Insider’s Guide to Dry Creek Valley

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  • on OCTOBER 30, 2018
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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

Courtesy of Seghesio Family Vineyards

With a grape growing history that dates back almost 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, the area produces acclaimed sauvignon blanc and other Bordeaux-style wines, as well as quality Rhônes.

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 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. If you visit on a weekend, spring for the Chef’s Table tasting, a notable four-course wine and food pairing experience. 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 115-year-old vines is Ridge Lytton Springs, an environmentally friendly, sustainable winery dedicated to single vineyard bottlings of zinfandel. The Estate Tour & Tasting provides a closer look at this remarkable facility – built from straw bales and vineyard clay – followed by a side-by-side comparison tasting of their most limited wines.

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 the family-owned Dry Creek Vineyard, recognized as the first new winery established after prohibition. The winery is most known for its signature zinfandels – eight to be exact! – which can be enjoyed from the welcoming tasting room.

Where to Eat

Courtesy of Kim Carroll/spoonbar

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 nearby Healdsburg’s renowned farm-to-table restaurants and family-owned gems. One of the hottest tickets in town is Single Thread Restaurant, where you’ll find an eleven-course meal that highlights vegetables, fruit, herbs, honey, and olive oil from Single Thread’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. At spoonbar, inside the h2hotel, enjoy modern California-Italian cuisine in the open, lively setting. Ongoing themed nights like Fried Chicken Wednesdays and Lobster Sundays keep things interesting.

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

Courtesy of Healdsburg SHED

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. Sign up for a cooking class at Relish Culinary Adventure‘s Culinary Center, an event and teaching kitchen offering a variety of monthly hands-on and demonstration cooking classes. And 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 onsite garden to take with you to go.

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 a 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 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 museums and parks.

Where to Stay

Courtesy of Hotel Healdsburg

On the cusp of the Dry Creek Valley AVA, about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is the destination-worthy town of Healdsburg. Though it may be quaint, don’t let its small size fool you – this gateway into the Dry Creek Valley packs a mighty punch when it comes to places to see, eat, and stay, 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. With private balconies, 100% Egyption cotton sheets, and plush amenities, a stay here means you can be eco-conscious without having to sacrifice comfort.

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. And, conveniently located just minutes from a number of Dry Creek wineries is the new Hotel Trio, where 122 guest rooms and suites are outfitted with modern, full-size kitchens and complimentary Wi-Fi. The hotel also offers complimentary shuttles to downtown and bikes if you feel like exploring on two wheels.

Cover Image Courtesy of Facebook: Dry Creek Vineyard

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Hana-Lee Sedgwick

Hana-Lee Sedgwick is a writer and editor based in Santa Barbara, California. A Certified Specialist of Wine and Sommelier, Hana-Lee specializes in all things wine, food, and travel, and her work regularly appears in publications such as The Tasting Panel, Edible, and Food & Home. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderandwine.