Don’t blink as you drive along Dry Creek Road towards the southern end of the valley. There’s a sign sitting quietly off to the eastern side of the road. Granted, it did get an upgrade fairly recently, but it’s still quiet by comparison to others along the main road. Just to the side of the sign is an unpaved road and a small locked bar that I think is meant to represent a gate.
Thankfully, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (and possibly more days in the future) the open sign is hung and the gate blocking the driveway has been pushed aside, allowing you to enter Nalle Winery. Welcome to the potato bunker.
Nalle is somewhat of a throwback to what Dry Creek was. An unassuming, casual environment where the speed at which things got done was decreased. In recent years, Nalle did make some upgrades to the property. There is now a “parking” sign and a sign pointing visitors to the back of the of the building, which is now the entrance.
The potato bunker is how the Nalle’s affectionately refer to the tasting and barrel room. Instead burrowing into the earth, as a traditional wine cave would be, they decided to build up. To aid with the cooling of the building, much in the same way a cave is naturally cooled, they covered the roof with topsoil and rosemary. Yes, this is a living roof.
Around the back of the winery you’ll find a compendium of lawn furniture, tables, and horseshoes. I haven’t played yet but I could see myself grabbing a bottle in the future and taking in a game with some friends.
Just as the outdoor area is relaxed and understated, so is the inside of the tasting room. Multiple barrels (I imagine more are there during peak season) make up a large portion of the square footage. The tasting counter is more of a fold-up table with a table cloth.
The tasting room is somewhat tied together with the basketball hoop sitting immediately opposite the tasting counter. It exemplifies the underlying mission of the Nalles—to have fun. After all, when have you last associated an informal game of basketball with wine tasting? You will experience a non-pressure, relaxed, and fun during your tasting. The environment is casual and focused on good wine. As it should be in Dry Creek.
If you’re still not convinced of the fun aspects of Nalle, check out the 25-year history of Zinfandel-making on the poster next to the counter. Each year has some sort of cartoon and a play-on-the-word Zinfandel. My personal favorite is Ziamese twins (with husband and wife, Doug and Lee Nalle literally together).
Still not convinced you’re supposed to have fun here? Take a look at your glass. Certain glasses include the phrase Zinfundel on them.
If you haven’t guessed by the previous two paragraphs, the Nalle’s grow and produce Zinfandel. It’s a staple of Dry Creek of course. Yet the winemaking of Zinfandel at Nalle tends to lean a bit towards the French, especially when it comes to alcohol. Overall, you’re bound to find at least a 1 to 2% lower amount of alcohol in their wines compared to what is traditionally considered the norm in the valley (and to California in general).
Former winemaker and now grandfather, Doug Nalle, pointed out that the idea is not really to get drunk off a bottle of wine. He wants his guests to be able to enjoy a few glasses of wine with their friends and family and not fall off the couch after a single bottle.
Along with Zinfandel, you’ll find Pinot Noir, a rosé and a few other gems depending upon the time of year. Years ago they served rosé out of a decanter. When I asked why they were serving the wine that way, Doug informed me that they chose the wrong color glass for the rosé bottle and the brown color made the bright salmon-colored wine look more dark rum-colored in nature. Thankfully, the color of the glass of the bottle does nothing to the wine. It was still a fun story and I left with at least a bottle or two of rosé.
Andrew Nalle, the son of Doug and Lee, now heads up the winemaking and overall operational duties of the winery, with Doug as consultant. Chances are good you’ll see one of the Nalle’s the next time you come by the winery.
To top it all off, if you join the wine club at Nalle, you’re part of the Squirrel Club. Membership comes with a secret handshake (and for the record, I’ve yet to learn the secret handshake, as I’m not part of the Squirrel Club). To add to the Squirrel theme, you can either join at a “Zintensive care” level or just go for the mixed nuts. I further can’t not confirm nor deny that at one of their events Doug Nalle dressed up in a squirrel costume.
Nalle Winery is living (roof) proof that you don’t have to have countless 90+ point awards to further show you’re wine is damn good. In fact, Nalle doesn’t have any wine points so you could be drinking 100 point wine and not know. The fact is the Nalles’ simply enjoy making wine and have a fun time in the process, which is evident all around the tasting room and in the wine. For as their family crest decrees, complete with squirrels and corkscrew, Vinum Sapientiam tibi dat, or Wine gives you wisdom. That’s Nalle in a nutshell.