Dry Creek Valley Decadence
Sonoma County, steeped in 140-years of winemaking history, epitomizes California wine. California Chardonnay that won the Judgment of Paris was made from grapes grown in Sonoma, at Bacigalupi Vineyards. In addition to the immense diversity of terroir, it also boasts the kind of human terroir that makes it a unique wine region. Pioneering spirit, fervent desire to succeed though hard work, deep commitment to land stewardship, courage of camaraderie and an immense pride in one’s work, are all major contributors to its greatness.
The Dry Creek Valley (DCV) stretches over sixteen miles of breathtaking vistas. It’s merely two miles wide, yet hosts over 9,000 acres planted to a wide range of grape varietals. Zinfandel is king. In fact, DCV features California’s densest concentration of old Zinfandel vines. Many vineyards were farmed organically and bio-dynamically long before it became trendy. The Valley, undoubtedly, delivers world-class fruit.
Here are my recommendations for a perfect Dry Creek Valley adventure:
A successful Texan banking executive finds his way to Sonoma and falls in love with Dry Creek Valley, which Casts a spell on him. Thus begins a story of my newest DCV discovery. I absolutely adored their Chardonnay and Zinfandel. They also craft small lots of fantastic Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Sparkling wine and Sauvignon Blanc.
Winemaker Mike Gulyash started his career at Jordan Estate, under the tutelage of Andre Tchelistcheff and Rob Davis. He later became a BR Cohn‘s winemaker, where he worked with Merry Edwards. His core strengths lie in deep understanding of the vineyard and in maintaining the integrity of the fruit in the cellar. He speaks the language of the vine, and is keen on translating it into the bottle.
The winery’s ambiance is unparalleled. The attention to detail is astonishing, with indoor and outdoor spaces designed by an internationally renowned architect. Before I had a chance to sink into the comfortable chairs to take in the estate’s view, I got a personal hello from the owner. How many times have you walked into a winery, and were greeted by the principal?
One of my favorite stops in Dry Creek Valley is Kokomo. Hip, upbeat and informal, it offers lots to taste and a view to admire. Some of my perennial favorites are their Sauvignon Blancs and Zinfandels. However, don’t walk away without sampling other offerings from their extensive portfolio, comprised of Cabernet, Chardonnay, Claret, Cuvee, Grenache Rose, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Petite Sirah, Sparkling, Primitivo and Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
A partnership between one of the best growers in Sonoma, Randy Peters, and a doggedly dedicated perfectionist of a winemaker, Erik Miller has yielded stellar results. In ten years, I never had a mediocre wine from them. Crop reduction, meticulous canopy management, organic farming, consummate respect for the land, combined with Erik’s creativity, and innate sense of elegance across the vast varietal board, makes Kokomo a brand to follow.
Fifth generation wine growers, the Passalaquas offer Cabernet, Chardonnay, Claret, Merlot, Sangiovese, Primitivo, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel for your consideration. All five wines that I tasted were exceptionally well-made; revealing thoughtful approach, and oodles of charm.
Francesco Passalacqua came from Genoa to San Francisco in 1865, starting one of the oldest dynasties of viticultural families in Sonoma. Proprietor, Jason Passalacqua, initially ventured into the business world to build a successful career. However, his family vineyards kept calling his name. He launched the wine brand with the idea of providing an exceptional guest experience and equally luxurious wines. The fruit is sourced from carefully chosen family’s vineyards. The selection process for each cluster is rigorous.
Jessica Bilbro, who joined in 2012, is as much a vineyardist as she is a winemaker. She treats each individual lot with intense attention to detail and laser-like focus. Individual components are merged following exhaustive blending trials. The result are wines of uncommon elegance and beautiful flavor profiles.
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the Sbragia’s Cabernets, Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs. I can never get enough. In addition, they produce awesome Chardonnays and Zinfandels.
Spending time at Sbragia Family Vineyards feels like a giant hug. Ed Sbragia, having crafted award-winning wines at Beringer for decades, is one of the most prominent winemakers of our time. He is passionate about his small family winery. He is all about making minuscule lots of remarkable wines. Ed’s grandfather came to the Healdsburg area from Tuscany, in 1904. Early on, Ed worked in his family vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. This experience produced a devotion to the land and taught him to treating the property in a steward-like fashion. These guiding principles result in wines that taste like love.
West Wines is a charming winery at the south end of the valley. It was founded by a Swedish husband and wife team of former high-tech executives, Bengt Akerlind and Katarina Bonde. Not wanting to delegate the winemaking responsibilities, Katarina went back to school to study viticulture and oenology. They focus on small wine lots made from estate fruit: Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Bordeaux blends and late harvest dessert wines. The two vineyards are as charming as it gets. One is located on the valley floor, the other, boasting panoramic west side valley views, is perched on a ridge 300 feet above the valley. Both produce phenomenal crops. The winemaking is guided by European sensibilities and techniques while showing respect for the opulence of California fruit. Katarina coaxes radiant flavors and elongated, laid-back tannins out of her meticulously selected fruit. For her, it’s all about age-worthiness. The reds are held back for a couple of years, allowing the flavors to integrate; a rare and costly practice in the wine business.
If you are in the mood for a relaxing afternoon by the murmuring creek, and some splendid wines to help it along, head over to Truett-Hurst Vineyards. Bring a picnic lunch from a nearby Dry Creek General Store, which makes superb sandwiches, and leave your worries behind. Warning: you may forget where you are and confuse the idyllic spot, complete with extensive organic gardens and goats, with Provence. Gazing upon the bucolic views, spellbound by surrounding scenery, it’s easy to be transported to France. Visit for the views, stay for their fantastic, diverse wine portfolio.
Discover Dry Creek Valley. You will be glad you did!