Dry Creek Valley – Where the Zinfandels Roam

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by Robert P. Farmer This week, in honor of the annual Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend, I thought a few words in praise of the venerable DCV were in order. Mind you, unless you’ve already got your Passport, you cannot attend (there is a “short list” upon which a lucky few reside, awaiting cancellations, but nobody in their right mind cancels their Passport Weekend plans). No, the event sold out, as it does every year, long ago and at a rapid clip. The weekend event is one of the most anticipated events of the year in valley. In spite of the seeming rarity of a passport pass (just 4,200 tickets are issued), hundreds of people make this weekend their unofficial kick off to the summer months in Wine Country. It’s fitting that Dry Creek Valley, one of the unsung heroes of California appellations, makes the first splash. Wine produced in the region enjoy a cult-like fanbase, who love to sit about sipping and debating the finer points of why their favorite bottle best typifies the winemaking climate and the very valley itself—indeed California winemaking. With nearly 60 wineries and 150 growers in the valley, the debate can stretch long into the evening. Though I count myself among those with a horse in this race, I pale in comparison to some I know, who jealously defend their favorite Dry Creek varietal when anyone makes a challenge for another appellation’s supremacy. The happy reality is, there is plenty to love about Dry Creek Valley. Positioned in northern Sonoma County, where the mornings enjoy cool ocean air and misty fog, and summer days are long and full of intense sunshine, Dry Creek is a naturally excellent agricultural opportunity. While locally produced fruit also has a rabid following — if you’ve been to the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market, at North and Vine streets, you understand what I’m talking about – the fruit that grabs the headlines around here is grapes. Especially zinfandel. Mention Dry Creek in most wine circles and the next word uttered is usually zinfandel. The terrior is ideally suited for producing zin, a grape that needs concentration to accurately express itself. Dry Creek Valley soil, shallow with lots of stone beneath, is perfect for producing concentrated fruit. The zins tend to be highly concentrated, beautifully structured and zippy, with plenty of spice and a lengthy finish. Wonderful examples of this — which also happen to be a few of my personal favorites — can be found at Pezzi King (241 Center St., Healdsburg; 707-473-4310; www.pezziking.com), Seghesio (14730 Grove St., Healdsburg; 707-433-3579; www.seghesio.com), and Quivira (4900West Dry Creek Rd.; 800-292-8339; www.quivirawine.com), where the zins are large and in charge. Though the zinfandels are the topic of discussion during passport weekend, the cabernet and sauvignon blanc are also on the docket. These varietals, too, take on Dry Creek characteristics—fruit-forward, full-bodied, and versatile. The wines are easy drinking and refined, much like the valley itself and those who love it. While Passport isn’t the only time to take advantage of the Valley and all it has to offer, it is one of the best times. The wineries of Dry Creek celebrate their special place, many welcoming guests with special themes (past events have featured a “Disco” winery and “Summer of Love” tasting room). In addition to tastings and interaction with winemakers, guests are treated to live music, food, and other special surprises. It’s an excellent opportunity to get to know Dry Creek Valley up close and personal. So, assuming you’ve got your passport, you’re in for a treat. But you don’t have your ticket, my advice is get your now for 2008 and start checking of the days on your calendar until next April.