Tag Archives: Dry Creek Valley

Zinfandel Keeps Good Company


Zinfandel is America’s wine grape. Sure, there is primitivo, a distant cousin from Italy, but zinfandel is the only grape that truly has roots here.  When friends from San Francisco had to make a “zinfandel run” to northern Sonoma County and suggested we accompany them for some tastings and lunch, we freed our calendars and made it happen.  It had been some time since we did this and our companion’s quarterly allocations were

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

building up at two separate wineries, each producing very diverse styles of zinfandel.  Anticipating that the tastings would be very distinctive, I was also interested in releases of other varietals.

The Dry Creek Valley, located fifteen miles north of Santa Rosa, has the warmest climate in the area, sandwiched between the Russian River and Alexander Valleys.  The terroir in this region is more conducive to zinfandel than pinot noir or chardonnay, typical in most of the county.  Today’s stops, Mazzocco Sonoma, part of the Wilson Family Wines empire, and historical Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, both construct highly acclaimed zinfandel with completely divergent views on how the varietal should be expressed.

Worth mentioning, Wilson Family Wines own eight different wineries in Sonoma County, as far south as St. Anne’s Crossing in Kenwood to Jaxon Keys Winery in Hopland, CA to the north.  Four

Mazzocco Winery

Mazzocco Winery

wineries focus on zinfandel, two on cabernet sauvignon in the Alexander Valley, one daring soul pursues pinot noir and the matriarch Wilson Winery produces a variety including petite sirah and syrah.  Many of their wines were awarded gold medals in Sonoma Harvest Fest and the San Francisco Chronicle Wjine Competition.

Edoardo Seghesio first planted his Home Ranch Vineyard, north of Geyserville, in 1895, following his instincts that it was the right terroir for zinfandel, petite sirah and many Italian varietals.  “Today, Seghesio owns over 300 acres of estate vineyards and farms nearly one hundred acres of outside vineyards making them one of the largest producers in the region. History and a commitment to the land has been rewarded with an ideal platform for producing consistent quality wines.  We didn’t know what Spring releases they were pouring, but foresaw that some special single vineyard and reserves would be included.

In the land of zinfandel, the first three wines we tasted were Italian varietals, including the dry, herbal 2015 Seghesio Vermentino ($22), a rare white varietal, dry with nice expressions of fruit and a minerality that defined its character.  Excepting those from Burgundy, European white varietals are unfairly overlooked and many consumers are missing opportunities to add diversity to their taste buds.  Also dry, but fruity, the 2013 Seghesio Sangiovese ($30) is soft, with a nice creamy structure carried through the finish.  There are many very fine releases of sangiovese, used to produce chianti from Tuscany.  This is another good one.

With roots in the Barolo wines from Italy’s Piedmont region, barbera typically shows deep colors and earthy flavors.  When I unexpectedly encounter a good California barbera, I often take a bottle home including the 2013 Seghesio Barbera ($30).  Deep, ruby hues and soft,

Seghesio Barbera

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel


Seghesio Family Vineyard Barbera Alexander Valley

accessible flavors are enhanced by a balanced structure and deep color that seemed to glow when held up to the light.  This one will pair perfectly with pasta or mushroom risotto. Seghesio also produces other Italian varietals, arneis, pinot grigio and fiano, in estate-owned vineyards, both in the Russian River and Alexander valleys.

“The Cortina Vineyard, named after the loamy soil that exists on the site, has been farmed by Seghesio since 1957. Known for its subtle, elegant flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Cortina Vineyard ($40) was awarded 94-points by Wine Spectator magazine. In addition to the soft flavors, I found great bouquet and texture to this exceptional wine.

Using old zinfandel vines and a small amount of petite sirah grapes from their flagship Alexander Valley Home Ranch Vineyard and gnarly vines from the Saini Beach Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley, the 2013 Seghesio “Old Vine” Zinfandel ($40) is a dry, austerely luscious wine with balanced structure and a nice spice character to the flavor. Enjoy the wine by itself or try BBQ meats that would enhance the spice.

Using a blend of old and young zinfandel vines and a small touch of petite sirah for color and softer flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Vineyard (58) expresses an earthy bouquet that transcends into the flavors.  The “Home Ranch” had the softest creamy texture of all the wines tasted, leaving me no choice but to take a bottle home to my cellar.

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Sonoma Valley’s Pagani Vineyard has been literally deeply rooted in the soil and the fabric of the regional zinfandel community since 1887.  It is dry-farmed, creating deep-rooted vines and fruit that produce rich, potent flavors, yet express a lighter structure than the other zinfandels we tasted. This defines the 2012 Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani Vineyard ($48). It is fascinating when the special, unchanged characteristics of an old vineyard can produce uniquely identifiable wines, vintage to vintage.

Seghesio produces many wines at different levels, many are available at local outlets.  The single vineyard releases, at a higher price, are available online, from the winery and wine shops, offering the truest picture of their finest efforts. After lunch, we would drive north a few miles to the heart of the Dry Creek Valley where Mazzocco Sonoma specializes in a different style of zinfandel.

Mozzacco is a very welcoming place, located on Lytton Springs Road, north of Healdsburg.  It does produce cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other varietals but its focus is on high alcohol, lively and fruity zinfandel, mostly from designated vineyards.  To prepare our palates, the tasting opened with a 100% sauvignon blanc, a white wine sourced from the Alexander Valley.


Mazzocco Reserve Zinfandel Smith Orchard

The crisp and fragrant 2015 Mazzocco Sauvignon Blanc ($28) created in a New Zealand style, was a very nice beginning that expressed stone fruit aromas with vibrant grapefruit flavors and mineral elements on the finish.  As one who usually prefers a softer, creamy style, I liked the grapefruit accents and would recommend this refreshing wine for hot, summer afternoons.  This was a good beginning, but it was time to enjoy four single vineyard zinfandel releases, all highly acclaimed.

Awarded gold medals over the past three years by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Briar Vineyard ($29), estate-owned with seven percent petite sirah, was intense from bouquet to palate with wild berry flavors and a hint of spice on the finish.  Another highly acclaimed zinfandel in both the San Francisco Chronicle and Sonoma Wine Competitions, the 2013 Mazzocco

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Zinfandel Reserve, Warms Springs Ranch ($52) conveys a myriad of aromas and flavors ranging from floral hints to roasted nuts and spice from mid-palate through finish, jammy, but at the same time, elegant.  The “Warm Springs” was the best illustration of their signature fruit-forward Mazzocco wines.

From the heart of the Dry Creek appellation, with deep volcanic soils, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve West Dry Creek Vineyard ($52) delivers concentrated, balanced fruit and berry flavors with accents of cocoa and pepper throughout the finish. This wine is meant to be enjoyed outdoors with some nice gorgonzola cheese.

They saved one of their best reserve zinfandels for our last wine. From their highest elevation vineyard at 2,400-foot, with iron-rich soils that allow the fruit to mature slowly, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve Smith Orchard Vineyard ($52) expressed rich, diverse flavors ranging from currant jam and anise to chocolate and creme brûlée.  This is truly a luscious zinfandel that caught the attention of Robert Parker/Wine Advocate who awarded it 91-points, citing a combination of intensity and balance.

Wine Spectator, National Geographic Traveler and Sunset magazines have recently published articles recommending travel to Sonoma County for its rich food, wine, culture and open space.  While the world-famous pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay are the stars of this region, travelers should not miss an opportunity to experience the zinfandel and other varietals in the north end.  Along with Paso Robles, Lodi and Calaveras County, the Dry Creek Valley is at the table with California’s best and these two wineries afford a fine   opportunity to enjoy different styles, each excellent in their own way.


Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley


Sonoma County is known for great appellations like the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Alexander Valley that produce famous pinot noir and chardonnay with the aid of coastal

Endeavor Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley

Endeavor Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley

influences.  The overshadowed, more inland Dry Creek Valley appellation serves as the region’s “banana belt,” somewhat protected from the morning fog, causing warmer average temperatures.  As a result, Dry Creek Valley boasts some of the best zinfandel and sauvignon blanc, anywhere in the world.

Another attraction of the Dry Creek appellation is that all of its wineries are within a few miles from

Healdsburg Plaza

Healdsburg Plaza

quaint downtown Healdsburg, recently described as “Carmel North” for the upscale lodging, restaurants and shopping that is available on the plaza.  If the thought hasn’t already crossed your mind, this spectacular area is ideal for your next wine-tasting getaway. Luckily, Healdsburg is 12 miles from my new home, so I can do some quick on-site research to help entice you.

The Dry Creek Valley is rooted (pun intended) in California’s wine history and was one of the first areas to be recognized with an American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation.  With vines dating back 140 years, the area was booming in the late 1800s with nine wineries and over 800 acres of vineyards.  The boom was interrupted by Prohibition, leaving only Frei Brothers and J. Pedroncelli post-repeal, both still producing fine wine.

The area’s current winery map, boasting over 9,000 acres under vine, includes historic patriarchal producers and a plethora of new start-ups that are focusing on organic, sustainable farming, remarkable zinfandel and the exploration of new varietals.  On a recent gorgeous afternoon, we visited two wineries, one established in 1972, the other in 2007, that are representative of the Dry Creek Valley profile.


Part of a large, wine-producing conglomerate, Truett-Hurst was established in 2007, as

Truett-Hurst Tasting Room

Truett-Hurst Tasting Room

a flagship winery to create high-end wines using “holistic” biodynamic farming methods.  The estate vineyards, included in a magnificent setting for picnics and strolling, are composed of zinfandel and petite sirah vines from cuttings that the Italian immigrants brought over a century ago. To extend their palate of wines, Truett-Hurst also source chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon grapes from nearly Russian River and Napa Valleys.

Our tasting began with the 2014 Truett-Hurst Gewürztraminer Russian River Valley ($24) expressing fragrant bouquet and crisp flavors of pear, melon and

Barn at Truett-Hurst

Barn at Truett-Hurst

honeysuckle and a very dry 2013 “Salmon Run” Zinfandel Rose Dry Creek Valley ($18) with pleasant, soft flavors of peach and strawberry.  Specialty, boutique rose’ is popular and the full-flavored zinfandel grape seems to be conducive to the style.

Next, a flight of their Dry Creek Valley zinfandel releases was in order beginning with the jammy 2013 Truett-Hurst “Luci” Zinfandel ($35), named for Lucifer, the

Truett-Hurst "Luci" Zinfandel 2012

Truett-Hurst “Luci” Zinfandel 2012

property’s lone black goat, clearly expressing the richest texture and body with delightful  blackberry overtones.  The lighter 2013 Truett-Hurst “Rattler Rock” Zinfandel ($33) provides a different alternative with loads of cherry, pepper and very soft tannins. I now have both options in my cellar.

The single-vineyard 2013 Truett-Hurst Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zinfandel ($35) is still young, but has much going on with nice layered flavors.  The rich texture, spice and lingering finish are all indications that this

Adirondack chairs along the river at Truett-Hurst

Adirondack chairs along the river at Truett-Hurst

wine will be a “gem” in a few years.

The winery’s two pinot noir releases, from different micro-climates within the nearby Russian River Valley, also offer the consumer distinct styles of the varietal. Probably named after the friendly beast that I petted on my walk, the lighter Truett-Hurst Pinot Noir “White Sheep” ($40), from the nearby Deer

Creek area in west Russian River Valley, has pleasant spice and raspberry flavors.  From the heart of the valley, the full-bodied Truett-Hurst Pinot Noir “Black Sheep” ($40),  has an expressive nose and loads of cinnamon, vanilla and berry flavors, fully balanced.  It’s difficult to compete in one of the world’s

Truett-Hurst "White Sheep" Pinot Noir

Truett-Hurst “White Sheep” Pinot Noir

finest pinot noir markets, but these reasonably priced options are recommended.

An unusual blend of syrah (75%) and zinfandel (25%), the 2013 Truett-Hurst “Dragon Fly” Red Blend ($35) represents the new Dry Creek Valley persona, innovation with zinfandel ever-present. The wine is still young, but nice hints of vanilla with plenty of oak project a very promising future.  We finished our tasting with a nice cabernet from prestigious Rutherford in the Napa Valley.  The reasonably priced 2012 Hurst Family Collection “Osprey” Cabernet Sauvignon NV ($52) has soft, balanced flavors and tannins, a true value.

The grounds surrounding the tasting room/winery have several picnic areas for small or large groups, live music on Saturdays, an herb garden, trails, goats, grape vines and a flowing river.  The Truett Hurst Winery is a place to relax, but get serious about enjoying good wine.


Following an M.I.T. education and some time in the work force, David Stare made his

Dry Creek Vineyards Founder David Spare

Dry Creek Vineyards Founder David Spare

way to California in the 1960s, founding Dry Creek Vineyards in IMG_13441972 and, eventually, providing the leadership for the re-emergence of the Dry Creek Valley as a prime wine region.  Today, with all their history and prominence, they are still producing high quality wines at favorable prices.

Ironically, our tasting began with the 2014 Dry Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc ($12) from Clarksburg, near the Sacramento Delta and far from the Dry Creek Valley. This re-emerging varietal, produced in stainless steel, has a good, crisp minerality, tropical fruit flavors, a long finish and a fabulous price.  Everyone should have at least one chenin blanc in their cellar.

Vineyards at Dry Creek

Vineyards at Dry Creek

The flight of three sauvignon blanc releases is yet another reminder of how fine wines can bring you to another level, vetoing anything you have previously enjoyed.  In the 1970s, Dry Creek Vineyards followed Robert Mondavi’s lead, re-naming their sauvignon

blanc releases Fume Blanc’  The 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Fume’ Blanc is the sauvignon blanc varietal from the Russian River Valley where, apparently, there is more leaf growth, hence canopy, to protect the grapes from wind, fog and heat.  The winery’s description, “the palate repeats vibrant aromatic themes” is apparent with the crisp, citric aromas and flavors.

The next wine originates from the first Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in the Dry Creek Valley, decades ago.  The 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($18), awarded 90-pt by Wine Enthusiast, expresses a ripe melon on-the-nose, adding soft citrus and tropical flavors aided by small amounts of a unique clone,

foreshadowing the next wine.

Once you have tasted the 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Sauvignon  Blanc Musque’ Taylor Vineyard ($25), you can’t go back. Take the previous wine, overlay a

2012 Taylor Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Musque

2012 Taylor Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Musque

very rich, creamy mouthfeel with many layers including hints of zesty orange peel, and

suddenly, the “musque” is the only white wine you need or desire. Highly recommended!

Claimed to be the first “old vine” designation in California, the flagship 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel ($30), from 80-120 year old estate vines, is composed of 23% petite sirah, adding to its richness and deep berry flavors, earning a 90-p

2012 Dry Creek Vineyards "Old Vine" Zinfandel

2012 Dry Creek Vineyards “Old Vine” Zinfandel

t rating from Robert Parker.

The 2012 Dry Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) and the 2011 Cabernet Merlot ($25) are actually blends similar to those from the left and right banks of Bordeaux,

Dry Creek Vineyards

Dry Creek Vineyards

each featuring the addition of malbec, cabernet franc and petite verdot.  Both wines had balanced, smooth, rich flavors, high ratings and a reasonable price.

The grounds and tasting room at Dry Creek Vineyards are befitting a patriarch with ivy-covered walls and picnic facilities amid lush landscaping. More importantly, they haven’t sacrificed quality as their business and reputation has grown.

Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley are located 60-90 minutes north of San Francisco along the Redwood Highway.  There are also two flights per day from LAX to the Santa Rosa Regional Airport, less than 10 miles from the heart of Healdsburg.

Once you arrive, options for lodging and dining are plentiful and varied. For a special experience, I recommend the Hotel Healdsburg on the downtown plaza or the stately Casa Madrona property a few minutes from town.  Healdsburg restaurants range from good burgers and salads to the full-on “foodie” experience at Dry Creek

Hotel Healdsburg

Hotel Healdsburg

Restaurant or Barndiva, not to exclude the Dry Creek General Store, a popular stop for lunch while touring the vineyards.

The abundance of nearby Dry Creek Valley wineries including, among others, Mazzocco, 32 Winds, Manzanita Creek, Kokomo and, of course, Truett-Hurst and Dry Creek Vineyards sets the stage for your next perfect Sonoma wine country sojourn.