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Friday, April 24, 2015

Sonoma County Appellations: Dry Creek Valley

The Dry Creek Valley appellation (legally designated wine-growing region) sits in northern Sonoma County about 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. There is a unique interaction of the soil, climate and history that drives the people to make some remarkable wines.

This is the "world headquarters" for America's most underrated wine -- Zinfandel. In DCV it always seems to come back to the Italian heritage and Zinfandel.


History

Soon after the 1849 California Gold Rush had played out settlers, many of them of Italian descent, moved into the area and planted wine grapes. By the 1880s there were almost 900 acres of mostly Zinfandel planted in Dry Creek Valley.

In 1983 DCV was one of the first California regions to be recognized as an official appellation for growing wine grapes. Now there are about 9,000 acres of grapes and 70 wineries in Dry Creek. Most of the wineries and vineyards are small, family operations.

If there is a single person responsible for the modern success of Dry Creek then it's probably David Stare who started Dry Creek Vineyards in 1972 when there were more prune orchards than vineyards.

You still see lots of the Italian heritage to the region with names like Pedroncelli, Rafanelli, Saini, and Teldeschi.

Geography

Dry Creek Valley is about 16 miles long and two miles wide. It has sandy, gravelly, well-drained soil on the valley floor. There is benchland and hillside soils that are more rocky with red iron-rich clay.

Looking across Dry Creek Valley in winter

Climate

The hills to the west keep much of the cool Pacific air out. To the south is the Russian River that does allow cooler air to funnel up the narrow valley. Dry Creek Valley is several degrees warmer than the Russian River Valley to the south during the growing season, but is distinctly cooler than Alexander Valley to the east.

Grapes

Arguably the best wines coming out of DCV are Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. You also find Cabernet Sauvignon and, more recently, Rhone-style blends made with Syrah. Dry Creek Valley is one of the few places you'll find Petite Sirah.

Northern Dry Creek in the autumn

Wineries

The biggest wine operation in the world, Gallo, has their premium wine facility in Dry Creek Valley (not open to the public) and is the largest landowner in DCV. Most wineries are on a much smaller scale and the majority are family-owned. Some of the more well-known ones are Dry Creek Vineyards, Ferrari-Carano,  Raymond Burr, and Wilson. Some others you may have heard of are Armida, Bella, David Coffaro, Dutcher Crossing, Forchini, Mauritson, Mazzocco, Pedroncelli, Preston, Ridge/Lytton Springs, Sbragia, Rafanelli, and Quiriva. Big list! And there are many more from Amista to Zichichi. See Wineroad for more info on what wineries to visit.

Chateau Diana. Not much of a chateau, but typical Dry Creek
Image from drycreekvalley.org