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A historic winery, definitely worth visiting for this reason is Simi Winery in Healdsburg.  This is one of the best value tours you’ll do.  For $15 per person you’ll get a tasting of four wines and an insight into the early days of California’s wine industry.

On today’s visit my guide, Randy conducted the Historic Tour that takes you across the old railway tracks, and into Simi’s historic winery building and cellars.  Wine has been produced at this location since 1876, making Simi one of the oldest operating wineries.

Randy had a lot to say about the history of the winery and the mostly the fascinating story of Isabelle Simi, a true pioneer for the wine industry, and the reason for Simi’s survival and success.   Isabelle took over the business earlier than expected when her father died, at the young age of 18. Determined and courageous, Isabelle traveled the country visiting wine distributors as early as 1908.  On all fronts it seems she was implementing practices decades ahead of what most wineries were doing at the time.

Being one of the oldest continuously operating wineries meant it was also one of the few that was able to operate during prohibition due to production of “sacramental” wine.

Preparing for the day when the sale of alcohol would finally be legal again, Isabelle had stockpiled wine, which turned to their advantage when prohibition was overturned 13 years later. Her insistence of steel reinforcements for the winery saved it from disaster when the Great Earthquake hit in 1906. She  pioneered the concept of a tasting room in 1936, at the time the first of its kind in Sonoma County.

After the historic part of the tour Randy took me over to the rose garden to talk about Isabelle’s love for roses. Isabelle had planted a new rose for each President except Herbert Hoover who she felt was responsible for Prohibition.  When Hoover found out that he had been excluded he send her a rose bush, only to have it rejected and sent back. Today, the collection of rare roses is close to the original garden.

Surrounded by redwood trees, the tasting room also has a nice patio and shaded picnic area, complete with a cork tree. The winery is also known for its wood-fired pizzas, which are the big attraction during summer weekend events.

I had a hard time classifying the location of this winery.  It turns out it is officially in Alexander Valley, however at the intersection of Russian River, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek Valley.

Although there are plenty of Simi wines going into retail, what you’ll taste here are winery exclusives – meaning you won’t see them in the stores so pick up your favorites while here.  I tasted many some great examples with grapes sourced from all over Sonoma County.  They do have a wine club you can join which gives you access to wines from all of the Constellation Brands wineries.  (Simi is owned by Constellation)

Some of my favorites included the Cuvee 1876, a Gewurtztraminer Muscat blend.  I thought the 2011 Pinot Noir was the best value for $26 retail.  The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon “Landside” from Alexander Valley was excellent and a good price point at $40.  For the dessert lovers, myself included, the 2009 Late Harvest Riesling was a real treat. ($35)

And, Alfred Hitchcock fans, you’ll want to check out his entry into their guest book.

Overall, Randy gave me a detailed, interesting and informative overview on the winery, its history and its contribution to the Californian wine industry.  As I mentioned, for $15 the tour and tasting is well worthwhile!

Expert tips:

WineryCritic Ratings

8/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

9/10 Location

8/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

6/10 Other experiences:  Tasting

9/10 Friendliness of staff

9/10 Signage & ease of access

8/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required: No

Address:  Simi Winery Visitor Center, 16275 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Tasting fees & experiences: 

  • $15 per person – Historic tour. Includes tasting of four wines. Available daily at 11am and 2pm.
  • $15 per tasting – Tasting of five wines. Two are welcome to share a tasting.

Open daily 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Good for:  Couples, history fans, small groups, weddings.

Wines produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Late Harvest Riesling, Pinot Gris, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel.

What’s nearby:  Healdsburg Plaza, Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate, Dry Creek Vineyards.

District/Appellation: Alexander Valley, Sonoma County

Contact for appointments: (800) 746-4880

Date of visit: December 4, 2013





Mindy Joyce