The next couple of weeks are going to be busy for me: Monday, I fly out to California and head to Healdsburg for the better part of a week, come back to Houston for a night, then fly off to Santiago, Chile for a week among the Andes mountains in Chile and Argentina. I get back from that trip and then take the boys out to California to visit their maternal grand-parents for the better part of two weeks.
[By the way, while I am out there, I will be looking for a new place to keep my bike—my in-laws will be moving in the fall… to Houston… less than a block away from us. So I will need a new place to store my bike!]
Preparing to go back to Healdsburg reminds me of my first ever “press trip” to Dry Creek Valley back in the Spring of 2014. I was out in California with my family on one of my many trips out to visit my in-laws and I was invited to visit Dry Creek by a reader of this blog who happened to be on the board of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley and an avid cyclist.
I wrote quite a bit about that first trip, my first real exposure to the appellation (in all, there were over a dozen posts: Search “Tales from Dry Creek Valley” in the search box), and Dry Creek remains one of my favorite regions to visit. It is tiny in stature (one of the smallest appellations in the country: 16 miles long by 2 miles wide), but grand in reputation and influence with over 150 winegrowers and 60 wineries.
Additionally, it is perhaps the single best area, in the world, that I have experienced to ride a bike. Yes. I understand that is quite a statement, but sitting here, typing these words, I can’t think of a single place where I would rather ride (and remember, I have ridden all over France).
Navigating Dry Creek Valley is conceptually rather simple as there are only two main roads (Dry Creek Road on the east side of the Valley and West Dry Creek Road on the opposite—what the Valley lacks in clever street naming it makes up for in many other ways) that contain five total stop signs. What is immeasurably more difficult is knowing where to go to find some of the best wine in the region.
While Dry Creek is justifiably known for its world class Zinfandel, many other varieties thrive in the near perfect growing conditions and myriad soil types. What I offer below is Part One of my suggestions of how to navigate the Valley, in search of the best (in my opinion) expressions of several different wines, arranged by grape variety.
Many smarter people than I have debated whether Dry Creek is better suited for Rhone or Bordeaux varieties. For me, that is a “no-brainer.”
Both. (Why choose?)
For me, the choice of best Syrah in Dry Creek is really no contest: Vineyard of Pasterick Angle of Repose. I tasted the 2008 vintage back in 2014 and it was other-worldly. There are only 44 cases made (when owner Gerry Pasterick decides the fruit is good enough to make the wine), it is pricey ($85-100), and is only available to the wine club. So why bother writing about it again?
It is that good.
There is not a ton of Viognier grown in the Valley, but there are certainly a few to seek out. When I first thought about writing this article, I was certain that the Vineyard of Pasterick Viognier would be my top choice here too, and while their limited production Viognier (50 cases) is remarkable, there is another that just beat it out. Driving around one day with my Dry Creek benefactor, he suggested we stop in at Trattore Farms, a newly opened winery on the north end of Dry Creek Road. I was glad we did—while all the wines were sublime, I actually bought a couple of bottles of the Viognier—I need more wine like I need a hole in my head, but their Viognier was that good.
The other must try is again Frick Winery, the leading Rhone protagonist in the Valley. It is also fun to hear Bill Frick pronounce the name of the grape—but don’t tell him I said that.
For many, Sauvignon Blanc is the white grape variety in Dry Creek, and there is no need to look any further than Dry Creek Vineyards, to find the best, and often least expensive, Sauvignon Blanc in the appellation. A while ago, at the Winegrowers annual auction, I blind tasted over two dozen Dry Creek Sauvignons and the Dry Creek Vineyards entry came out on top (for me). At around $18? Giddy-up.
Others to consider are Lambert Bridge (on the other side of the Valley, as well as the price spectrum), and Kokomo Winery, who ferments some of the fruit in Acacia barrels, producing a unique expression of Sauvignon Blanc.
I have not had a ton of Cabernet from Dry Creek and part of the reason for that is much of it is sold off to large producers for “Sonoma Valley” appellated wines. The few I have tried, though, have been wonderful. Both of the wines I recommend will require an appointment to taste, but that would be time and effort well spent. The Del Carlo Winery is owned and operated by Ray Teldeschi who has lived on “the Home Ranch” in Dry Creek all his life and today is the vineyard manager for countless winegrowers. Not only a sought after vineyard manager, he is one of the nicest people I have met in the Valley and he produces a fine Cab—some knucklehead is quoted on the website saying “$30 for a Cab this good? That is practically stealing.” And he’s right.
The other is Estate 1856, another small production winery that you have likely never heard of—unless you read this blog regularly, of course. I have touted Janice Schmidt’s wines since the very first tasting in 2014, and nothing has changed—subsequent vintages are every bit as good. It is tough to pick just one of Janice’s bottlings, but her Cabernet has to be at the top of the list.
Part Two Coming Next Week….