TDH and I have a friend that works in a Winery in Sonoma. A few weekends ago he took us on a little tour around Dry Creek Valley, a part of Sonoma that specializes in Zinfandels. If you have never been to Dry Creek you have to go, and if you don’t have a friend that works in a winery in Sonoma or Napa you must find one! Not only will you get to spend a day in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but you get to also taste delicious wine for free! Winery employees get free wine tasting for themselves and their friends at all other wineries! For those of you who have no idea where Dry Creek Valley is here is a map. Dry Creek Wineries are all situated on this beautiful country road that takes you towards Lake Sonoma, which is a gorgeous place to hike and camp by the way!
TDH and I got picked up at 9am Sunday morning by our friends Miranda and Amy, who also went wine tasting with us that day. We arrived at Devin’s cute apartment in Sonoma by around 10:30. After catching up for a bit we headed out to visit our first winery, Mazzocco.
Mazzocco is a small, family owned winery snuggled right between Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. It is owned by Diane and Ken Wilson who grow their grapes in a diverse set of vineyards scattered around both Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley. According to the Wilson Family it is this key element of diversity that defines their wine. Their winemaker, Antoine Favero, employs many traditional French wine making techniques, which also contributes to the uniqueness of the Mazzocco wines.
A tasting at Mozzocco runs about $20, a high price to pay for a tasting in Sonoma but well worth the money. We were able to try 12 different wines, more than double what you get at most wineries. Some of the highlights were the 2006 Lytton Zinfandel, which scored 90 points according to California Grapevine. This is a drier Zin, made from their home vineyard right outside the tasting room. The 2006 Stone Zinfandel has an aroma of rose pedals, flavors of dark berry, and a hint of mocha. This zinfandel took a double gold metal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2007. The 2006 Zinfandel and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek from the Sonoma County collection both took a gold metal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
TDH takes his wine tasting very, very seriously…
Although it was the dead of winter and all the vines are very bear, it was still very beautiful and being surrounded by such greenery, hills, and vines is just breathtaking.
We spent almost two hours tasting wines at Mazzocco’s and were famished when we were done. So we hopped back in the car and drove down the road to this quant little deli called Dry Creek General Store. Established in 1881, stepping into the Dry Creek General Store is like taking a trip back in the past, when food and life were simple and just plain good.
They have a decent menu of sandwiches, salads, and soup, they use premium meats, cheeses and breads to make their sandwiches, and they are exactly what you need to keep you going during a day of wine tasting.
With our bellies full, and our buzz from the first winery waning, we set out to our second winery of the day, Bella. Bella is unique in that their tasting room is inside a cave and covered with vines. It’s a beautiful setting. Bella Winery is owned and operated by Lynn and Scott Adams who fell in love with wine country after getting married in its majestic setting. With the help of Scott’s parents and brothers they bought their first vineyard and immersed themselves into learning everything they could about growing grapes and winemaking.
Bella grows their grapes on two vineyards in Dry Creek and one in Alexander Valley. Their mission is to make small lots of high quality wine from distinct parcels in these wineries. The tasting fee is a steal at $5 a person but only includes 4 wines (5 if they like you). The wines we tasted were all from 2006 and included the Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Big River Ranch Zinfandel, Belle Canyon Zinfandel, Sonoma County Syrah, and they threw in the Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel, a wine not on the tasting menu that day, that took home a gold metal from the Orange County Fair Wine Competition. I won’t go into detail about how the wine tasted because I am no expert in that field. Of course I did the usual sniffing, swirling, swooshing, swallowing (is that usual???). But to me they all taste like wine!
Here we all our, happy after tasting all those yummy wines at Bella and ready to head to our next destination.
Preston Winery, our next destination, was probably my favorite winery of the day. It is a quaint little farm house, nestled in the heart of the valley. When you walk inside it is like going back 100 years. It is decorated very simply and organically. There is an old bookshelf in the corner filled with ancient books on topics such as wine, cooking, and canning for guests to peruse at their pleasure. Next to the bookshelf is a rocking chair inviting their guests to come in, sit, and relax. When I walked inside I immediately felt comfortable, like I have been their before. I felt calm and everything felt so surreal. The girls behind the counter slowly poured each wine, allowing us to wander around and touch everything in between tastings. No one here is in a hurry.
What I loved most about this winery is that they are also a bakery and an organic farm. They were selling large sourdough loaves made fresh from the commercial kitchen they built into their winery back in 1988. They had freshly cured olives and silky smooth olive oil sitting out for you to taste. They also had a fridge filled with fresh eggs laid by ducks and chickens that wander the farm. The taste of the wine mixed in with the fresh aroma of the bread and olive oil was absolutely heavenly. I could have stayed there for hours.
The tasting fee at Preston Wineries is also a minimal $5 fee and you get your choice of five different wines from a list of about eleven wines. What makes Preston Wineries truly unique among the smattering of wineries that line the Dry Creek Valley, besides the bakery and organic farm, is their selection of wine. In an area where Zinfandel is king, there was only one zinfandel listed on their tasting menu. The wine varietals that Preston Winery makes, from Sauvignon Blanc, to Viognier, to Barbera, to Syrah is very vast. This is because in 2001 Lou and Susan, the owners, downsized their production from 20,000 cases to 8,000 cases using only the best grapes from their massive vineyards scattered all around Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, and selling the rest of the grapes to other winemakers. They specialize in unusual varieties of grapes that other wineries of Dry Creek Valley have failed to succeed at by using only best grapes of their crops.
In the back of the tasting room there is a door that leads to the cellar where all the wine barrels are kept. On Sundays, a surprise awaits all of the guests that venture into this dimly lit room…
It’s called the Guadagni Jug, a three liter jug filled with a special wine that celebrates the contribution John Guadagni made to wine, grapes, and the people of the Dry Creek Valley. John Guadagni was an old neighbor that taught the owners of the Preston Winery everything they know today about winemaking. This tradition started in 2002 and is going strong. While we were waiting for our brand new jugs to be filled we saw guests come in with jugs that had 12 labels staggered around the jug representing the number of times they have had their jug refilled.
Jug in hand, we headed over to our last winery of the day, Ferrari Carano. A mansion among mere farm houses, this winery stands out in the Dry Creek Valley like a sore thumb (only much grander and more beautiful). Sonoma wineries are much more modest than the mansions that are scattered across Napa Valley. Ferrari Carano is the exception. It is huge, gorgeous, and built to impress. Built and owned by Don Carano and his wife Rhonda. Don, a lawyer specializing in business and gaming law, made his fortune in hotels and casinos in Reno when he built the El Dorado, a hotel that now has 817 guest rooms, 10 restaurants, a casino, and a showroom.
Don and Rhonda fell in love with Sonoma during a trip to find some good wines to serve in one of their restaurants in 1979. Soon after they bought a 60-acre parcel of land in Alexander Valley with a 1904 farmhouse. What started out as a haven away from the hustle and bustle of busy casino life soon turned into a passion for good wine and a large, successful winery.
Ferrari Carano has two winemaking locations each specializing in specific types of wines. The Estate Winery, where the tasting room is located, is where the white wines are produced. They have a cellar in the basement of the mansion that you can view as you go downstairs to sit in the tasting room.
The tasting bar is as elegant and grand as everything else in this winery. The unique thing about this tasting bar (not shown in the picture) is that the bar itself is modeled after a wine barrel.
A tasting here will run you $15 for four selections, probably the steepest priced tasting in all of Deer Creek Valley and maybe even all of Sonoma. But the wine is amazing and just being able to walk around the grounds and view the grounds and mansion in all of their glory makes the fee worth it. Also, the bartenders are usually very nice and will comp you and extra tasting on the house. All the wines here are extremely good, but my favorite was the 2005 Sangiovese-Alexander Valley, and the 2007 El Dorado Nior- Russian River Valley.
If you ask for a tasting of the El Dorado Nior they give it to you with a couple of chocolate covered blueberries. Now I have heard of pairing wine with food and that certain foods make wine taste better, but I had never fully experienced it until I tasted that dessert wine with those chocolate covered blueberries. Alone, the Nior is really good but with those chocolate covered blueberries it is amazing! The flavors burst in your mouth and meld together so wonderfully. TDH and I loved it so much we brought a bottle home to drink with our dessert for our Valentine’s Day Dinner.
By the time we left Ferarri Carano it was 5 o’clock and all the wineries had closed their doors for the night. As we made the two hour drive back to the city we all sat in the car silently. We were exhausted, but satisfied, and happy.