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Sonoma County
A wine-tasting tour without the Napa attitude

From the March 26, 2001 Issue of New York

Ever since Northern California emerged as America's answer to Tuscany, the focus has been on Napa Valley -- which explains why Napa has turned from a once-rustic town surrounded by quirky wineries into a crowded, posh hamlet frequented by the likes of Madonna. The less-well-known town of Healdsburg, however, in neighboring Sonoma County, has managed to keep its feet on the ground: It's funkier, less pretentious, but still has plenty of great wineries -- and it's an easy hour-and-a-half drive from the San Francisco airport. Stay at Madrona Manor, an 1881 Victorian bed-and-breakfast that would have pleased Edith Wharton, but before you check in, grab a gourmet snack at Viansa, a pristine hilltop winery with a stunning view from the patio. Make a dinner reservation at Zin, where owner Scott Silva will recommend local wineries to check out the next day. Lately, he's been sending people to Meeker winery, run by a couple of Texans in a former turn-of-the-past-century bank, and David Coffaro winery, where zesty Zinfandels are sampled to the accompaniment of the Grateful Dead.

Madrona Manor, 707-433-4233 (rooms start at $165); Viansa, 800-995-4740; Zin, 707-473-0946; Meeker Vinyard, 707-431-2148. Go to Wineroad.com for excellent maps and guides.

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