Urban chic meets Sonoma County bounty in forward-thinking Healdsburg

Wine country hamlet ratchets up the sophistication level

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The new breed of wineries
The idea of simplifying is something local wineries are getting hip to as well. The latest trend in tasting rooms is to knock down the barriers between visitors and winemakers, letting guests observe the workings of the winery at their leisure rather than on a guided tour. At Stryker Sonoma, the most recent addition to the Alexander Valley, floor-to-ceiling glass walls in the tasting room let you look down into the barrel room, the fermentation area, and the crushing pad ― not to mention a huge swath of the Alexander Valley and the Mayacamas Range.

"It's so restful and peaceful up here, and then you stop at a winery and it's either dark, or you're looking at a back bar," says Karen Maley, one of the owners. "That's not what we wanted."

Over in the Russian River Valley, another new winery is capitalizing on the same trend. "I want to change the industry," says Naomi Johnson Brilliant, the 29-year-old owner of Roshambo Winery, which opened in March. Roshambo winemaker Paul Brasset, whose résumé includes Clos du Bois, Fritz Cellars, and Pezzi King, is already making an excellent Merlot, among other varietals.

"Too many wineries focus on people who already drink wine," says Brilliant, who wants to reach a diverse crowd by hosting art shows and parties featuring local bands.

Naysayers might scorn Roshambo's bells and whistles ― great wine, after all, sells itself. But if there's any town where such a winery could succeed, it's Healdsburg. And why not? Says Brilliant, "I just want to make wine tasting more fun."

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