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Dry Creek Valley, A Gem of an AVA

Background

 

Dry Creek Valley map

Located at the northern edge of Sonoma wine country, Dry Creek was among the first AVAs, approved in 1983. The area consists of a narrow valley approximately 2 miles wide and 16 miles long, a geography that makes Dry Creek an easy loop for a day trip from the Bay Area. Drive north from Healdsburg and drive along the east side of the valley on Dry Creek Road, then return south on West Dry Creek Road. If you’re adventurous and fit, you can even bike Dry Creek Road.

Although cold Pacific waters lie just 20 miles west, mountainous terrain between the valley and coast results in a hot summer days, cooling considerably at night. It’s an ideal place to grow Zinfandel, the region’s trademark grape.

Originally planted in Dry Creek Valley by Italian immigrants in the mid­-19th century, many of the region’s Zinfandel vineyards are among the oldest vineyards in the country, their distinctively gnarled, head­pruned vines dotting hillsides and valleys throughout the appellation. Many of these vineyards pre-date Prohibition and have survived not only that challenge but also the rise and fall of the infamous “white zin”. “Zinfandel is integral to the past, present and future of Dry Creek Valley,” says Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley® president, Clay Fritz. “There are families in this valley who’ve been growing it for seven generations, who have Zinfandel flowing in their veins.”

Dry Creek Valley is a patchwork quilt of diverse, well­drained soils and terrain ideal for an array of grape varieties. The Valley has one of the largest concentrations of bench lands in Sonoma County.

  • Deep, fertile Yolo soils are on alluvial fans and flood plains. Any crop can be grown on these soils. Good for white grapes.
  • Cortina soils are very gravelly, sandy loams on channeled stream bottoms.
  • The Manzanita series of gravelly silt loams is found on alluvial fans and river terraces. Constrained rooting depth makes it suited to limited production of white or red grapes.
  • The mid­terrace and hillside soils on the benches and hills, often a distinctive red color, are composed primarily of gravelly clay loam. Zinfandel thrives in the mid­terrace soils. Small crops of fine red grape varieties are grown on the hillsides.
©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

Stylistically, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel hints at the characteristics of cool climate reds, with aromas of red fruits mixed with black pepper and earth. Depending on the winemaker, the wines can be lush and fruit driven, dark and intense, or anything in between. In general, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels balance ripe, sensual fruit flavors with moderate sugar levels, resulting in elegant wines great for pairing with food or enjoying alone.

 

Rockpile

 

Photo courtesy Rockpile Growers Association

Photo courtesy Rockpile Growers Association

Rockpile, in the mountainous northwest corner and overlapping Dry Creek Valley, has unique terroir. This is one of the smallest and most recent AVAs in the country, approved in 2002. Planted acres comprise less than 160 acres, which make comparisons of several winemaking styles from the same vineyard especially revealing.

Rockpile is unique in that there are no wineries within the borders of the AVA. However, winemakers have long considered this region a hidden gem and compete to secure grapes from fewer than a dozen Rockpile growers each year. Because the temperature in Rockpile is moderate throughout the growing season, harvest of several grape varieties can be pushed until late fall, resulting in intense flavor profiles. Rockpile wines are well worth seeking out; a number of wineries produce them including:

  • Bella
  • Bruliam Wines
  • Carol Shelton
  • Mauritson Wines
  • Robert Biale Vineyards
  • Rock Wall Wines
  • Seghesio Family Vineyards

 

Where to go

 

signs

Visiting Dry Creek Valley wineries is a friendly experience. Here you’ll find winemakers that enjoy talking with you, cellars and vineyards to tour, and beautiful gardens in which to sip your wine. Because each of these wineries has outdoor space in which to play, children are welcome to visit.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley have an interactive map to help you plan your visit. You can select an amenity or wine, and the map will tell you which wineries to visit.

Here’s a selection of wineries, that I enjoyed on my first trip there. When I go back, I’ll visit more!

 

 

Dutcher Crossing Winery

8533 Dry Creek Road
Geyserville, CA 95441
Phone: 866-431-2711
http://www.dutchercrossingwinery.com/

Proprietor Debra Mathy can often be found welcoming guests with Dutchess, her Golden Lab, sidekick, and the winery’s official greeter. Winemaker Kerry Damskey’s small-lot, select vineyard approach to winemaking can be enjoyed in the tasting room. You can enjoy the view from inside the tasting room, but you are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy in the garden with your wine.

Fritz Underground Winery

24691 Dutcher Creek Road
Cloverdale, California 95425
Phone: 800-418-9463
Email: info@fritzwinery.com
http://www.fritzwinery.com/

Fritz is architecturally unique. Built into the side of a hill atop the northernmost region of the famed Dry Creek Valley, the Fritz Winery operates with a green sensibility. Naturally cool temperatures, ideal for wine making and cellaring, are maintained without any use of expensive or carbon-heavy devices common to most modern wine production. In addition, they use a three-tiered structure to further cut down on energy usage. By harnessing gravity to move juice from the crush pad down to the tanks and barrels, they not only save energy by forgoing pumps, they also save juice from the detrimental effects of excessive pulsation and buffeting.

Mauritson

2859 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: (707) 431-0804
Fax: (707) 433-5001
E-mail: info@mauritsonwines.com
http://www.mauritsonwines.com/

The Mauritson family has been making wine in Dry Creek Valley for six generations over 140 years. The family was growing 4,000 acres in the early 1960s when all but 640 acres were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop Lake Sonoma.

On any given day and with no advance reservation, you can take self-guided vineyard tours. Along the way, learn what goes on in a vineyard during the year, sustainable farming practices and other interesting tidbits of information. Of course, after the tour you can taste their wines in their comfortable tasting room, filled with photographs and history.

Quivira Vineyards and Winery

4900 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Local: 707.431.8333
Toll Free: 800.292.8339
Fax: 707.431.1664
http://www.quivirawine.com/

When you visit Quivira’s estate, you will enjoy an insider’s look at their wines, their vineyards, and their commitment to Biodynamic farming. Their organic and Biodynamic winery includes colorful gardens, entertaining animals, soothing waterways and, of course, abundant vineyards, offering breathtaking views of the thriving wine region.

In Spring and Summer, they offer a 90-minute tour of the Estate, discussing topics varying from their compost program to the Grenache varietal and the importance of vine trellis systems. Their Biodynamic agricultural practices are evident throughout their property but no more so than in their one-acre garden, which is home to more than 50 chickens, 120 raised vegetable beds, and one of their Biodynamic beehives. In Autumn and Winter, they invite guests into their cellar for an in-depth discussion on winemaking practices. After each tour, guests are invited to a private, sit-down tasting featuring their small-lot wines.

thumbprint cellars

102 Matheson St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707.433.2393
Fax: 707.433.2325
Email: lounge@thumbprintcellars.com
http://www.thumbprintcellars.com/

In 2004, thumbprint opened their tasting room and wine bar which they deemed a tasting “lounge”, the first of its kind in Healdsburg. They designed the space to be comfortable and elegant, yet approachable and friendly. thumbprint cellars’ unique tasting room pours their artisan wines, which are recognized across the country. thumbprint supports numerous non-profit organizations and local events, through financial contributions, services and in-kind donations.

 

Winemakers Dinner at the home of Dutcher Crossing's proprietor, Debra Mathy photo ©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

Winemakers Dinner at the home of Dutcher Crossing’s proprietor, Debra Mathy
photo ©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

 

This excursion to Dry Creek Valley was organized by McCue Marketing Communications, LLC for the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley®

 

Typing "help" provided by Alix.

Typing “help” provided by Alix.

Visiting Paso Robles: Wineries

I’m impatient for Hospice du Rhône, and thoroughly enjoying planning my trip to Paso Robles. Also this week, three different people asked me for a list of wineries I like in Paso Robles. None of them know each other, and none of them are going to HdR. I hope this means that one of my favorite wine regions is finally getting the attention it deserves!

Anyway, since I made a list for them, I might as well make it public. This is an idiosyncratic list – and deliberately in alphabetical order rather than ranked. I have no doubt I’m leaving off many great places, and certainly I haven’t been everywhere there is in the region. Please do use the comments to tell me your favorites….

Alta Colina Vineyard & Winery

Alta Colina

Small producer of Rhône varietals and blends. Relatively new – their first harvest was in 2007. I especially love the Toasted Slope Syrah.

Thursday to Sunday, 11:00am to 5:00pm. 2725 Adelaida Rd. Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805 227-4191. http://www.altacolinawine.com/

Caparone Winery

Caparone

A two-man operation (father and son), making mostly Italian varietals. Great value for the price. All wines are unfined and unfiltered. So far in my experience their wines age very well. (My dad’s in their wine club, so I mooch from him.)

Open for tasting (including barrel samples) daily 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. 2280 San Marcos Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.467.3827. http://www.caparone.com/

Kenneth Volk Vineyards

Kenneth Volk

A favorite of mine in the Santa Barbara area, and a favorite in Paso Robles as well. Ken Volk describes himself as “an innovating traditionalist”. They make a large variety of wines – from Paso Robles they’re making Bordeaux varietals. They share the property with Lone Madrone – if you take your Lone Madrone glass with you they will give you a 50% discount on your tasting fee. (I love that they have a customizable wine club.)

10:30 am – 5 pm daily. 2485 Highway 46 West, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.237.7896. http://www.volkwines.com/

Lone Madrone

Lone Madrone tasting room

A wide variety of wines, and a gorgeous tasting room surrounded by the herb and flower nursery, Fat Cat Farms. You are welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere. They share the property with Kenneth Volk.

Open daily 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. 2485 Highway 46 West, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.238.0845. http://www.lonemadrone.com/

Opolo Vineyards

Hilltop Vineyard, Opolo

One of my favorite places to visit. In addition to very good wine, they have a wood-fired oven. For very little money, you can get a pizza or the house-made sausage and a glass or bottle of wine and enjoy lunch on the patio. Plan your visit for when you’re hungry!

Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 7110 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446, 4.8 miles north on Vineyard Drive from Hwy. 46 West. 805.238.9593. http://www.opolo.com/

Pipestone Vineyards

Pipestone's horses, at harvest

Pipestone’s horses, at harvest

A small family winery, they produce estate grown Rhône-style wines from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, & Viognier and a dry farmed Zinfandel. They farm according to principles of Feng Shui. In addition, they are solar powered, a Certified Wildlife Habitat and have a zero landfill program. Their vineyard is even farmed with a team of draft horses!

Thursday-Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. 2040 Niderer Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.227.6385. http://www.pipestonevineyards.com/

Proulx

Proulx’s tasting room

Actually I’ve never been to their tasting room. However, I really like what they poured at Rhône Rangers in San Francisco. They’re on my list to visit next time I’m in Paso!

Thursday – Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. 5424 Vineyard Drive Paso Robles, CA 93445. 805.706.0425. http://www.proulxwines.com/

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. They are almost all about Rhône grapes, but they also one of the very few California wineries to grow Tannat and Vermentino. I’m never disappointed by my wine club shipment.

10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; free tours daily by appointment. 9339 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.237.1231. http://www.tablascreek.com/

For another post: eating and sleeping….

Cantine Argiolas

The wine highlight of our Sardegna trip was definitely the afternoon spent at the beautiful and newly-remodeled Cantine Argiolas. Courtyard of Cantine ArgiolasThe Argiolas family has worked diligently to become the leaders in Sardinian wine making and insist on using only native Sardinian vines: Nuragus and Vermentino for white wines and Cannonau, Monica, Carignano and Bovale Sardo for reds.

The history of Argiolas began in 1918, when Francesco Argiolas planted his first vineyards. But it was not until Antonio Argiolas, took the helm of the winery that a new way of running the business began. A man of great enthusiasm and long experience in viticulture, Antonio purchased new properties with the aim of setting up a modern estate. He wrote, “A good wine comes not only from technique. It comes also from humility, passion, love and care for the vineyards and their products. I received this philosophy as a gift of nature, and I gave it to my sons and to anyone who has joined me in this extraordinary adventure.”

At the end of the 70’s, Antonio’s sons Franco and Giuseppe Argiolas gradually began reorganizing and modernizing all aspects of the business, from the techniques used in the vineyards to technological innovation in the cellars. More recently, they’ve hired Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy’s leading oenologists.

I’ve been a fan of their wines for a number of years, and could not pass up the chance to visit in person. They were incredibly gracious – even with much of the hospitality group in Verona for VinItalia, we were welcomed for a tasting of nearly all of their wines (as well as the olive oil they now produce).

Argiolas tasting room

Their lovely tasting room

Some favorites:

Cerdeña: Cerdena This is an outstanding white wine, made from Vermentino plus small quantities of other local grapes. The wine, which has the name of the island in the Catalan language, is obtained by a soft pressing of grape. Cerdeña is fermented (both alcoholic and malolactic) in cask and is aged in barrique for 6-8 months followed by 6-8 months in bottle. The wine shows a soft golden yellow color. The nose reveals intense aromas of pineapple, kiwi, lychee, and vanilla. There’s a long finish with flavors of hazelnut, kiwi, banana and vanilla.
Food pairing suggestions: Cheese! Also roasted fish, or maybe stuffed pasta.

Turriga Isola dei Nuraghi: Turriga Their most famed wine, Turriga, is produced with grapes harvested in the Turriga vineyard in the Selgias area. Only Sardinian grapes, Cannonau, Carignano, Bovale Sardo and Malvasia Nera, are used for this wine. Production of about 1 Kg per vine, (about 2.2 lbs.) allow the creation of this important and very interesting red wine. Must is macerated in skins for about 16-18 days and the aging is done in new French barriques (Tronçais and Allier) for about 18 months. Rich garnet in color, the Turriga offers notes of crushed blueberries, black cherries, bittersweet chocolate, tobacco, roasted coffee and Mediterranean herbs. On the palate, this hearty red is concentrated, yet refined and elegant, framed by ripe, firm tannins and is full-bodied with a velvety mouth-feel.
Food pairing suggestions: Roasted duck, goose, or beef.

Korem: Korem Korem means “young girl” in the old language, and this wine is produced by the daughter of the family. It is a great wine, aged in barrique for 10-12 months followed by 6 months more in bottle. Intense ruby red in color with a powerful, lingering and well ­balanced nose. On the palate, this wine is velvety, full, harmonious, warm and well rounded. Tastes of minerals, grilled herbs, dark jammy fruit and French oak in a rich, full-bodied frame. The finish is very long with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum and blackcurrant.
Food pairing suggestions: First courses with meat-based sauces, spit-roasted suckling pig, grilled red meat, roast lamb, myrtle-flavoured hen, Sardinian sausage, mature Sardinian pecorino cheese.

Perdera: Perdera A excellent value, Perdera is made from 90% Monica, 5% Carignano and 5% Bovale Sardo grapes grown in the Argiolas’ Perdera vineyard. Malolactic fermentation in cement glass-lined tanks and development in small oak casks for 8-10 months. The nose exudes deep, ripe black and red berry fruits — blackberry, black raspberry, blueberry — as well as notes of earth and menthol. On the palate, it is earthy upfront, with black fruits following, and mellows into ripe blackberry and blackcurrant flavors. It gets fuller and more complex as it sits in the glass. Medium to high acidity and equally medium ripe tannins make it well structured and well balanced.
Food pairing suggestions: Grilled lamb, pasta with meaty sauces, mushrooms, cheese.

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