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Travel Tip: Dry Creek Valley Vineyards

A guide to vineyards and wineries on Sonoma's beautiful back roads

Tim Fish
Posted: July 30, 2012

Note: This is an excerpt of an article, "Dry Creek Valley," that originally appeared in the June 15, 2012 issue of Wine Spectator.

A visit to Dry Creek Valley is like a stepping back a few decades in time. The wineries are generally small and family-owned, and they sell a good chunk of their annual production out of the tasting rooms. They are set amid meandering roads, forested hills and tidy vineyards. Situated at the northern edge of Sonoma wine country, Dry Creek was among the first AVAs in the county, approved in 1983. Although relatively frigid Pacific waters lie just 20 miles west, mountainous terrain between the valley and coast results in a toasty climate on summer days; the temperature cools considerably at night. It's an ideal place to grow Zinfandel, the region's trademark grape.

There's a long history of winegrowing in the valley. It was settled by immigrant Italian farmers in the late 1800s, and a few 100-year-old Zinfandel sites, such as Teldeschi Ranch and Maple, still produce wine. 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: Head north from Healdsburg and drive along the east side of the valley on Dry Creek Road, then return south on West Dry Creek Road.

9711 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg
Telephone: (866) 572-3552
Website: www.bellawinery.com
Open: Daily, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Tastings and tours $7-$55

Scott and Lynn Adams have carved out one of Dry Creek's newest destinations, rehabilitating a run-down winery property and cutting 7,000-square-feet of caves below a hillside vineyard. The tasting room is located in the heart of the cave complex, making for a dramatic space. Zinfandel and Syrah are the specialties, and the wines deftly combine finesse with power. Take a tour of the cave, or hop on an all-terrain vehicle to check out the vineyards. There's also a pleasant picnic area.

3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg
Telephone: (800) 864-9463
Website: www.drycreekvineyard.com
Open: Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Tastings $5-$15

This is one of the valley's original wineries and one of the best to visit. It's been 40 years since Dave Stare built Dry Creek Vineyard, when it became the valley's first new winery construction since Prohibition. The ivy-covered stone structure recalls a country chapel and is framed by tall shade trees and a lush lawn where picnickers gather daily. The tasting room is a relaxed spot to sample the fine lineup of wines, ranging from excellent values such as Chenin Blanc and the Heritage Zinfandel to the winery's impressive Cabernet blend called the Mariner.

2859 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg
Telephone: (707) 431-0804
Website: www.mauritsonwines.com
Open: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Tastings $5-$10

Clay Mauritson's family has been growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley since 1868, and today it owns 300 acres of vines in northern Sonoma. It wasn't until 1998, after Clay returned home from college, that he led the family into winemaking. The winery is a modern take on a classic California barn, with a tasting room that offers wide views of vineyards. Rich and structured Zinfandel is the house specialty, but there's also a winning Sauvignon Blanc, plus Cabernet, Syrah and more.

4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg
Telephone: (877) 467-4668
Website: www.papapietro.com
Open: Daily, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Tastings $10

Ben Papapietro and Bruce Perry were amateur winemakers before they took a stab at the big leagues with their 1998 release. Today they produce a consistently notable lineup of more than a dozen Pinot Noirs, plus Zinfandel and Chardonnay. The winery and tasting room are located on an old ranch where more than a dozen producers have set up business. Papapietro Perry's tasting room is a cozy space, with a copper-topped bar crafted from old barrel staves.

1220 Canyon Road, Geyserville
Telephone: (800) 836-3894
Website: www.pedroncelli.com
Open: Daily, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Tastings free

The Pedroncelli family has been making good wine at a fair price longer than just about anyone in Sonoma County. John Pedroncelli Sr. bought a ranch with 25 acres planted to Zinfandel in 1927, and after Prohibition he sold wine out the door to customers who brought jugs to fill. Today the family farms 105 acres and makes a long list of wines, most of which sell for $20 or less. The tasting room is unfussy, and the staff is chatty. Best bets include Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

9282 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg
Telephone: (707) 433-3372
Website: www.prestonvineyards.com
Open: Daily, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Tastings $10

There's something uniquely Sonoma County about Preston, which is not only a winery but also a bakery, organic fruit and vegetable garden and farmstand. With his scruffy white beard and ever-present hat, Lou Preston is one of the great characters of Dry Creek Valley. He started off as a grapegrower in 1973, and the winery soon followed. The tasting room, located in a sturdy California barn, feels like a country store. Preston makes an eclectic list of full-flavored wines, from Petite Sirah to Mourvèdre to Roussanne.

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