Thursday, April 14, 2011
One of my favorite things to do when I travel to San Francisco is to go wine tasting. Most of my recent tasting trips have been to Russian River, which is famous for its Pinot Noirs. Last week, however, I decided to venture a bit more north to go wine tasting in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.
Located just west of the cities of Healdsburg and Geyserville, the picture-pretty American Viticultural Area is a classic Sonoma Valley wine region. Comprised of almost 80,000 acres—10,000 of which are covered in vineyards—the land is home to over 80 wineries and 26 grape varietals.
Like its southern neighbor Russian River, the Dry Creek Valley experiences cool morning fog and warm days. However, its warmer weather makes it better known for Zinfandels than Pinot Noirs. The area is also a large producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.
Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is home to every kind of winery, from large producers to small family-run operations. I had the opportunity to visit three of them on my trip last weekend: Ferrari-Carano, Bella, and Michel-Slumberger.
My mother, brother, and I went up to the area excited to spend the day tasting our beloved California wines. The drive from San Francisco took just under two hours, and we arrived at the Ferrari-Carano winery ready for tasting.
There was a wine club event going on that day, so the $15 tasting fee was happily waived. We sampled everything from classic buttery-oaky California Chardonnays to powerful dark fruit-laden Cabernet Sauvignons. They set a good tone for the day.
On the way out, we spent a few minutes exploring the winery’s gorgeous gardens. They were full of bridges that spanned small ponds and sculptures that sat in fields of flowers, and their colors and greenery were dazzling in the Sonoma sunshine.
After enjoying the gardens we were off to Bella Vineyards, my mother’s favorite Dry Creek Valley winery. The wine cave was buzzing with visitors and wine club members, and as we walked into the cool, dark space we saw a beautiful flower-covered table set for a special event.
Our tasting at Bella Vineyards focused on one thing: Zinfandel. Bella is best known for its Zins, many of which have received accolades from the likes of Wine Spectator over the years. We tried three that afternoon, and loved the 2009 Belle Canyon Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel so much that we each bought a bottle. My mother even joined the wine club.
After our tasting we were in need of a rest. We sat down at one of the winery’s picnic tables and shared a chocolate cake and a lemon tart from Miette patisserie in San Francisco. Then we went to the rustic-chic Dry Creek General Store for sandwiches.
Refreshed, we continued our wine tasting in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley with a visit to the Michel-Schlumberger winery. On our way in, we stopped to watch the winery’s beekeeper hard at work.
Then we came across an exhibit showing the winery’s commitment to organic farming using animals to do the job of pesticides. Everything from bats to owls to sheep was employed in this effort, and it made for a very unique winery tour.
Our $5 wine tasting at Michel-Schlumgerger winery consisted of a 2007 Chardonnay that was a nice blend of oaky and buttery flavors, a 2007 Malbec, and a 2007 Cabernet Franc from the winery’s Humanitas label, which donates proceeds to the local Habitat for Humanity, and a 2007 Syrah.
After taking a walk around the grounds, we piled back in the car and drove south to San Francisco. Our day of wine tasting in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley had been a good one, and I was happy to have branched out a bit from Russian River. My only regret was not being able to take wine back with me to London. I suppose I will just have to return to California for more. I won’t complain.