they lost me at the pencil shavings.
Paula Le Duc’s food was not only delicious but beautifully presented. My favorite combos were the 1994 Crane Creek Cuvee with the Crisp Pork Belly and the 2002 vintage with the peppery, coriander flavored Grains of Paradise Pappardelle topped with Oxtail Ragout.
Although the 1997, 1998, and 1999 vintages are sold out, there are still many excellent years available. Jill vouched for the 2007 as a youngster with a lot of promise in the future. So, if you haven’t been before, I suggest the next nice weekend you plan a tasting (and a picnic) at the winery. The wines aren’t cheap but are well worth twice the price.
They also have a full calendar of special events that you can peruse on their website as well as information on joining their Liquid Assets wine club. One particularly fun sounding event is April’s Sausage Making class led by the master himself, Bruce Aidell.
Lambert Bridge Winery
4085 W. Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA. 95448