Lodging Winemaker for a day at the Raford Inn

Ever fancied yourself the gentleman or gentlewoman winemaker overseeing your domain from a 19th century estate? Well, if you treat yourself to a stay at the Raford Inn you could easily imagine yourself in this role.

The 1880s-era Raford Inn has a commanding view from a hillock overlooking an expanse of vineyards in the Russian River valley below. To make your fantasy complete the inn has a long veranda perfect for an afternoon glass of your wine made with grapes from your vines.

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Unfortunately I have to pop your balloon ever so slightly to reveal that only a very few of the grapevines you see are yours but more about that later.

My partner Keith and I were well-acquainted with the Raford Inn even though wed never set foot on the property before this recent visit.

How so?

On scenic drives and bike rides in the area for more than 15 years wed admired the Raford Inn from afar and figured the view alone justified presenting his brother and his wife, and my brother and his wife gift certificates to stay there. Both couples returned singing its praises.

Then one fine (birth)day Keiths brother and his wife Lynn gave me a gift certificate; we no longer had any excuse not to go there ourselves. In late January of this year we cashed it in for a very enjoyable three night stay.

In order to stretch our resources we stayed in the smaller and less expensive Rosemary Room (out of six rooms in total) at the rear of the house, on the ground floor, and against the hill. It suited us well, and if youre traveling in summer this would be a good pick because it would likely stay quite cool due to its orientation.

Innkeepers Dane Pitcher and Rita Wells bought the Raford Inn (formerly known as the Raford House) in 2004 after it had been a B&B for around 20 years. They extend a warm welcome and are eager to share their extensive knowledge of the area with guests. Clearly they have made friends because when I read the guest comments log in the Rosemary Room many were from repeat visitors.

Rita serves up an excellent breakfast in the morning and at the other end of the day Dane presides over a late afternoon wine and cheese reception. Which brings me back to the subject of the grapevines.

The vineyards that you see from the Raford Inn belong to other property owners. However as you come up the driveway you will see some vines that do belong to Dane and Rita (and, of course, to you, too, in your temporary role as vineyard grandee). If youre lucky and if he hasnt run out, Dane will pour you a glass of their very own Raford Inn zinfandel made with the grapes grown on site. (Ask Dane to show you the medal he won at a local wine competition.)

What may surprise you is that while the scene you take in from the Raford Inn seems to be timeless, in fact, the area was not originally devoted to wine grapes, but began as a huge hops farm. Thats hops as in flavoring agent for beer.

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The B&B takes its name from Raford Peterson, the original owner of the house when built in 1880. Mr. Petersons property back then was 1300 acres mostly planted to hops. No trace of the hops industry remains at the Raford House as far as I know, but if you drive north toward Healdsburg on the nearby Westside Road youll see an old hop kiln now used as a barn, and perhaps a mile later youll encounter Hop Kiln Winery.

The winery makes its home in a century-plus old building where hops were once dried. The winery is a perfect place for a picnic: by the pond or, if its a hot day, underneath a fig tree as old as the Raford Inn. If you picnic there, try a bottle of Hop Kiln’s Thousand Flowers. Its a white blend: uncomplicated, unfussy and perfect for a warm afternoon.

Two geographic notes to keep in mind when you stay here.

One, is a caution that although the inns mailing address is Healdsburg, in fact its located about 12 miles south of the city of Healdsburg. Thats not a great distance but it doesnt lend itself to waltzing your winetasting way around the Healdsburg plaza then hopping in your car to get back to the inn. (Have a d.d. or wait a few hours.) The closest little town to the Raford Inn is actually Forestville, three miles south.

The other observation is for folks in far-off places such as Seattle or Los Angeles. You might think this is a long way from you but ever since Horizon Air started flights to Santa Rosa (STS) this part of California became amazingly easy to get to. From the tiny Santa Rosa airport to the Raford Inn itll take you 15 minutes.

For cyclists:

Cycling the country roads here offers an exceptional way to enjoy the west Sonoma County wine country. The landscape is a picture-postcard slice of northern California. A splendid circle trip to Healdsburg would encompass taking the Westside Road north and returning on the Eastside Road, or vice-versa. (There are more wineries along Westside Road.) The roads are narrow but the traffic is light. Do it on a weekday and therell be few visitors on the roads. If you cant bring a bike with you consider renting one from Wine Country Bikes in Healdsburg.

And for runners:

Ha! Im teasing you. Im going to add a short post tomorrow about a good place to run that Raford Rita told us about. Come back to Planes, Trains & Automobiles soon!

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