Insider’s Guide to Dry Creek Valley

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  • by HANA-LEE SEDGWICK
  • on APRIL 9, 2024
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Guides

Insider’s Guide to Dry Creek Valley

By Hana-Lee Sedgwick April 9, 2024

While Sonoma County has no shortage of grape growing areas, Dry Creek Valley is certainly the most compact, with over 70 wineries and 9,000 acres of vines in an area just 16 miles long and two miles wide.

Located just outside of Healdsburg in Northern Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley may be big on wine, especially Zinfandel, but no need to feel limited to just wine tasting; there are plenty of other great things to do and see in this rural, yet quintessential Wine Country region, and we’re laying it all out for you in our insider’s guide to the Dry Creek Valley.

Where to Taste

Seghesio Family Vineyards
Photo courtesy of Seghesio Family Vineyards

With a grape growing history that dates back over 150 years—one of the longest in California—Dry Creek Valley’s unique location and climate provide ideal growing conditions for grapes. There are over 30 grape varieties planted here, but Dry Creek is synonymous with Zinfandel. Here, you’ll find blocks of old vine Zinfandel, some that even survived Prohibition, and plenty of wineries crafting distinctive styles of California’s “heritage” grape. If Zinfandel is not your thing, don’t worry—the area produces acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc and other Bordeaux-style wines, as well as quality Rhônes.

Ferrari-Carano
Photo courtesy of Ferrari-Carano

At the northern end of the valley, you’ll find Ferrari-Carano, a stately, Italian-style tasting room surrounded by stunning gardens and known for its Fumé Blanc and Super Tuscan-style reds. At the southern part of Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg is Mill Creek Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery producing Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay, where picnic tables overlook a water wheel and pond, as well as the surrounding valley.

Just a few blocks from downtown Healdsburg is Seghesio Family Vineyards, a fifth-generation family-owned winery specializing in Zinfandel and Italian varieties. Take the opportunity to dive right into Seghesio’s Italian ancestry through their Italian Heritage Flight, which includes samples of classics like Sangiovese and Barbera. Or, pack a picnic and head to the small, family-owned Nalle Winery, where small lots of old vine, dry-farmed estate Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs can be tasted from within the cellar.

Surrounded by impressive 120-year-old vines is Ridge Lytton Springs, an environmentally friendly winery dedicated to single-vineyard bottlings of Zinfandel. The Lytton Springs Estate Tasting provides the chance to sample five single-vineyard wines in their remarkable facility, which was built from straw bales and vineyard clay.

A. Rafanelli
Photo courtesy of A. Rafanelli

To round out your tasting trip, be sure to book an appointment at nearby A. Rafanelli, where you’ll find a selection of noteworthy limited-production wines, like Zinfandel and Cabernet, from this fourth-generation family winery who have been growing grapes in the area since the early 1900s. Also worthy of a stop is Dry Creek Vineyard, recognized as the first new winery established after Prohibition. The winery is most known for its signature Zinfandels—ten to be exact!—which can be enjoyed from the welcoming tasting room.

Where to Eat

Single Thread Restaurant, Healdsburg, CA
Photo courtesy of SingleThread

Dry Creek Valley may be known for its world-class wine, but it’s also home to a thriving agricultural community that supplies produce and meat to the renowned farm-to-table restaurants in nearby Healdsburg. One of the hottest tickets in town is SingleThread Restaurant, where you’ll find a ten-course meal that highlights vegetables, fruit, herbs, honey, and olive oil from SingleThread’s farm just seven miles away. If you plan ahead, you can stay in the five-room inn upstairs, if the thought of venturing out after your gourmet meal is just too much to bear.

Farm-to-table is also the name of the game at The Matheson, where the menus highlight micro-seasonal ingredients (such as locally-foraged mushrooms) in ever-evolving dishes, which can be ordered a la carte or in multiple courses. Not to be missed before dinner is a visit to The Matheson’s Wine Wall, featuring 88 different wines on tap. For something more casual, head upstairs to Roof 106, a rooftop dining hotspot showcasing shareable plates and craft cocktails.

The Matheson | Michael Woolsey
Photo courtesy of The Matheson | Michael Woolsey

Vegans and vegetarians will adore Little Saint and its 100% plant-based menu. With inventive dishes highlighting global flavors and a truly stunning space, it’s no wonder they made the NY Times’ “50 Best Restaurants” list. For authentic Spanish tapas with a modern twist, check out Bravas Bar de Tapas, offering housemade bites inspired by the region’s local farms and artisans. And don’t miss tasting small-batch ice cream at Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar, where imaginative flavors and mouthwatering pies draw inspiration from local ingredients. There are even dairy free and vegan ice cream options, because no one should have to sacrifice when it comes to sweets.

What to Do

Healdsburg Farmers Market
Photo courtesy of Healdsburg Farmers Market

It goes without saying that Dry Creek Valley and adjacent Healdsburg have everything for the wine loving foodie, and outside of tasting rooms and restaurants there’s still plenty to keep your taste buds happy. From April through December, stroll the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market to check out the delightful array of fruits, veggies, fish, honey, and bread, accompanied by live music. Sign up for a cooking class with Relish Culinary Adventures, which offers pop-up events at various wineries and other locations around the region. Be sure to also pay a visit to the Dry Creek General Store, established in 1881. Peruse the unique selection of delicious food items and artisan gifts before grabbing a sandwich from the deli to eat in the on-site garden or take with you to go.

Dry Creek General Store
Dry Creek General Store, established in 1881.
Dry Creek General Store
Photo courtesy of Dry Creek General Store

When your palate needs a break, however, make the short drive to Lake Sonoma, which can be enjoyed any time of year. Rent a ski boat, jet ski, or canoe for a fun day on the lake. If the weather isn’t warm enough for swimming, reserve one of the day use areas for a picnic or bbq and enjoy the view. For a bit of culture, head north to explore the 101 Sculpture Trail in Geyserville or Cloverdale, an outdoor gallery of sorts, showcasing a collection of imaginative and unique sculpture artworks from local artists throughout each town. If staying in Healdsburg is more your speed, rent bikes from Spoke Folk Cyclery for a leisurely afternoon spent cruising around town visiting shops, parks, and museum, such as The Healdsburg Museum, where you can explore the history of Healdsburg and the greater Northern Sonoma County region.

Where to Stay

Hotel Healdsburg
Photo courtesy of Hotel Healdsburg

On the cusp of the Dry Creek Valley AVA is the destination-worthy town of Healdsburg. Though it may be quaint, don’t let its small size fool you—as you can tell from the aforementioned places to eat and things to do, this gateway into the Dry Creek Valley packs a mighty punch, making it an ideal homebase while exploring the area.

For sophisticated charm in downtown Healdsburg, head to the Hotel Healdsburg, where a relaxing ambiance, luxurious spa and pool, and acclaimed Wine Country restaurant, Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, make it easy to settle in for a while. At nearby h2hotel, all 36 rooms are designed with an understated yet chic aesthetic with sustainability at the forefront—in fact, this boutique hotel is LEED NC 2.2 Gold Certified Green, an esteemed certification for outstanding sustainability achievement. A block from the main square is Hotel Les Mars, offering a touch of old world luxury in Wine Country—think European linens and antiques, complimentary French-style breakfasts, and daily wine receptions.

Montage Healdsburg
Pool at Montage, Photo courtesy of Montage Healdsburg

If vineyard views are what you’re after, head to the stunning Montage Healdsburg, a sleek Wine Country retreat featuring 130 luxurious rooms and suites, beautiful surroundings, and a wide range of unique experiences. Or plan to stay at The Madrona, a stylish, revamped 1881 Victorian mansion offering sophisticated guestrooms, gracious hospitality, and Instagrammable spaces around every turn.

Conclusion

Whether you’re on the hunt for Sonoma’s best Zinfandels or on a mission to eat several exceptional meals, this guide to the Dry Creek Valley has you covered. With so many great places to sip, savor, and stay, there’s no doubting your visit to the Dry Creek Valley will be extra memorable.