Welcome to Healdsburg, once an agricultural backwater known as the buckle on the Prune Belt but now the fashionable heart of tree-hugging Sonoma wine country, where the gospel of green (the Earth-friendly and the Abe Lincoln variety) is preached everywhere.
Here, you can drink local biodynamic wines in a room made from recycled aluminum beer cans and cork, lounge by a solar-heated pool in a hand-loomed, sustainable bamboo bikini, nibble on a peach that's been rescued from the brink of extinction and indulge in spa treatments that could double as restaurant menu items.
If the lemon and olive oil elixirs at the Hotel Healdsburg spa (custom blends from local biodynamic farms Stella Flora Botanicals and Quivira Vineyards) make you reconsider your notions about the union of massage and food, the new H2Hotel is bound to make you reassess your ideas about organic and upscale.
H2hotel, Hotel Healdsburg's eco-chic sister, is on track to be the first Gold LEED-certified hotel in Sonoma County. Perhaps even more impressive, H2 manages to be as big on style as it is small on carbon footprint. Modern-day creature comforts, such as iPod docking stations, cozy up next to furnishings made from salvaged lumber, hip (and chemical-free) Peace Industry felt rugs and Coyuchi organic sheets, towels and robes. Instead of plastic bottles, guests fill glass carafes with sparkling and still water from built-in taps in the hallways. The swimming pool is heated by solar panels that also provide the hotel's hot water. The plant-covered "living" roof not only offers a verdant view deckbut also collects rain runoff for local artist Ned Kahn's Spoon Fountain below — an installation of 3,500 espresso spoons that drip water in graphic patterns into a pool.
For dinner, H2's Spoonbar restaurant goes one better than seasonal and sustainable (think local goat ragout and a raw bar of indigenous seafood), with organic cocktails and a bar offering six premium hand-blended keg wines on tap. Even the conference room — sporting a random-plank floor recycled from an old gymnasium, green basketball court lines and all — finds a way to meld cool with conscientiousness.
Guests who venture out to explore surrounding Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley will find plenty of ways to reduce greenhouse gases. Start by borrowing one of H2's stylish Public cruiser bikes and head to family-owned and operated La Crema, one of 20 or so wine-tasting rooms in the neighborhood. La Crema's creamy Chardonnays and plummy Pinots are served at a counter crafted from shredded aluminum beer cans.
Beer cans are also put to good use at One World, a fair-trade handcrafts store on Healdsburg Plaza, the town square that looks as though it's straight out of "The Music Man." Here you'll find Brazilian handbags made from pull tabs, bottle caps wired into colorful pencil holders and musical instruments crafted from aluminum cans. There's also a lovely assortment of linens, baskets, candles, jewelry, ornaments and toys — all from developing countries where craftspeople are paid fair wages for their work.
Across Healdsburg Avenue, Arboretum owners Andrea Barrett and Kate Morison prove that "high fashion" and "low impact" aren't oxymorons. Arboretum offers a carefully edited selection of trendy "ethical" clothing and accessories for men and women, including hand-loomed bamboo-fiber bikinis and cashmere wrap tops by Souchi, and silky organic fair-trade shorts and chemises by Ali Hewson, the wife of U2's Bono.
For a midafternoon sweet treat, head to SnowBunny at the top of the plaza. Not only is its ultra-creamy organic frozen yogurt fair trade and locally sourced (with milk from nearby Straus Family Creamery), but it's also served with spoons made of corn.
Fruits not of the vine
Sonoma County is no stranger to organic and biodynamic farming, but Preston Vineyards' commitment to chemical-free cultivation goes above and beyond the norm. Proprietor Lou Preston takes the job so seriously that he has posted a "sustainability manifesto" on the winery's website. A grizzled, bespectacled farmer who drives a biodiesel Mercedes through his acres of grapevines, vegetable gardens, chicken coops, and goat and sheep pastures, Preston has actually plowed under vineyards to plant olive and apple trees. These days, along with acclaimed Rhône-inspired Viognier and Carignane, he produces wheat and rye for his sourdough breads, olives for his olive oil, and a variety of fruits and vegetables that he sells at the farmers market and to local restaurants.
Visitors to the winery reap the rewards of his largesse: On any given weekend, you can stock up on cured olives, still-warm eggs, garden-grown beets and tomatoes, sauerkraut, pickles and refillable jugs of Preston's own Guadagni Red Zinfandel blend.
Just down the road, Gayle and Brian Sullivan are single-handedly keeping Dry Creek Valley from becoming a mono-fruit culture. When they bought Dry Creek Peach & Produce in 2000, neither knew much about peach farming. But when they realized theirs was the only remaining peach orchard in the county, they dedicated themselves to preserving its legacy. In the summer months, visitors line up at the farm stand to sample nearly a dozen varieties of all-organic white and yellow peaches, along with nectarines, plums, pluots and handmade jams. It's not hard to figure out why: One bite of a juicy, sweet Suncrest or Red Haven will have you wondering whether you've ever tasted a real peach. And the fresh peach bellinis, served at the Hotel Healdsburg bar, are so scrumptious, you'll be tempted to give the bottom of your stem glass a tongue-washing.
I'm just grateful no one's put them on the spa menu yet.