This Stunning California Resort and Vineyard Is Sonoma’s Ultimate Wine Country Getaway
Food, wine and design are flourishing in this once-sleepy Sonoma outpost.
On our recent visit to Aperture Cellars in Sonoma, California, to meet with winemaking wunderkind Jesse Katz, we took some time to explore Healdsburg, now home not only to Aperture but the incredible new Montage Healdsburg resort which opened in 2021. We made it our HQ for exploring the heart of California’s “other” wine country, which is giving the Napa Valley a run for its money in more ways than one.
The 258-acre resort is one of the most stunning wine country retreats ever created; and with Katz’s help, it’s also a working vineyard. Montage Healdsburg is a collaboration between Montage Hotels & Resorts; design architect Le Architecture; architect of record Delawie Architects; and interior designers EDG Design, and is part of the impressive Montage International portfolio.
Created to “honor and celebrate the land”—in addition to its grape vines the property boasts 22,000 oak trees—with a contemporary, natural aesthetic, it’s now the shining symbol of Sonoma’s new signature style. It’s artisanal and traditional but also strikingly modern, and unlike anything else. The exterior “skin” of the resort’s buildings was “purposefully selected to match the bark of the mature oak trees,” allowing them to blend harmoniously into their surroundings.
Montage Healdsburg announces its design bona fides the moment you enter the lobby, with its wood-paneled ceilings, live-edge wood furniture, massive surround gas fireplace, and walls of glass looking out over the property, the vineyards, and the hills beyond. The indoor-outdoor Scout Field Bar, with it expansive terrace, offers wine tastings by day and a full-service bar by night, when fire pits are lit and the atmosphere becomes warm and intimate.
The 130 bungalow-style guest rooms and suites offer alluring views of the surrounding mountains and vineyards, and also carry over the indoor-outdoor living ethos. Some of the suites truly feel like treehouses and are designed to “provide an anchor of tranquility and serenity.” A mixture of richly textured and organic materials are used throughout, including local rock stone and mixed woods.
All the luxe accommodations have fire pits on their spacious terraces, and many also have outdoor showers connected to their sybaritic marble baths. Custom art pieces feature cast bark from trees on the property, and the rugged elegance vibe is carried through with a color palette of earth and natural tones, with organic details and upholstery “pulled from” the local landscape and echoing the woods, vineyards and the nearby Russian River.
Making the most of the natural bounty of Sonoma County, which is justly renowned for its food and wine, Montage Healdsburg’s gorgeous Hazel Hill restaurant has quickly become a highlight of the culinary landscape. Designed to be both “earthy and sophisticated,” it combines the warm, welcoming sensibility of a French farmhouse with the contemporary wine-country elements that define Montage Healdsburg. Leather, copper and wood dominate the design scheme.
Hazel Hill’s “inventive California cuisine infused with a warm French touch” offers both comfort and refinement, “combining nourishing dishes with elevated local flavors for a menu that’s deeply infused with wine-country flair.” Menu highlights include Smoked Sturgeon with apple, celery root and Kaluga caviar; Striped Bass with sunchoke, yellowfoot, and beurre noisette; and Westholme grassfed Tomahawk steak with pommes paillasson, wild mushrooms, and zinfandel jus. They call their philosophy “terroir-to-table” and that couldn’t be more apt.
Katz is the Montage Healdsburg’s consulting winemaker, and he’s creating a Sauvignon Blanc from grapes grown on the property that will be exclusive to guests. Over dinner at Hazel Hill, Katz told us that multiple reasons attracted him to the Montage collaboration. “One was the property, for sure,” he says. “I love this property, I think there’s a lot of potential. But the other was the mentality that the Montage always had going into this. I probably say no to 80-or-90% of the proposals that come across my desk, because I want to make sure I can give proper focus to all the projects that I’m doing. But this is one I couldn’t pass up.”
What attracted him was Montage’s determination “to do something at the very, very top level, and allowing me me to take a no-holds-barred approach to doing whatever I wanted out here.” While the wine producing scheme runs its course, Katz is hardly sitting idle. “I also work closely with their food and beverage team to help with wine, introduce them to other wineries, all that kind of stuff,” he says.
“But my main focus is the vineyard guest experience, and then the winemaking, now that we’re actually getting fruit off of here…. What I really love about this team is it’s a really hardworking and creative team, and so any crazy idea that I have, usually they’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s give it whirl.'”
Another culinary destination that Katz is deeply connected to lies a short distance away in the center of Healdsburg: The Matheson, a new tri-level restaurant with a main dining room, craft cocktail bar, sushi bar, high-tech wine wall, private dining room, and rooftop cocktail bar and garden terrace, one of the finest multi-purpose eating and drinking establishments we’ve seen anywhere. Farmers, winemakers like Katz, and cheesemongers are the “local royalty” that The Matheson celebrates. And the beaming, gregarious and extremely talented man overseeing it all is The Matheson’s chef and co-owner, Dustin Valette.
Valette’s philosophy states that in Healdsburg, which his establishment expresses in many authentic ways, “prosperity is in the soil, sophistication is in the glass and community is at the table.” A Healdsburg native whose grandfather opened a bakery in the 1930s where the restaurant now stands, he honors “the craft and dedication of Sonoma’s world-renowned growers and makers with mastery, creativity and joy,” with every element “approached with reverence for our talented community.”
When we dined at The Matheson with Jesse Katz, our bespoke tasting menu, with each course presented by Valette himself, featured impressive culinary flourishes like Valette’s private-label Osetra Caviar with cured egg yolk, crème fraiche, and toasted brioche; Kona Kampachi Ceviche, with avocado, kohlrabi, and citrus kosho; Seared Foie Gras with shin li pear, chicories, and hazelnut; Aged Sonoma Duck with Okinawan sweet potato, persimmon, and Brussels sprouts; and Snake River Wagyu New York steak with potato pavé, alliums, horseradish and black truffle. All accompanied by glorious local wines from Aperture and others, plus one extremely delicious magnum of Krug Grand Cuvée.
A night we won’t soon forget, and a place that’s we’re scheming to return to.