In many ways this was our best trip to wine country ever. By concentrating on a small area we were able to spend more time with small, local producers. It certainly wasn’t a trip for the first time touring wineries. For the first time, you do need to see the glitz and the history. There is no question that Napa’s main drag offers more of that in a concentrated tourist friendly package. But this was our fourth trip, and the primary focus was on wine. We’ve learned a lot since the first one some fifteen years ago. Wine and food have become a major focus to our lives and I think this has allowed us to appreciate what we found all the more.
The atmosphere in Healdsburg is much more relaxed, particularly in the off season. The roads are uncrowded, you can get into the restaurants, and the wine tastings were unhurried and informative. It was interesting to see how everyone seemed to have bought into the wine country life style, good wine, good food, take your dog to work. You can really see the appeal. Healdsburg itself must have more interesting restaurants than nearly any city it’s size. And almost all are within walking distance of each other. We ate well each night and still didn’t make it to half of the ones we had thought about.
The primary business around the Healdsburg area is agriculture, namely the growing of grapes. The majority of the wineries we visited were family owned, the people we talked to were farmers. This doesn’t mean they were unsophisticated. They knew their business, the markets, the science. But there was a connection to the soil and a passion that we found that I think is missing in the Napa valley or as it was jokingly referred to more than once as “the dark side.”
One thing that struck me was the emphasis on more sustainable agricultural practices. It didn’t matter whether it was the small producers like David Caffaro, Lou Preston or Jim Rickards or a larger operation like Ridge, they were all trying to find the best way to produce wine and keep doing it in a way that does not degrade the environment. These people are in it for the long haul. Not everyone has gone organic or throws the word “biodynamic” around at the drop of a hat, but they are all trying to do their best. This is where they live. The decisions are made by the people on site, not in some boardroom a continent away.
Now there’s no question that the larger wineries such as Ridge, Seghesio, or Dry Creek can make good wines. They certainly do, and I will continue to drink them every chance I get. But it was great fun to sit down with someone like Alex Holman from J Rickards and have him tell me about a wine that HE made, and why he made it that way and have him ask “Did you like it?” as if it really matters. Visiting the smaller producers, each with their own very personal prespective on wine, was a real education. Maybe its the economics of the business, but in Napa and the lower part of Sonoma, it’s just too expensive for that kind of viewpoint to survive. The bottom line has become more important than the wine. Around Healdsburg, there is still room for the personal touch.
Will we be back? Of course if we can manage it. After all, we concentrated on the Dry Creek Valley. We’ve barely touched the Russian River or Alexander Valleys. And of course, there’s Mendocino and Lake Counties just to the north.
You are reading California Wine Country 2009 Read more from this series of articles.
- California Wine Country 2009 - Dry Creek - Day One
- Pedroncelli Winery
- Sbragia Family Vineyard
- Dutcher Crossing Winery
- David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery
- Bella Vineyards
- Preston Vineyards
- Zichichi Family Vineyard
- Papapietro Perry Winery
- Kokomo Winery
- F. Teldeschi Winery
- California Wine Country 2009 - Dry Creek - Day Two
- Alderbrook Winery
- Mill Creek Winery
- Lambert Bridge
- Quivira Vineyards
- Passalacqua Winery
- Dry Creek Vineyards
- J Rickards Winery
- Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs
- California Wine Country 2009 – Dry Creek – Day Three
- Rosenblum Cellars
- California Wine Country 2009 – Dry Creek – Day Four
- Seghesio Family Vineyards
- California Wine Country 2009 - Dry Creek - In Summary
- California Wine Country 2009 - The Restaurants
- California Wine Country 2009 - The Winery Dogs