Sonoma County is home to more than 60 Dry Creek wineries. Explore a few of these exceptional wines in California wine country.
Healdsburg, California, is a magnificent place to visit. The vast countryside is stunning, the restaurants feature delicious cuisine, and the local winemakers craft irresistible wines from the Dry Creek Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area). This AVA, located just northwest of Healdsburg in Sonoma County, is a valley stretching approximately 16 miles long and two miles wide. Dry Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, sculpted this region. The area boasts more than 150 winegrape growers and more than 60 Dry Creek wineries that produce a variety of exceptional wines from fragrant viogniers to juicy Bordeaux varietals.
With so many wineries, it would take months to visit each one. I have chosen three of my favorites to write about: Trattore Farms Tasting Room and Terrace, Lambert Bridge Winery, and Amista Vineyards.
Trattore Farms Tasting Room and Terrace, an Incredible Dry Creek Winery
Tim Bucher was thrilled when the doors opened at Trattore Farms Tasting Room and Terrace in October 2015. As a farmer and tractor enthusiast, Tim realized his dream come true. He is from Switzerland, and his wife Mary Louise is from Italy. Geyser Peak and Mount Saint Helena are to the vineyard’s east, and Dry Creek Valley lies to the west. When Tim saw the 40 acres of steep hillside, he envisioned bringing Europe to Dry Creek Valley. He instantly determined to grow wines from France’s Côtes du Rhône region.
During my recent visit to Trattore Farms, Senior Vice President of Sales Edd Lopez said, “Everyone in the area makes really good wine. It’s about how you set yourself apart in sales and service.” According to Edd, Trattore Farms is the only winery with a kitchen north of the Dry Creek Store. When places began to open after COVID, restaurants and businesses with kitchens opened two to three weeks before companies without kitchens. Trattore Farms was very busy during that time.
Taste the Food at Trattore
Trattore sells paninis, hummus trays, and charcuterie platters every day, and on Sundays pizzas are available from the outdoor pizza oven. Edd told me, “During COVID we got creative with our wine tasting as the county wanted us to have as little interaction with the public as possible. We developed a platter with four wine selections and two olive oils. There is information on the platter, and guests can walk through the ‘Family Flight’ on their own. These selections change seasonally.”
Sip the Wines
Today guests can order food, different flights, and sips from the daily selection of open bottles. My tasting included 2019 Stone Soup, 2017 Big Pig Pinot Noir, 2019 Stone Soup Blanc, 2020 Estate Viognier, Spanish Table and basil olive oils, and a little balsamic vinegar. The reds are tasty at Trattore, although I favor their whites. The 2019 Stone Soup Blanc is a luscious blend of white Rhône varietals. This blend boasting 46% roussanne, 35% viognier, and 19% marsanne is grown in the rocky soils at the estate.
I love viognier for its prolific fruit fragrance, and the Stone Soup screamed of peaches, apricots, and citrus notes. The roussanne contributed floral and nut notes, and the marsanne brought tannins to the bottle giving the wine structure and assisting in aging.
Explore the Vineyards
The Kawasaki mule tour at Trattore Farms was fun and educational. Edd and I drove through the stunning vineyards and olive orchards and then over to the four-ton, stone olive mill. Spectacular olive oils are grown with the best farming practices, processed and milled with old-fashioned and modern technology, and then finished, sometimes flavored, and bottled by true artisans. These exquisite oils are a must for every foodie’s kitchen.
The stone mill is very romantic and traditional. It is a community mill, and people can bring as little as 30 pounds or more of olives to join in the pressing. It takes 2 tons of olives to get the stone mill running. Trattore operates the stone mill three weekends each season. Contributors bring their olives up the driveway, get them weighed, and receive a ticket. The ticket tells the weight and will later determine how much olive oil they get after pressing and bottling.
Lambert Bridge Winery, another Fabulous Dry Creek Winery
Lambert Bridge Winery is west of Dry Creek in Sonoma County, California. The winery, purchased in 1993 by owners Ray and Patti Chambers, is snuggled in amongst rolling vineyards and redwood-forested hills. Winemaker Jennifer Higgins maintains complete control over both the farming and wine-making methods. Staff and owners work to build a reputation for creating the area’s finest small-lot wines.
Dine Inside or Outside
Picturesque gardens, intimate picnic areas, the umbrellaed patio, and the exquisite vaulted tasting room provide guests with many options for where to sip and taste. Another fabulous space for tasting is the meeting room with a rock wall and massive burl table. This room features an elegant ambiance perfect for appreciating and experiencing great wines.
During my visit to Lambert Bridge Winery, I spent time with Director of Marketing Katie Boyer. Katie shared how the team decided to renovate the grassy space in front of the tasting room only a month before the pandemic. This area soon became the umbrellaed patio, not a moment too soon. During COVID, this section was heavily utilized, allowing the winery to serve more guests while social distancing.
Sample the Varietals
My tasting included six delicious wines: 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, Bevill Vineyard; 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, Sei Querce Vineyards; 2018 Cabernet Franc, Sonoma County; 2020 Zinfandel, Monte Rosso Vineyard; 2018 Crane Creek Cuvee, Sonoma County; and finally the Sémillon, Sei Querce Vineyards.
The 2021 Sauvignon Blanc from Bevill, bursting with tropical fruit notes and tons of flavor, is a zippy wine perfect for a hot summer day. The 2021 Sauvignon Blanc from Sei Querce Vineyards delivers tropical fruits like guava, passionfruit, and peach. This wine has a lovely silky texture to go with the tropical fruits. All the wines in my tasting experience were delicious.
Take Part in the Perks
Being a member of Lambert Bridge Vineyard has its benefits. Each year a small group of members joins winemaker Jennifer on a trip to Bordeaux. This incredible opportunity is all about wine. Jennifer also takes a solo exploratory trip looking for wine inspiration. Her recent excursion inspired my favorite of the day, the 2021 Sémillon Sei Querce Vineyards wine. The sémillon was soft with well-rounded textures. It is fruit-forward, presenting itself as sweeter than the other wines I tried for the day: however, it was not truly sweet.
Amista Vineyards, a Tasty Dry Creek Winery
Vicky and Mike Farrow’s vision became a reality when they opened Amista Vineyards. Amista wines celebrate and preserve the fruits’ flavors in their wines. Visitors can enjoy their tasting in the Tuscan-themed winery, on the patio, or under the trees near the vineyard. Amista roughly means “making friends” in Spanish. When I recently visited my server, Maddie, said, “The Farrows want everyone coming in to feel like a friend or a friend of the family. That is why everyone is greeted with a welcome splash.” I decided to savor my tasting outside under the trees near the vineyard.
Savor the Rhône Region
Amista is known for its estate-grown Rhône varietals: chardonnay, grenache, syrah, and Mourvèdre. Amista also features six sparkling wines. Two tasting menus are offered: Taste of Amista, a more traditional tasting menu with one white and three reds and the Signature Flight with entirely estate-grown wines. When supplies allow, a flight is available with just the six sparkling wines, four single varietals, and two blends.
Maddie brought out a lemon-herb seasoned popcorn to enjoy with my wine tasting. I began with the NV Sparkling Grenache. Maddie said, “It tricks you into thinking it is sweet with notes of fresh watermelon and strawberry, but it is clean and dry.”
Winemaker Ashley Herzberg noted, “You get the fruit without the headache.” Ashley uses “Methode Champenoise” when making sparkling wines. This method is traditional, takes a little longer, and is a bit more expensive, but it makes beautiful tiny bubbles.
I tried a couple of other sparkling wines: a 2020 Grenache, Estate Grown, and the 2018 Syrah, Estate Grown. All the wines were tasty, and I especially liked the syrah with its dark cherry, molasses, and chocolate notes that lingered with a long finish.
Learn the History
Estate Director Brian Shapiro joined me during my tasting. We spent an hour talking about the wines, what it is like to share wine with friends, and the underlying reason for the birth of Amista Vineyards. Mike and Vicky love wine. They visited the valley, and Mike purchased a piece of property. It was in disarray with only chardonnay planted, but it soon became Mike’s passion project.
While the building and vineyard reconstruction was underway, Mike made “garage wines,” and they offered wine tastings at their home. Today, guests who visit Amista can enjoy the lovely tasting room and delicious wines Ashley makes.
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