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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Healdsburg CA -- Drink City

A number of small towns in the northern California wine country have become tourist destinations.  Yountville in Napa was probably first.  In Sonoma County the towns of Sonoma, Healdsburg, Graton, and Occidental have moved away from little farm communities to places catering to the tourist dollars.

Healdsburg has seen quick and large changes in the past couple decades.  The Hotel Healdsburg with a Charlie Palmer restaurant right on the town square was the game-changer.

Healdsburg, population 11,000, sits between the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys, all well-known areas with the wine crowd.  There's a cute town square with the downtown going out about a block or two in every direction from the square.

Pounding 'em down in downtown
Image from
The town is in the local news again because the city planners just approved a new downtown wine bar.  What's the big deal?  The small downtown area has about a dozen wine tasting rooms, a half-dozen  wine bars, almost two dozen restaurants (most of these serve alcohol), and a brewpub.   All of these establishments are within easy walking distance of each other. Another dozen tasting rooms are within a few blocks.  A wine and food paradise, no?

That's a lot of juice in a concentrated area.  So the questions are: Is this bad?  How many is too many?  The total number of customers is down with the recession and the number per establishment dwindles as more tasting rooms and wine bars come into town.  Several businesses have left in the past few years but more keep coming to take their place thinking they can somehow do better.  And more licenses are pending now.

The city government has said "let the market decide how many is too many." I think that's already obvious but the city wants the revenue.

On one side you can say, well, I can get a room in town, park my car, and never have to drive.  On the other hand you can come into town and spend six hours tasting your way through town, hit a wine bar afterwards, then dinner (with wine), then drive home.  Considering most tasting rooms are open somewhere between about 11 am and 6 pm drinking until you can't legally drive is pretty easy if you don't watch yourself.

Healdsburg is a town saturated in alcohol.