hotel healdsburg

A Weekend in…Dry Creek Valley

A jewel in the crown of the Golden State, Dry Creek – together with Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley – make up northern Sonoma county. It is ticked between the Russian River and the Lake Sonoma Recreation Area.

“Dry Creek has many amazing attractions, eateries and adventures, but it is most beloved for its big, bold jammy Zinfandel as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Beth Costa, executive director of Wine Road, an association of wineries and lodgings across northern Sonoma.

Right now, there are between 80 and 100 wineries in Dry Creek, many with bucket-list tasting experiences for any oenophile.

h2hotel

Accommodations

Before jumping into some of our favorite experiences in the region, let’s get you a place to stay! The choices are exceptionally impressive. For those who want to go big, consider h2hotel, Harmon Guest House or Hotel Healdsburg, all in Downtown Healdsburg just blocks from Dry Creek.

h2hotel is for environmentalist wine lovers. Open since 2010 and featuring just 36 eco-friendly rooms, each with its own balcony or patio, h2hotel is LEED NC 2.2 Gold Certified Green. “Of note on property are the large eco-suites, ample artwork, many water features, complimentary continental breakfast and Spoonbar, which is a contemporary American eatery marrying art, craft and flavor at every turn (also: do not miss the cocktail list or the cascading three-dimensional, water-infused “spoon wall” leading to the entrance). h2hotel guests also have access to Hotel Healdsburg Spa,” says Costa.

Harmon Guest House

Harmon Guest House, which just opened in 2018 and features 39 total rooms including six suites, is just north of h2hotel. This boutique beauty boasts a solar-heated pool, Creekside terrace and swoon-worthy rooftop lounge. “Effortlessly chic, the Harmon is blanketed by work from local emerging artists, and both the hotel’s dramatic reception desk and hospitality bar were made from fallen eucalyptus trees locally harvested by Arboria’s Evan Shively,” says Costa.

Hotel Healdsburg (pictured at top of page), which opened in 2001 and features 56 rooms including eight eye popping suites, is widely credited for helping put the wine region on the map. There is a 60-ft. garden on property as well as Jacuzzi with poolside service and an expansive spa, considered one of the finest in all of Sonoma. Hotel Healdsburg is also home to celebrity chef Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, which has won more awards than there is space to type for its progressive, American, farm-sourced menus.

If seeking something a bit smaller and more intimate, there is also Belle de Jour Inn. “Certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Belle de Jour features just five cozy cottages on property, each tucked into what feels like a lush forest completed enveloped in lush greenery,” says Costa.

Experiences

As one might expect, the best adventures in Dry Creek are centered around wine. Therefore, unless a member of your party who is choosing not to imbibe, it is critical to reserve a driver to ensure everyone’s safety while meandering along the backroads and country roads across the region. A best bet is Pure Luxury Transportation.

“Beyond their large fleet of vehicles for small, medium and giant groups, they utilize local experts as drivers for nearly 30 years, meaning locals who really know the area and have all the best stories about its history,” says Costa. They are so good that they even offer curated tours of Dry Creek as well as nearby regions in Sonoma and Napa most days of the week.

Once you have a designated driver, it is time to jam (yes, as in drink all the jammy wine goodness!). Given there are more than 80 wineries from which to choose, here is a look at some favorites and what each offers to help you to make the list best suited to your likes and tastes:  

Williamson Wines

Williamson Wines: The wines here are larger than life, much like their founder, Bill Williamson. The Aussie native feels like a character right out of a movie. His booming voice, contagious laughter and jaw-dropping stories will change your life–and perspective. And even if he is not onsite, Williamson’s wines – each made by him and his team – will change it. There are many ways to enjoy Williamson, including two tasting rooms in Downtown Healdsburg and even the option to helicopter into the vineyard in Dry Creek before a tasting (yes, really). The experience that has our heart, however, is the estate lunch with Williamson himself. Over-the-top does not begin to describe it. Allow at least two hours and save space for all the bold reds as well as dessert. Feel free to let them roll you out after this feast.  

Amista Vineyards: This small, family-owned winery is a must if you need to get your sparkling wine fix. There is a splendid winery walk you can take by reservation that showcases their sustainable farming practices and gives a behind-the-scenes look at how they succeed at making Rhône varietals in the heart of California.

Cāpo Creek Ranch: Founded by two honest-to-goodness medical heroes, this newer vineyard has a zinfandel as well as a red blend that will curl your toes with delight. When visiting, splurge and book the Ultimate Food and Wine Pairing with a Kubota Tour, which includes a six-course al fresco wine tasting and dining adventure made by the winemaker herself as well as a cave tour and romp on an ATV-like vehicle.

Bella Winery: This family-owned winery focuses primarily on small lots of Zinfandel. The property is a doozy with steep slopes and a massive wine cave, which of course you must explore while sipping. If up for it and nice outside, opt for the hiking tour of the property. It is perfectly fine for most health levels and takes you up Lily Hill before descending into the cave. Starting in June, the winery will also start its Sunday pizza days again, which is a must. As it sounds, they have their own specialty pizzas being made on property all summer long, which pair perfectly with their coveted reds.

Dry Creek Vineyard: For more than 50 years, Dry Creek Vineyard has been a staple in the region. At one time, the lone staple, in fact! The proud family-owned winery – now headed by founder David Stare’s daughter, Kim Stare Wallace – was designed to feel like a Loire Valley chateau one might find in France. Relax during a seated tasting at Dry Creek, which offers ample samples of limited-production and single-vineyard wines that are exclusively crafted solely for the tasting room and club members.

Lambert Bridge

Lambert Bridge: You will drink in views well before wine here, but perhaps even more inside than out. Sounds odd, right? The barrel tasting room is made from towering Redwood trees and feels like it is 200 feet high in some places. There are some cheeses and nuts to accompany the tasting, as well as the chance to do a tasting in the private cellar of five limited-release, member-exclusive wines paired with a curated cheese and charcuterie plate from the owner’s favorite local purveyors for an added charge.

Dutcher Crossing: This female-led winery has one of our favorite logos: a vintage penny farthing bicycle. It is homage to the owner’s love for cycling but also to honor her father, who always encouraged her to dream big and work to make each dream come true. A very laidback vineyard, the best way to enjoy these wines is via its seated outdoor tasting.  

Pedroncelli Winery: The Pedroncellis have been making wine in Dry Creek since 1927, even selling grapes to people in their homes (call it a DIY wine tasting experience where you make the wine in your bathtub first!) to keep their vineyards alive during Prohibition. Currently, the winery is run by the ninth generation of the family, which really is incredible. Prior to COVID-19, the tasting room had an amazing small bites pairing, but right now the best bet is to book a seated indoor tasting or even just buy a bottle of Zin and enjoy it with the staff working that day. It is a true joy and everyone on the team is so warm and inviting.

Trattore Farms: An orchard, olive mill and vineyard all in one, Trattore is the brainchild of Tim Bucher, an unassuming fellow you might see in a T-shirt and jeans at the winery who happens to be a high-tech serial entrepreneur who has created several successful companies, taking one of them public and selling six others to tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Dell and Seagate. As of writing this, he was also chairman of the board of directors for the GRAMMY Museum – yes, as in the GRAMMY Awards. Trattore is the Italian word for “tractor,” and you will see many of them across the ranch, not to mention as the logo on the winery’s bottles. The tasting room is atop a hill that has one of the best views of Dry Creek in the region. There is a terrific combination olive oil and wine tasting available most days, but to really do it right you should do the Get Your Boot Dirty Tour to explore all the wine and olive oil making facilities as well as taste both the wines and oils. Insider tip: add a panini or two to the tasting for an added charge (the PBJ is a favorite, which is a  prosciutto, brie cheese and jam sandwich that is perfectly toasty and melty).

Walt BACA Wines

Walt BACA Wines: The Zin here is next level. It is so good, try the full Zinfandel tasting. There is one available now that pairs handcrafted, artisanal chocolates from local chocolatier Fleur Sauvage Chocolates with only Zinfandels. It is a must. Outside of bites or tours, BACA is also cool as it offers a Sensory Tasting experience unavailable anywhere else to date in the area. As much a game as a tasting, it challenges competitors to match the correct flavor descriptors to its flight of Zinfandels, with those who are successful earning BACA Bucks toward treats and additional tastes onsite. 

Truett Hurst: It is hard not to think about goats when writing about this winery. That is because the vineyard’s most exquisite of Zinfandels is named for one. We kid you not! The ever-popular Luci Zinfandel is named after the vineyard’s goat, Luci. Earlier this spring, also in honor of Luci, the winery began the Luci Flight experience, which is a seated tasting that (of course) includes Luci Zinfandel along with a few other excellent varietals on the patio plus seasonal bites meant to pair with each glass.

Wilson Artisan Wines: The Wilson family has 11 boutique wineries across Northern California, plus a cocktail bar with live music just outside of Dry Creek. Each has its own theme and vibe, but within Dry Creek, do not miss Wilson Winery or Mazzocco Winery. At Wilson, first climb up the coyote for a picture (you will see what this means the second you pull up) and then enjoy a Signature Tasting on the property’s bewitching desk. At Mazzocco, book the Garden Experience for sure.

The Matheson

Dine

Oh, we are not done yet! You cannot leave Dry Creek without checking out at least a few of the lauded restaurants and bars. In addition to Dry Creek Kitchen, Coyote Sonoma and Spoonbar noted above, as well as Bravas Bar and Valette touched on here, Dry Creek area eateries are some of the best in the West. Do not miss:

The Matheson: This is the new kid on the block, and will soon – we predict – be a James Beard and/or Michelin darling. Already gaining acclaim from the likes of Wine Spectator and Food & Wine, The Matheson is the latest concept from the Valette family. It is two restaurant concepts in one, plus has a grand wall with self-serve wines by the glass from end to end. The dining room is contemporary and modern wine country cuisine with a laundry list of ingredients foraged directly by the kitchen team. If visiting for the first time, take advantage of the tasting menu, which features everything from Osetra caviar with egg yolk and cured foie gras with kumquats to seasonal beets with pistachio dukkah and 28-day aged steak with delta asparagus and potato pave. Upstairs is Roof 106, an open-air cocktail lounge with its own separate small plates menu.

Chalkboard: Casual and comfortable, the menu here is inspired by what’s growing best in the venue’s 4.5-acre garden as well as at the farms of friends nearby, including Marin Sun Farms, Front Porch Farms and Preston Farms.

Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar: This tapas bar is loud and energetic in the best way possible. A local’s favorite, there is an ever-changing menu of bite-sized and shareable seafood and shellfish options, including at least eight types of oysters any given night.

Lo & Behold Bar and Kitchen: Both a cocktail bar and restaurant, everything is an adventure at Lo and Behold. To give an idea of what you are in for, there is a cocktail on the menu called Mom Genes with green tea vodka and lemongrass as well as a full menu of shareable cocktails, including one called Eff Me Pumps with Fernet Branca, strawberry, lime, seltzer and more. The food is divided into sections for those who prefer seafood, those looking for what they call “drinking snax,” those looking for small bites and even a section for those looking to eat with a “fork, knife and fingers.”

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