Savoring Wine in Dry Creek Valley
The sun is shining over the valley as I sip wine, gazing out over the vineyard with the winery owner. This is just one of the reasons that a favorite destination for drinking award-winning wine is Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Although the recent Michelin-starred restaurants have raised awareness about Healdsburg, it is the convergence of exceptional wine and access to fresh organic ingredients that makes this a remarkable place. It really is all about the wine, because without it, nothing else would matter.
I have my favorite wineries, but at the prompting of friends who live in the valley as my guides, we visited family-owned and mostly small-production wineries. Our mission was to uncover unusual wine-tasting experiences. Here are some of our favorites.
Dutcher Crossing: I was lucky enough to have a private tasting with owner Debra Mathy. She had a arranged for us to have a box lunch served along with our tasting. After barrel-tasting their new vintage wines, we started with a crisp, fruity 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which received a Gold Medal. Next was the 2009 Costello Vineyard Chardonnay, fruity and bold compared with the 2009 Stuhlmuller Vineyard Chardonnay, which tasted distinctly different based on the differing terroir. We moved on to the Zinfandels, comparing a 2008 and 2009 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel with the 2009 Bernier-Sibary Zinfandel. Both were silky, rich, and delicious, and it’s easy to see why they sell out quickly. Their Cabernet Sauvignons are also bold, fruity, and smooth. The 2008 Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has a small amount of Syrah, which adds richness to the wine. The tasting room is bright and airy and their grounds are beautiful, the perfect place for a picnic. Either bring your own food or make arrangements in advance for a cheese pairing with your tasting. You can also request a private tour and/or a vineyard tour, but make advance reservations. Open daily 11 am to 5 pm.
Preston of Dry Creek: Imagine savoring wine at outdoor tables on a farm surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. Preston makes and sells fresh-baked bread, olives, olive oil, farm produce, and salumi made from their pigs and sheep. You may not be able to taste everything they make, as it sells out. Wine is made from organic grapes and includes Carignane, Barbera, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, L Preston – a Rhone Blend that’s one of my favorites, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Purchase a bottle of their wine to sip at one of their outdoor tables with a picnic; they sell cheese, salumi, olives, and bread. Open daily 11 am to 4:30 pm.
Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves: For a romantic tasting experience, make advance reservations for a cave tour, vineyard tour, or Sip and Savor, which includes food pairings. Tastings are held in their wine cave, where you can sample their Zinfandel and Syrah and other wines. On the weekends they offer small bites with the wine tasting. The winery is located on a hillside and has beautiful views. Bring a picnic to enjoy on their grounds or sip a bottle of their wine while admiring the view. Open daily 11 am to 4:30 pm.
Rued Wines: This family-owned winery has been growing grapes for six generations and only recently began making their own wine. Their award-winning wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. From the tasting room you can look into their production facility. Enjoy a bottle of their wine or a picnic at the tables overlooking the vineyards. Open daily 10 am to 5 pm.
Pedroncelli: This family-owned operation has been growing grapes and making wine for more than 80 years. Their award-winning wines are reasonably priced. Favorites included Rose of Zinfandel, refreshing and dry; Friends of Red, a red blend for daily drinking; and their Zinfandels, from old vines on the estate. They also make Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon; and a vintage port. Open daily 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Sbragia Family Vineyard: Come for wine, views, and outdoor seating overlooking the valley. Their Schmidt Ranch Sauvignon Blanc is a standout. They also make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel. For food/wine parings, make advance reservations. Sbragia knows how to throw a party and hosts several events each year, including a crab and lobster feed, and theme parties. Open daily 11 am to 5 pm.
Raymond Burr Vineyards and Winery: Started by the star of the Perry Mason series, they make Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and estate port. Peruse the memorabilia from the actor’s television career and drink a bottle of their wine at outdoor tables overlooking the valley, shaded by oak trees. Open daily 11 am to 5 pm.
Truett Hurst: Sample their wine in the comfortable tasting room and later take a bottle to sip with a picnic in the outdoor seating area. Walk through their property and watch the salmon swimming in the creek or savor the tranquility of the grounds. They have wine club events throughout the year including a pig roast, barbeque and pizza. Open daily 10 am to 5 pm.
Food suggestion: Once you leave downtown Healdsburg there are few places to eat or purchase food. Plan in advance to take a picnic to the wineries. Dry Creek General Store or Oakville Grocery Store can provide the perfect fare for a gourmet picnic.
For romantic and luxurious accommodations, Madrona Manor is the place to stay in the valley. This beautiful Victorian estate has comfortable rooms, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and beautiful grounds overlooking the wine country. Read about what makes this a romantic place to stay.
Read about additional wineries, dining, and accommodations in Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley.