Dry Creek Valley – Day 1
For a day of Zinfandel exploration and discovery, it is impossible to go wrong in Dry Creek Valley – so many great wineries smaller and larger that take an extra measure of pride in Zinfandel! It can be tempting to just winery hop all day, but, given the dozens of wineries posted on the directional signs throughout the valley, it is highly recommended to have a plan that allows you to use your time wisely for a relaxing day. (Remember that wine is supposed to relieve stress!)
Here is a progressive plan for a memorable day of Dry Creek Valley Zin-vestigation which names three of the region’s most respected family producers: Wilson Family, Dry Creek Vineyards, and Pedroncelli Winery. Each winery offers picturesque vineyard settings, family-style relaxed hospitality, unique experiences, and delicious variations of style in their approach to Zinfandel. California Zinfandel in general is loaded with wonderful family stories about dedication to wine-growing, and these three producers in Dry Creek are prime examples.
Dry Creek Vineyard
Dry Creek Valley’s Zinfandel Flagship.
As Dry Creek Vineyards’ elegant and adventurous labels depict, David Stare combines two passions – sailing and Zinfandel. His winemaking vision and pioneering spirit led to the founding of Dry Creek Vineyards in 1972, leading the way to the Dry Creek Valley appellation’s modern era of winemaking and reputation as a standard – bearer for Zinfandel.
This premier, family-owned winery is celebrating 48 years of winemaking and is led by the second generation. Dave’s daughter, Kim Stare Wallace, serves as President and oversees the farm to bottle to customer winery that produces as many as eight separate bottlings of Zinfandel – along with exemplary Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a signature Bordeaux -style Meritage blend.
The winery’s historic vineyards, and younger vineyards planted to time-proven selections speak to the Stare family’s commitment to careful farming, preservation and craftsmanship. Visitors to the winery near Healdsburg in the scenic heart of Dry Creek Valley where vineyards merge seamlessly with surrounding hills and mountains, are imbued with a deep sense of purpose, quality, and unwavering style. Surrounded by pioneering and preservationist vineyard blocks, the winery is essentially a shrine to Zinfandel – a “must-visit” for lovers of Zinfandel.
Among the winery’s many visitor experiences that include seated tastings is the chance to take an unforgettable ride around the winery’s estate vineyards ATV-style and enjoy a private comparative tasting of its limited production Zinfandels – most of which are available only through the winery’s tasting room and membership.
A Dry Creek Landmark.
A day of visiting Dry Creek Valley would not be complete without paying a visit to one of its landmark structures and wineries – Wilson Winery. Lovingly restored and modernized for state of the art winemaking, the century-old Wilson Winery is the domain of Diane and Ken Wilson and home base for their portfolio of outstanding winery and hospitality properties. The old tin barn building and grounds have become a reference point in Dry Creek for its wines, hospitality, and ambience. Diane, who was born and raised in Northern California, is a self taught winemaker who since founding Wilson in 1993 with husband Ken has received countless awards, gold medals, lofty scores, and accolades including recently being named “Woman Winemaker of the Year”. Diane crafts balanced, fruit-forward wines that express Zinfandel’s vibrant character and harken to the many historic vineyard sites in Dry Creek and Sonoma County from which they are sourced. The second generation Wilsons – Sydney, Victoria, and Sawyer are all involved in the day to day operations of the winery and regularly greet visitors and host winery tastings and events. Diane is often available to guests to chat or sign a special bottle. Diane’s other greeter, border collie Ben, would love for you to throw a ball for him. Diane and Ken utilize sustainable production practices, farming and water use as well as support a scholarship fund for Sonoma County farmworker families.
Visitors can choose between tasting at the bar or relaxing outdoors with tableside service. Tasting fees are waived with purchases, and retail sales and wine clubs are offered. Dogs and picnics are welcome. Be sure to allow a moment to have a memorable photo op with artist Brian Tedrick’s giant coyote sculpture in the winery gardens!
Unmatched Zinfandel Family History
Now in its 94th year, historic family-run winemaking, farming cred and bang for your wine buck doesn’t get any better in Sonoma County than at Pedroncelli Winery, where the Pedroncelli family has been farming and making great wines and memories from estate vineyards and other Sonoma County vineyards for four generations. Founded by John Pedroncelli Sr. in 1927 and today operated by the Pedroncelli family, the winery is women owned (along with woman winemaker, Montse Reece). The Pedroncelli winery stands as a testament to strength of family, and perseverance. Pedroncelli’s time honored winning formula is: consistent approachable style, quality, and excellent values among several varieties – whites and reds.
Sustainable practices, old vines and vineyards that are faithfully propagated from the family’s revered mother clone are at the heart of Pedroncelli’s Zinfandels. Visitors to the original winery’s tasting room and patios gain an immediate sense of history, quality and family pride among the surrounding hillside beauty of the Dry Creek AVA. Tastings are offered tableside. Vineyard visits to the rows of estate vines adjacent to the winery are offered and typically are hosted by the congenial co-owner Julie Pedroncelli. A prolific wine writer and wine educator, check out Julie’s regular newsletter “Vino in my Dino” – a reference to her Flintstones drinking cup from childhood. Retail sales, enhanced food-paired tastings, and wine clubs are available and picnic boxes can be arranged with advance notice.
Luxury, Convenience and Warm Hospitality
Situated in the historic little town of Geyserville that is named for the natural hot springs in the surrounding mountains, the Geyserville Inn is conveniently located close by highways 101 and 128 – with easy access to the dozens of wineries in Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. Recently refurbished and updated, The Geyserville Inn features the excellent Geyserville Grille as well as a heated pool, extensive gardens, lawns, views of the eastern mountains and expansive vineyards – and its own wine tasting venue called Duo . At Duo you can relax in the luxurious lounge or take in the al fresco vistas where you can taste and purchase rare, small production Zinfandel from the acclaimed Tonti Family and Gus Gamba’s Etrusca wines.
Alexander Valley – Day 2
Northeast of the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County lies historic Alexander Valley. Named for Cyrus Alexander who first planted grape vines here in 1843, the valley is bisected east and west by the Russian River and features alluvial soil and a wide diurnal range of warm inland days but cool evenings and fog- shrouded mornings due to the Russian River’s open corridor to the Pacific Ocean. Alexander Valley’s early fame for wine was due in large part to the establishment of the Italian Swiss Colony in the village of Asti in the 1880’s where the large winery after Prohibition became in the 1950’s the largest wine producer and one of the most visited tourist destinations in California. Today dozens of excellent wineries in the region produce a wide range of varietals including Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but Alexander Valley still strongly identifies as a Zinfandel-rich region!
Modern Era Founding Family
Just to the south of Geyserville is one of Sonoma County’s most beloved family wine estates. In 1954 Leo and Evelyn Trentadue decided to leave their beloved fruit orchards in what is today called Silicon Valley. In 1959 they relocated to Alexander Valley to a 208 acre tract of prime but overlooked agricultural land with a long farming history (and Pre-Prohibiton Zinfandel vineyards) and established their family winery. Their plan was to produce a variety of affordable value wines for everyday consumption. The family estate has also been a prime source of grapes for select wineries.
Today, under the winemaking direction of Miro Tcholokov, the winery produces 28 bottlings that in addition to Zinfandel include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sangiovese, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Montepulciano, Sauvignon Blanc, Port and sparkling wine (which due to grandfathering they are still allowed to call “Champagne).
Trentadue, with it’s expansive grounds, surrounding estate vineyards, sweeping views, and people-friendly facilities is also a very popular venue for weddings and events. Visitors can choose to taste a selection in the tasting room bar or one of the outdoor venues and tasting fees are waived with purchases.
J. Rickards Winery
Stewards of The Ranch
At the northern end of Alexander Valley on Chianti Road, J. Rickards Winery is a family-owned and operated 60 acre vineyard and small winery. In addition to producing acclaimed wines, the ranch supplies premium grapes to a small number of select wineries. Founded, owned and operated by Jim and Eliza Rickards, the winery was opened in 2005 and the vineyards have been planted since 1976, augmenting the original 1908 Zinfandel field blend vines. History, premium wine-growing, and sustainability are the hallmarks of J. Rickards. Being good stewards of the land and farming responsibly are of paramount importance to Jim and Eliza. In addition to his beloved old vine Zinfandel, J. Rickards produces under the direction of winemaker Blaine Brazil, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux blend, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, a GSM and Grenache.
The Rickards’ “Darn Fine Brown Barn” built back in 1997 by their good friend Ron Marley, has since evolved from housing tractors to become a rustic tasting room overlooking Alexander Valley. Tastings are by appointment, retail purchasing and picnics are available, and guests are invited to take a walk among the old Zinfandel vines.
Alexander Valley Vineyards
Where it started with Cyrus.
After purchasing the historic Cyrus Alexander homestead in 1962, Harry and Maggie Wetzel strived to create a thriving agricultural lifestyle on the property. They raised their children along with their vines in Alexander Valley, providing inspiration and encouragement as they developed the estate together. Son Hank and wife Linda established the winery on the historic property in 1975 and the winery has gone on to garner praise for its wines and organic farming practices worldwide. Today, the fourth generation of their family is growing up amongst vineyards and next door to the working winery that is known around the world as “AVV”. The Wetzel family’s commitment to their vineyards and winery is deeply influenced by their respect for the land. When the family took over stewardship of their Alexander Valley property, they were attracted by the ranch’s natural beauty: rugged hillsides, rolling meadows, rushing winter creeks and plentiful wildlife. Since that time the family has focused on protecting this land. Today the third generation is continuing this legacy and the fourth generation is growing up on the property they love.
Alexander Valley Vineyards has a long history with Zinfandel. It began with the introduction of Sin Zin in 1978 then Redemption from Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel in 2001, and Temptation in 2004. A small amount of late harvest Zinfandel is produced under the name Salvation. Estate and Reserve tastings are offered daily by reservation and as a special AVV experience, the winery offers a guided vineyard hike, tasting and lunch at 10:30 daily (by 36 hours advance reservation only).After your day exploring the wines, people, and scenery of Alexander Valley, return to The Geyserville Inn for your second night stay and enjoy a relaxed dinner at either The Grille or the locals’ favorite Italian Pizzeria and restaurant, Diavola.