After leaving the Northside, crossing the Golden Gate, and driving north on Highway 101, my husband and I passed snow-covered mountains. What? Yes, it was one of those cold, crazy days in February when almost every previous weather record was shattered. At the beginning of our journey, it was snow-topped Mt. Tamalpais, and later from Dry Creek Valley, we could see the white peaks of the Mayacamas Mountains to the east. We were lucky enough to catch a couple of dry days in between storms – enough time to enjoy Healdsburg and its laid-back environs. Sixteen miles long and two miles wide, Dry Creek Valley is bordered on the north by Lake Sonoma and the Russian River and Dry Creek to the south. It was in this pastoral area that adventurous vintners planted old vine Zinfandel in the early 1900s. Today, Dry Creek is home to many great Zins and an array of other varietals as well.
As you exit Highway 101 near Healdsburg and head west toward Dry Creek Valley, the road narrows. Meander through hobbit-friendly forests of oak, redwood and evergreen trees, then uphill to discover the beautiful Montemaggiore estate. Here you’ll find some of the best Syrahs around.
Montemaggiore (“great mountain” in Italian) is one of the wineries on Dry Creek’s Green Trail (certified organic and/or biodynamic). The owners are hands-on – farming grapes and olives in the mountains above Healdsburg and taking care to be environmentally responsible. It’s hard to get enough of their estate Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah, named for their son and future winemaker. The 3Divas is a terrific Rhone blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. The owners’ Italian heritage is evident not only in their passion for their wines, but also in their wonderful extra virgin olive oils, blends of frantoio, leccino and pendolino Tuscan varietals. From here, it’s a quick drive north on West Dry Creek Road to Quivira, another winery that’s part of the Green Trail. You’ll see biodynamic, full-circle farming in their gardens, the chicken “condo,” the vineyards, and when you encounter Ruby and the other pigs who call Quivira their home. The winery is also actively engaged in restoring Wine Creek, which runs through the property, and its Coho salmon and Steelhead trout. Good Zins, but try Elusive, their rich Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah.
On the other side of the valley sits the Dry Creek General Store. As the name implies, this is one of those places that has everything you need to enjoy a day of tasting wine, biking or just relaxing on the big front porch. We ordered two sandwiches for lunch (a grilled chicken with pesto oozing with cheese, and the General’s Club, stacked high with chicken, bacon, avocado and more). Both were delicious and we enjoyed them with the store’s good vibe at a communal table.
After lunch, we stopped at Mazzocco. Each of their estate-designate Zinfandels outshines the next, and when you pair them with a friendly tasting room staff, it makes for a fun visit. They do make a Chardonnay, so try the 2008 Stuhlmeyer Reserve first. Then it’s Zins like Briar and the West Dry Creek Reserve. They are deliciously jammy and rich with dark berry flavors. A taste of cheese adds to the savory experience.Just before downtown Healdsburg, we stopped at Simi. In 1904, a teenaged Isabelle took over the winery after her father’s death. When Prohibition ended, she converted a redwood wine cask into one of the first “tasting rooms” in Sonoma County. She would scoot from there to the street to offer samples of her wines to passing motorists. Today, visitors can relax in a spacious tasting room or adjacent pizza cafe and enjoy wines that are food friendly. Favorites include the Russian River Pinot Gris, the Alexander Valley Chardonnay and the Landslide Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Next morning, we picked up a newspaper, coffee, fruit, and muffins at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast bar before heading back to the Northside. In just 24 hours, we escaped the daily grind and settled into a rustic pace in Dry Creek Valley and Healdsburg. Take a day to explore – you’ll feel like you’ve been on vacation forever. What are your favorite Dry Creek wineries and Healdsburg restaurants?
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Healdsburg, Calif.: 70 miles north of San Francisco on Highway 101. Dry Creek Valley is west of downtown Healdsburg. Tourist information: www.healdsburg.com, www.wdcv.com, www.wineroad.com, www.sonomacounty.com Where to Stay
H2hotel: 219 Healdsburg Avenue, 707-922-5251, www.h2hotel.com. Rooms from $195 weekdays.
Where to Eat
Dry Creek General Store: 3495 Dry Creek Road, 707-433-4171, www.drycreekgeneralstore1881.com. Sandwiches from $8.
Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar: 403 Healdsburg Avenue, 707-433-9191, www.starkrestaurants.com. Ceviches and tartares from $10, soft rolls from $11, small plates from $9, desserts from $8, handcrafted cocktails $10.
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley: www.wdcv.com. Don’t miss this year’s Passport event April 29–May 1.
Montemaggiore: 2355 West Dry Creek Road, 707-433-9499, www.montemaggiore.com. By appointment only.
Quivira Vineyards and Winery: 4900 West Dry Creek Road, 800-292-8339, www.quivirawine.com. Open daily.
Mazzocco Sonoma: 1400 Lytton Springs Road, 800-501-8466, www.mazzocco.com. Open daily.
Simi Winery: 16275 Healdsburg Avenue, 707-433-6981, www.simiwinery.com. Open daily.
Histoires de Parfums nomad kit: www.histoiresdeparfums.com. Choose three travel-size sprays from across the collection. Each unique fragrance tells the story of a character, ingredient or historical year.