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Seven must-visit Dry Creek Valley wineries in Sonoma County

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 10/27/2020 By Esther Mobley
a close up of a lush green field © Jason Henry, Special To The Chronicle

A trek through northern Sonoma County is a study in microclimates, including Dry Creek Valley. One moment, you’re engulfed in a veil of fog on Westside Road. The next, you emerge into Dry Creek Valley’s relentless sun, where you can taste everything from unique Bordeaux-style wines to Italian-inspired Fiano. A few hundred yards in Healdsburg can be the difference between Pinot Noir country and Zinfandel country.

While Russian River Pinot, and Westside Road, claims much of Healdsburg’s wine-tourism glory, it’s Dry Creek Valley’s diverse tinkerings with Zinfandel, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc that offer a more laid-back, and possibly more exciting, route for the Wine Country visitor. There are also some compelling plantings of Cinsault, Montepulciano, Roussanne, Mourvedre.  Tiny by American Viticultural Area (AVA) standards, Dry Creek Valley is longer (16 miles) than it is wide (2 miles), bisecting both the Russian River and Lake Sonoma.

Dry Creek Road runs parallel to the tributary under the same name. It’s the main thoroughfare connecting this area’s wineries to downtown Healdsburg. And if you cross over the creek at Lambert or Yoakim bridges, you’ll find yourself on West Dry Creek Road — where the speed limits are slower, and the turns windier. You’re more likely to encounter bicycle traffic than tour-bus traffic. Virtually all wineries are open without appointments. It’s a reminder that not all of Wine Country has been mined for $50 tasting fees. I’d be remiss to direct you to Dry Creek Valley without imploring you to stop at the Dry Creek General Store: for a coffee and blueberry scone in the morning or a sandwich at lunchtime. Overpriced Sonoma County memorabilia notwithstanding, the Store offers a palette of local colors not likely to be glimpsed in the boutiques or bistros of downtown Healdsburg.

Below, each winery has a linked review from one of our expert staff. Use them as our curated trip or create your own. —Esther Mobley

Want more ideas to explore Sonoma County wine? Take our Sonoma Valley trip.

1. Lambert Bridge Winery

Don’t let the winery’s modest appearance fool you. Inside, it looks like a luxurious mountain lounge. Their Bordeaux-style wines are as elegant as their mountain lodge tasting room.

2. A. Rafanelli

A. Rafanelli is one of the oldest wineries in Dry Creek Valley. A visit here requires an appointment, unlike many nearby tasting rooms, so plan ahead. Tastings are held in the barrel room, and it’s a quick and pleasant experience.

3. Quivira Vineyards & Winery

Call ahead to schedule a walking tour of this organic vineyard and gardens. (It will help you walk off the wine you drank at Lambert and A. Rafanelli.) You can also take a self-guided tour.

4. Dry Creek Vineyard

It’s hard to imagine Dry Creek Valley without Dry Creek Vineyard. Founded by David Stare in 1972, this was the first new winery built in Dry Creek Valley post-Prohibition. The property is nestled within never-ending rows of vines, surrounded by thickets and the area’s creek under the same name.

5. Unti Vineyards

You’re going to get some of Sonoma’s most unusual wines here, including lots of Italian-style bottlings. Don’t miss their Fiano.

6. Yoakim Bridge Winery

There’s no way to avoid it, you’ll be accosted with cuteness here. This tiny tasting room will feel more like you’re visiting an aunt or uncle. If you’re lucky, winemaker David Cooper will ask for your assistance for punch downs.

7. Preston Farm and Winery

With bocce, organic gardens and homemade olive oil, Preston exemplifies the casual, laid-back and bucolic vibe of Dry Creek Valley. This is a good way to spend the rest of your afternoon. Make sure to bring a picnic to accompany a glass (or bottle) outside.


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