Ok. I give up. Where’s the winery? No seriously. Where is it? If you’re cruising around Dry Creek, you’re probably not going to find this winery just on a whim. To complicate things, it’s truly underground, with the entire operations being housed inside of a mountain. And you thought NORAD was the only company buried underground. Welcome to Fritz Underground Winery.
As much as I can joke about not being able to find the winery, Fritz does as much as it can to be seen. Along the northern end of Dry Creek Road, there’s a turnoff just past Canyon road, which you’ll turn right on to go up to Fritz. Right below the road sign is an a-frame with the Fritz name on it, letting you know you’re going in the right direction.
There aren’t any other wineries on the street leading up to Fritz. Just as you think you’ve probably passed it (it is buried in a mountain afterall), Fritz has a sign alongside the left hand side of the road letting you know you are a half mile away. Appropriate timing as I did wonder how much further I had to travel to reach them.
Just under a half mile up the road, Fritz announces they are the next exit. Alright. We’re here. But not really. Following the turn off of the road, it’s another drive over the river (literally) and through the woods, up the hill to the parking lot. There’s two parking areas: covered under a canopy of trees and one uncovered. On a hot day with wine in the car, take the covered spot (and hopefully you thought to bring a cooler).
Now that we’ve finally found this place, let’s go inside. Large doors with giant windows announce the entrance. It’s also the only doors with windows on the entire property.
The concept of burying wine into the ground is nothing new. The French, especially in Champagne, with the chalky soil suitable for digging tunnels, have miles and miles of them, with the goal of simply storing wine. In fact, storing wine in the earth is the most ideal way. The temperature fluctuates only a few degrees, there’s a constant humidity, and the lighting is only for the humans who have to walk through the caves. Plus, you don’t need any air conditioning running 24/7 to keep an underground cellar cool. It’s very green to say the least.
Half of the tasting room is molded into the side of the mountain. The other side, with those large doors and windows, looks out to the surrounding hillsides and picnic tables and chairs. For a winery who has the name “underground” in their title, it’s a fantastic view from the tasting room.
The small but cozy tasting room has three different sides in which to taste from, with one of them facing the outside. If it’s not crowded, grab that side as the other one faces an off-white stucco wall. Not exactly instagram-worthy.
At Fritz you have the option of three different flights: a taste of Fritz (which sounds much dirtier than it is), the reserve tasting, and a flight of Pinot Noir. The aforementioned flights are $15, $20 and $20 respectively. They also waive the fee with the purchase of two bottles.
I love how all 3 flights are so different and unique. I chose the reserve flight. While I had to give up a beloved Sauvignon Blanc in the taste of Fritz, I gained it back in the form of a Sparkling Blanc de Noir, meaning it’s comprised 100% of Pinot Noir grapes, but with the skins off. I was tasting first thing in the morning (got there around 10:30ish) and the sparkling wine was a great opener to get my taste buds in action.
The tasting staff was very accommodating, while I was excited to try all of the wines on the reserve list, I wanted to run a little off-script and have a taste of the dessert wine. Having to drive to a few other places, I was spitting, to which the tasting staff allowed me an extra pour. Dessert wine before lunch. How much better can one’s morning get?
A bit better if you get there by 11:00 (and I think 1:00) to take the tour of the winery. While most wineries take you outside, this one, um well, took me outside. But just for a few minutes to show off where the stainless steel tanks are held. If you want to experience just how much cooler the winery is inside, take the tour in the dead of summer. Upstairs atop the winery, temperatures can hit 100+. Not even the limited-release rosé was keeping me cool.
Following the brief tour outside, the bulk of the work of the winery is done inside, deep within the mountain. The Pièce De Résistance was walking all the way up the long corridor of the tunnel that houses some of the barrels, realizing with every step I was going further and further into the mountain. Claustrophobics be weary. While it’s not exactly small and compact, it does have the pseudo feel of it, the further you go in. Now this is definitely Instagram-worthy. Too bad there’s no signal here.
Speaking of internet signals, there’s no signal upstairs either. Fritz is aware they are in a dead zone and provides complimentary wifi. In the age of selfies, tagging and checking-in, a dead zone means you’re cut-off (for a few minutes). If you’re craving an instant posting that very second, go ahead and hop onto their wifi.
After which you can kick back outside with a picnic and a bottle of wine and admire the pond and surrounding vineyards, Zinfandel-based. Fritz has a handful of picnic tables for you to relax upon, all providing superior views of the landscape around the area. Devoid of houses and other buildings, you truly feel like you’re all alone atop of a mountain with no cellular access. Well ok, only the latter is really true.
I’d classify this winery as a destination winery, as it does take a little bit of work to find it. You can’t exactly fall out of the Healdsburg Hotel and randomly stumble across it. But sometimes a diamond in the rough, or in this case a diamond buried in the side of a mountain, can truly shine.