Wine Country Itinerary: Dry Creek Valley

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By Courtney Cochran

Tucked into the northwest corner of bucolic Sonoma County - and just a few minutes' drive from downtown Healdsburg - Dry Creek Valley tempts visitors with an eclectic mix of wineries and a surprisingly varied mix of wines to try.  To wit, lovers of big, jammy Zins will be in heaven in this slice of wine country known as ground zero for California Zinfandel, while tasters looking for something lighter will delight in the region's rightly reputable Sauvignon Blancs, which lend welcome levity to the palate after a steady onslaught of the full-throttle Zins, Merlots and that Cabs that also call the valley home.  
Just 16 miles long by two wide, Dry Creek is easily navigable from US Route 101 - the valley's southerly end lies about 75 to 90 minutes north of San Francisco, depending on traffic and your speedometer - and makes an ideal spot for a regional-focused day of tasting.  Read on for a suggested itinerary for doing just that, including a picnic lunch to help you take the edge off midday. 

First Stop - Oakville Grocery Healdsburg
What better way to start your Dry Creek day than with a pit stop at the Sonoma outpost of this standout Napa grocer?  Situated on the plaza in achingly quaint downtown Healdsburg, Oakville Grocery offers a stellar selection of sandwiches and boxed lunches to go, along with to-die-for baked goods for dessert.  Grab an assortment for your lunch - along with a morning coffee for a little extra boost if needed - and hit to road towards winery #1.
Location: 124 Matheson St., Healdsburg, CA 95448
Hours:  8am-6pm daily

Winery 1 - Seghesio Family Vineyards
Just a few minutes' drive from downtown Healdsburg takes you to Seghesio, one of the state's oldest bonded wineries. Originally founded in the late 19th Century by Italian immigrants, Seghesio is a family-run operation with its roots deep in Zinfandel, though the tasting room pours an appealing assortment of estate-produced varieties. Settle in at the winery's picturesque picnic tables after tasting to enjoy an al fresco lunch at your leisure, then linger - if you like - over a spirited game of bocce ball. Note: Call ahead to confirm picnic table availability.
Tasting Room: 14730 Grove St., Healdsburg, CA  95448; Open daily 10am-5pm
Tasting Fee: $5 for 6 wines; fee credited towards wine purchase

Winery 2 - Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs
When it comes to California Zin, it doesn't get more real than Ridge. For more than 40 years, Ridge has been making some of the nation's (and the world's, for that matter) most sought-after varietal Zinfandel and Zinfandel-based blends from its renowned single vineyard sites in Sonoma, the Santa Cruz Mountains and beyond. Thanks to this impressive pedigree, we've selected Ridge's charming Lytton Springs tasting room as an essential stop on your Dry Creek tour. Bonus: Because Ridge's tasting room was built from environmentally friendly rice bale materials, you can feel good about being green here, too.
Tasting Room: 650 Lytton Springs Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448; Open daily 11am-4pm
Tasting Fee: complimentary taste of 2 wines or 6 tastes for $5

Winery 3 - Unti Vineyards
Centrally located in the middle of Dry Creek Valley, Unti Vineyards is a small, family-run operation producing critically acclaimed wines focusing on Italian grape varieties such as Barbera made popular long ago by the region's mostly Italian settlers. And while the quaint tasting room is open by appointment only, staffers are on-site daily and scoring an appointment is rarely a hassle (though you're encouraged to pack a sweater, as it can get cool inside the tasting room). Plus: the winery's charming grounds are right out of a small-farm Sonoma handbook, and make for a great contrast with Seghesio's more sprawling spread.
Tasting Room: 4202 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448; Open for tasting by appointment - (707) 433-5590
Tasting Fee: complimentary

Winery 4 - Fritz Winery
Literally built into a hillside at the far northern end of the valley, Fritz Winery enjoys the distinction of being one of wine country's only truly "underground" wineries. Upon arrival, you'll spot the tasting room peeking out from beneath the lushly wooded hillside, beneath which visitors are treated to generous tastes of vineyard designated Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the valley. Tours of the winery's caves are available on weekends, and visitors any day of the week are encouraged to picnic and linger a little longer in the striking setting that is the northern Dry Creek Valley.
Tasting Room: 24691 Dutcher Creek Rd., Cloverdale, CA 95425; Open daily 10:30am-4:30pm
Tasting Fee: $5 for 5 tastes

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Can't speak for the other wineries but Unti is a fabulous place to visit and so fun to drink. They make great wine and don't take themselves too seriously. we have not had trouble getting in there either.

Some of our Dry Creek favorites are Preston, which specializes in organically grown Rhone and Italian varietals, Quivira, Lambert Bridge and Dry Creek Vineyards.

I'm a fan of Ferrari Carano Winery. They have a beautiful grounds and the wines are good too.

Talty ( is an outstanding stop if you like zins. We make a point to stop there when we're in the area and tell our friends to do the same if they are looking for a suggestion. Wilson ( has a great selection of award winners, too.

Just past Unti and up the hill on the right when headed west at the old Timber Crest Farms (sun dried tomatos) you'll find Amphora, Family Wineries, Papapietro Perry and an Olive Oil Factory. Check out Amphora. If winemaker-owner Rick Hutchinson is there, you are in for a treat and maybe a taste from the barrel.

The sun-dried tomatos are long gone, replaced by some outstanding, small production wineries.

Bella Winery is on this route, but slightly off the beaten path. Definitely worth the extra little bit of driving to meet their dog that greets you with a cork in her mouth and walks you back to the tasting bar! One of our favorite wineries from our visit out there last year.

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