Category Archives: Sonoma County

Dry Creek Valley

If you seek unique wines, food and lodging, Sonoma County is a great place to visit. It’s vast, stretching from Napa County on the east to the Pacific Ocean on the west. It’s bordered by Marin County and the San Pablo Bay on the south and Mendocino on the north. Within these generous confines you’ll find some great towns like Sonoma and Healdsburg where you can stay near, or on, the town square, park the car and explore on foot. If you’re looking for a charming little oceanside town, you might like Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his first fright flick The Birds. We recently stayed in all three places and brought home some great wine, lasting memories and a few photos should the memories ever need a refresh.

Sonoma County is also home to many wine growing appellations, some of which you may know: Los Carneros, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley. Since soil type and climate influence which grape varietals grow best, most appellations develop a specialty. The cooler climates of Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley are ideal for world-class Chardonnay, Russian River Valley is all about Pinot Noir, and Alexander Valley gets warm enough to produce noble Cabernet Sauvignon.

Let’s add one more appellation to the list: Dry Creek Valley, which extends northwest from Healdsburg on Dry Creek Road. This valley’s soil and microclimate have proven most suitable to Zinfandel, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc. But if you’re expecting the dark, jammy Zins of Paso Robles or Lodi, you might be pleasantly surprised by the lighter body and silky mouth feel of a Dry Creek Zin.

Since Dry Creek is a tributary of the Russian River, we were not surprised to find several excellent Pinot Noirs. Our first stop was Papapietro Perry, who source Pinot grapes from Peters Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Winemakers Ben Papapietro and Bruce Perry started in a garage back in the 1980’s when Ben’s beard was still black. They’ve come a long way, and the craftsmanship still shows. We arrived early, just in time to see a delivery of new French oak barrels. The six barrels in this photo cost Ben and Bruce over $7000 and will yield around 1800 bottles of wine.

Located across the parking lot from Papapietro Perry is Kokomo Winery, named for owner and winemaker Erik Miller’s home town in Indiana. If you’ve heard of Kokomo, it is most likely because the city has been famously making auto parts for decades. They even cast engine blocks for Maserati. Kokomo Winery also uses Peters fruit (grower Randy Peters is a partner) to produce some extraordinary and affordable Pinot Noir. The Sauvignon Blanc was also exceptional. We found the tasting room to be friendly and unpretentious. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying many tasting rooms, large and small, upscale, downscale and everything in between, but there’s always something appealing about tasting wine in the barrel room.

Continuing north on Dry Creek Road, we made our way to Fritz Underground Winery. The name sounds like something out of Prohibition, but stems from the fact that Fritz Underground is literally under the ground. Like Artesa Winery, which was featured in our Los Carneros column, Jay Arthur Fritz built a multistory reinforced concrete structure on a hilltop and buried it. Planet Earth keeps the internal temperature optimal for fermenting and aging wine. Even though Fritz built the place back in the 1970’s, his reduced “carbon footprint” and low power bill have proven visionary. If we had approached Fritz unaware of the construction, we might have asked “where the heck is the place?”

In keeping with the Dry Creek terroir, Fritz makes estate Cabernet, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, plus a lovely Russian River Valley Pinot employing Pommard, 113 and 115 clones. Yum!

We finished our week with an overnight in Bodega Bay, where we had some wonderful, fresh seafood at Tide’s Wharf and enjoyed some photo walks through the small town and along the coast. With that, we close with a gratuitous bird shot.












When visiting California wine country, many people prefer exploring Sonoma County, which has excellent wineries and is less crowded and more laid back than its more famous neighbor Napa. Of course if you really want laid back, you need to come to Santa Cruz, but that’s another story.

The best towns for a base of operations in Sonoma County are Sonoma and Healdsburg. They each have a town square or plaza, surrounded by restaurants, boutique inns and shops, and tasting rooms. On a recent visit to Healdsburg, we found ourselves staying at the H2 hotel, just a block off the Plaza. It’s a modern, sustainable affair, with bamboo flooring, recycled steel and an undulating, living roof. The café, Spoonbar, opens onto the sidewalk so you can eat al fresco, and the food is extraordinary. In the same space is the “Receptobar”, where you can check in, get a drink, make a dinner reservation, borrow a bike to ride around town or a DVD to play on the flat screen in your room. We watched My Favorite Year in which Russell Crowe plays a ruthless stock trader who inherits his uncle’s French vineyard where he had spent summers as a boy. See it.

Next door to the H2 is the La Crema tasting room, featuring some of my favorite Sonoma County Pinots and Chardonnays and a friendly, young tasting room staff. Venturing further down Healdsburg Avenue, you’ll find the Healdsburg Bar and Grill, Murphy-Goode and Kendall-Jackson tasting rooms, and the Bear Republic Brewery, all highly recommended. Just past the plaza is Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar. If you are only able to do one thing in Healdsburg, this has to be it. You can sit at Willi’s bar and order individual oysters from all over the world, along with numerous tapas style delicacies. We like to dine on the patio on calamari and ahi.

Healdsburg wouldn’t be complete without getting in the car and venturing out from downtown. To the south, you’ll find Rodney Strong. I always like to visit at least one place whose wines I can find at home, and I always enjoy their Chardonnays and Cabernets.

If you are a movie buff, consider driving north from Healdsburg where you can visit the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, a gorgeous estate that was once called Sovereign. The movie memorabilia that used to be on display at Coppola’s Inglenook estate in Napa is now here, including five Oscar statues. Coppola’s wines are always excellent, so we didn’t leave empty handed.

On the way back to Healdsburg, you might enjoy stopping at Trentadue. We found the staff friendly and the wines well made. The winner was the Chocolate Amore desert wine, and I don’t normally go in for port. While at Trentadue, you may be able to pick up a bottle etched with the logo of your alma mater, unless you’re a Banana Slug or Gaucho fan.

Closer to downtown Healdsburg is Seghesio, who have a large, Mediterranean style tasting room with glass windows behind the bar providing a view of the barrel room. The variety and quality of the wines were much to our liking and the pour girl was unusually knowledgeable.

After two fine days in and about Healdsburg, our Wine Country adventure continued with a drive through the Alexander and Knights valleys to Napa. Please stay tuned.