By : Karina Calayag
Passport To Dry Creek VALLEY 2013
Every Spring, Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County opens its vineyards’ and wineries’ doors to wine lovers in Passport To Dry Creek Valley. Now in its 24th year, it seemed to me like one huge block party that, gauging by the droves of people who attended these two days of winetasting and hors d’ouevres sampling, is quite successful each time. Flanked by return guests and curious first-timers, like myself, from near and far, and growing in number year after year, it is indeed one Sonoma event not to be missed. I attended this event by word-of-mouth, highly recommended by a semi-local friend who has a weekend home in Healdsburg.
Most of us are familiar with the notion of a neighborhood block party. Take that idea and put a “travel-spin” to it; that is, adventurously hopping from one winery to another, hitting as many wineries as possible, all within the two-day winetasting smorgasbord weekend – while exploring and enjoying the scenery of the Dry Creek Valley landscape.
When guests “check-in” at their first designated winery, they are given a logo wine glass, an id-badge, a passport-booklet and a map prior to embarking on the “trip”. The fashion statement at Dry Creek Valley that weekend, by the way, was in the form of an orange neck-strap adorned with a pendant of a plastic pocket, neatly holding all these “travel documents”. The ”Passport” id-badge gives the entry-permit to all the participating wineries listed in the booklet.
Adding to the “travel-feel” of the event, the “Passport” booklet is stamped, optionally, upon entering each winery just like when a tourist enters a foreign country. My gps device also came in very handy during that wine-’venture-filled weekend and if you are planning to do this in the future, I suggest bringing a gps.
Flipping through the booklet thick with a huge selection of wineries and planning the “itinerary” is the real beginning of the excitement, especially with the knowledge that these venues are all eagerly awaiting for us Passport attendees to arrive.
Which wineries to select? Because you never really know what each winery-host has laid out until you get there, eye-ing the wineries in the book in planning your itinerary gets the imagination-gear going. The challenge is to visit as many and at the same time enjoying (and not rushing-through) the best wineries in the limited time. To help solve this dilemma (and always keeping options open for where my curiosities will take me next,) I always asked for a winery recommendation from the friendly staff at the winery I was currently visiting. I always made sure, too, to let these other wineries know that I was there upon another winery’s recommendation. It is very much appreciated by these wineries and it is a big help, too, in filtering through the list and planning your day/s. Win-win!
At the wineries, guests were free to partake in all the scrumptious food wonderfully paired with the flights of their delicious wine being offered, some spreads more elaborate than others. Some had bands playing, others had characters dressed in their chosen event-theme. At Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, for example, it was a “Storybook/fairy tale theme” complete with a princess holding frog, a regal king moseying around, and a court musician playing a saw as a violin. Every detail was much thought about which contributed to a unique and total winetasting party experience. Altogether, it was very festive, entertaining and fun.
Whether it is a sense of “family”, opulence from exquisite grand grounds, spa-like earthy serenity, or fantastical fairy-tale whimsy, one thing is for sure, each winery has its own character and culture which is indeed comparable to what one finds in traveling to actual cities abroad. And going from one winery to the next in this en-masse manner is a really very efficient model for getting the most of visiting a significant section of Northern California’s wine-country, Dry Creek Valley AVA. Depending on which ticket you buy, in one or two days, every bit of Passport To DCV “trip” clearly enhances the winetasting experience in this region.
Was Passport To Dry Creek Valley worthwhile? Would I do it again and would I recommend it to friends? Well, let’s see… My friend, who joined me for one day, and I, delightfully ended up with more than a few “souvenir” bottles of wine for the home. We got to drive around on an exciting adventure meanwhile getting familiarized with Dry Creek Valley’s main streets and backroads; got to know where the wineries’ are actually situated and in relation to each other (for future visits); toured some beautiful grounds, wine caves and state-of-the art facilities; met by very friendly and hospitable staff, most, if not all, willing to impart wine information, theirs in particular. And last but foremost, the highlight of the event – the unending feasting on delightful gastronomic arrays of food and getting to know the featured wines which are the real stars of the show. Is that reason enough?
But wait – with more wineries in the booklet left unstamped/unexplored/untasted and since this event is always held in Spring – gorgeous weather during bud-break season — Absolutely! A resounding Yes, I shall return and Yes, I highly recommend it myself without a doubt. (I must remember now to thank my friend who recommended it.) Speaking of friends, it is a perfect event to hang out with friends. It is more enjoyable than going solo which I did for Day 2. So for my last tip if you plan on going, go with a friend/s, the more the merrier!
The wineries visited were:
Seghesio Vineyards and Winery – My first stop and it was love at first sip with their 2010 Cortina Zinfandel (93 points by Wine Enthusiast). Very memorable, it was my first purchase of the day.
Family Wineries Tasting Room/Timber Crest Farms – Family Wineries is a co-op tasting room for six boutique wineries: Collier-Dashe-Mietz-Forth-Lago di Merlo-Philip Staley at Timber Crest Farms. Also, located in this property are: PapaPietro, Trattore, Kokomo, Peterson, and Amphora. Very easy going, low-key and family-oriented. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, all hands big or small pitching in that day. But more than that, It is hitting all these artisanal wineries with one stone. My second purchase was the irresistable Chocolate red wine of Lago di Merlo upon the recommendation of Collier etal. ‘s general manager. Divinely decadent! Yummm!
Ferrari-Carano – We were simply blown away by the majestic grounds which are just spectacular; and their award-winning tasting room. It is a magnificent place to “get lost” into a Tuscan daydream. Their PreVail West Face red wine (blend of Cabernet and Syrah) evokes the same transporting-dreamy effect. Outstanding place, outstanding wine!
Mauritson – All I can say is thank goodness Mauritson was our last stop for Saturday. It was scrumptious-city thanks to Dry Creek Kitchen. Met Chef Charlie Palmer, top chef/restaurateur (owner of Dry Creek Kitchen, Charlie Palmer steakhouses, Aureole in NYC, among many other established restaurants all over the US.) who was around keeping things in check. Mauritson’s Rockpile 2011 Zinfandel was another buy – as amazing as it proved to be — very appetizing!
Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves – Fantastical. Pathways to the “storybook” winery were lined with olive trees “lit” with olive “bulbs”. Then greeted by a princess holding her frog (I actually kissed the frog!). And, the wine caves… It isn’t my first time to go inside a wine cave but yet as it is uncommon and not everyday, it is thrilling still, and still a novelty. Awesome 2010 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel! Regretting now not to have bought and taken one home. It is definitely in my WANT list.
Quivira – The facilities are simple, uncomplicated and serene. I imagine people living longer in places like this breathing place. Enjoyed very much their 2010 Quest Zinfandel which to me was exceptional. A great wine to relax with.
Passalacqua – Romantic place to visit. Wisteria trellises, tasting room/deck overlooking vineyards on peaceful gorgeous rolling hills and a Cabernet that unlocks sweet memories that have been tucked away… Aah yes, ’tis a wine to SIGH for.
Dry Creek Vineyards – A 40 year-old family winery that has a fabulous Loire Valley inspired Dry Chenin Blanc which isn’t very common around here nowadays. Apparently Dry Creek Vineyards is the only Chenin Blanc grape producing vineyard in the area, so said the lady who poured me my taste of it. It is a splendid peachy summer drink! Loved it!
Ridge Vineyards - Pre-prohibition century-old grape vines have roots that have grown deeper and are able to reach minerals further into the earth resulting in intense and concentrated flavors in its fruit. Such are the vines at Ridge vineyards and they boast their old vine Zinfandels which are absolutely impressive. They are the prized variety of Ridge for which they are actually well-known for. Ridge Zin – another in my WANT list.
Now that I have started my WANT list wish list, I am already looking forward to Passport To Dry Creek Valley 2014! — and discover other and more wineries in this fine appellation in Sonoma. Hope to see you there!
Related Article: An Event Not To Be Missed: Passport To Dry Creek Valley
Published: June 6, 2013