California Wine Country 2009 – Dry Creek – In Summary

by irene on September 13, 2009

Bella Vineyards, Dry Creek

This article is one in a series of articles about our recent tour of California Wine Country. You can read about Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, the Summary, the Winery Dogs and the Restaurants as well.

 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.

Cena Luna, HealdsburgThe 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.

J RickardsNow 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.

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SIPtheGoodLife September 14, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Great job mentioning the wineries who have been taking the steps to think more about the world we live in. There is a great new set of wines that are just now hitting the market that have been SIP™ (Sustainability in Practice) Certified and have a seal on the label to communicate this certification to their buyers. In order to put the seal on their labels bottles have to be made up of at least 85% fruit from SIP™ certified vineyards. When assessing sustainability SIP™ looks at their vineyards from a comprehensive point of view; growers have to prove their continuing commitment to environmental stewardship, economic vitality, and social equity. Energy conservation, water quality, pesticide management, and continuing education for employees are just a few things that the growers are evaluated on in order to earn their SIP™ certification. Next time you find yourself staring down the wine aisle wondering what which wines paid a bit more attention to the affects of their actions, remember to keep an eye out for the SIP™ certified seal.

For more information about SIP certified wines visit http://www.sipthegoodlife.org.

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