Wine tasting and dining are usually two events you do separately on a visit to California Wine Country, but J Vineyards & Winery, in the Russian River Valley’s Healdsburg, has merged the two indulgences into a one-of-a-kind, totally-delicious, and unforgettable experience in their Bubble Room that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Sonoma County.
It’s so good that I’ve been three times in the last year, most recently this April to taste their latest spring-inspired menu.
J Vineyards & Winery has multiple spaces for hosting various wine and food experiences, but the J Bubble Room is like an elegant dining room, set up very much like a restaurant. Beautiful glass chandeliers sculpted into clusters of bubbles hang from the ceiling, a perfect fit for the room’s namesake. Upon check-in at the hostess stand, my date and I were offered a welcome glass of J’s Brut Rose Sparkling – one of my all-time favorites from their line of terroir-driven sparklings – before being seated at a table by the front windows, providing a nice view of the outside flora.
We had our own host for the day, though we interacted with a full team of servers. Just like a fine dining experience, the staff was flawlessly attentive, always at the ready to refill our water glasses, remove our plates once finished, and to switch out our silverware between every course. It’s the kind of world-class service you’d expect from a Michelin-starred establishment, but it’s not too surprising considering that J Vineyards & Winery founder Judy Jordan pioneered Wine Country hospitality, launching one of Sonoma County’s first educational wine and food pairing programs in 1999.
Sitting in front of us was a four-course menu with still and sparkling wine pairings. Each wine pairing is a very generous pour, unlike what you tend to get in a tasting room, so you may want to consider getting a ride or driver for the day. We were pleasantly surprised with a bonus amuse bouche to start, a refreshing mousse with pea tendrils to go with our brut rose.
It was then that the afternoon began to diverge from a typical restaurant experience into something so much more. With each dish brought out to us, our host would not only describe the ingredients (including where they’re sourced from), but would also go into great detail on the wine it was being paired with. She explained the wine’s flavor and aromatic profile, the makeup of grapes, where they sourced the fruit, how the wine was made, how long it was aged for, and most importantly, why it was paired with the dish at hand. She would even take it one step farther, offering up alternative pairings to consider later at home (with the bottle I couldn’t help but purchase on the way out).
The entire experience was as delicious as it was educational. We had the space to socialize and enjoy our meal intimately, but also learned some things about wine and food along the way.
Roughly every six weeks, The Bubble Room releases a brand new menu so you can visit multiple times and always enjoy completely new dishes. I’ve truly never had the same dish twice. For instance, over the holidays, J Vineyards & Winery releases a special all-sparkling wine menu, which offers up an unforgettable caviar dish.
Each menu is hyper-seasonal, built around what’s growing at the time. Executive Chef Carl Chelton sources sustainably-farmed ingredients from local Sonoma County and California farms, some of which are literally down the street, like Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg. He also works closely with J winemaker Nicole Hitchcock to create dishes that not only complement, but also enhance the wines.
While the chilly, rainy weather that day suggested winter in the Russian River Valley, our April Bubble Room menu totally brightened things up. It was practically oozing spring; with ingredients like peas, asparagus, and lamb, it would have made for a model Easter dinner.
My favorite course of the day was an elevated and interactive play on chicken soup – and not just because it was one of the most beautifully plated dishes I’ve ever seen, with wildflowers and rosemary (handpicked from J’s grounds) arranged around the plate’s outer edge. In the middle of the flowers sat a covered bowl with pieces of salty, crispy chicken skin lain across the top; inside, was a bone broth with potatoes and smoked leeks. Our host said we could eat it however we pleased, so I chose to break up the pieces of skin and add them to my soup, just like one does with crackers and clam chowder. The buttery, chicken (skin) soup was also expertly paired with a chardonnay. Hey Chef Shelton, can I have you whip this up for me whenever I’m feeling under the weather?
J’s Bubble Room menu usually features a cheese course, and ours was another fun twist, this time on bruschetta. Instead of tomatoes, the house-made bread was topped with rhubarb, plus a rich and complex goat cheese spread called Dream Weaver (sourced from local Central Coast Creamery), celery leaves, and hazelnuts. It was paired with a glass of J Vineyards & Winery’s Vintage Brut, one of their primo sparklings aged for roughly five years in the bottle.
The meal also featured a lamb dish and dessert course with housemade cinnamon sugar donuts, dulce de leche, and ice cream. Dessert was the favorite course of my plus one, and we were even sent home with some additional truffles.
As I was eating, I was already planning my next several visits to J Vineyards & Winery and the Russian River: a romantic day date with my husband, a girl’s day out with a couple of my BFFs, and Mother’s Day (it’s coming up, and I can’t imagine that any mom wouldn’t love this).
J’s Bubble Room offers six seatings a day, from 11am-3pm, Thursday-Sunday, but if you’re short on time, try one of their other experiences, like the Signature Tasting or the seated J Legacy Tasting, which takes part in either the Legacy Reserve Lounge or out on the terrace during warmer months.
11447 Old Redwood Hwy, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (888) 594-6326