The Wineries of Dry Creek Valley
Dry Creek Valley is one part tucked away and one part out in the open. The valley is in a similar shape to the California central valley—long and narrow. It stretches about 14 miles from top to bottom and about 4 or 5 across. Wineries seem to be either lying directly in the middle of the valley or nestled atop hillsides, tucked away on various side streets.
There’s also a dramatic difference between signage sizes amongst wineries. Some wineries contain giant, near billboard-sized signs that announce everything from hours to the amount of gold medals the latest vintages acquired. Other wineries have signs that are little bigger than mile markers on the freeway. Don’t blink because you can easily miss a turn-off for a winery or two.
There is one thing you’re sure to find at nearly all wineries in Dry Creek—Zinfandel. It’s the patron grape of the valley. While Paso Robles and Lodi might wish they were in on this action, the nearly-undisputed wine growing region that is the most closely connected to Zinfandel is Dry Creek Valley. Often times, I’ll joke that it’s hard to throw a rock and not hit a Zinfandel grape (for the record, I don’t actually advocate throwing rocks and hitting grapes).
Aside from Zinfandel, you’ll find it’s white wine counterpart, Sauvignon Blanc. The two grapes love the heat in the valley. If you’re in the mood for Pinot Noir, you’re in the wrong neighborhood. It’s just too hot for the thin-skinned grape. You’ll find grapes that are more Rhone-specific: Grenache, Viognier, Carignane, Petite Sirah just to name a few. (Pinot Noir is a Burgundian grape; hello Champagne!)
Over the past decade, downtown Healdsburg has turned into tasting central for wineries that grow grapes in Dry Creek. Smaller wineries, or ones that are miles off of the main streets that run through Dry Creek Valley, now have permanent locations in downtown Healdsburg. It should also be noted that Geyserville also has a great selection of tasting rooms on their main street.
Speaking of the streets in Dry Creek Valley, there are two main ones. Dry Creek Road and West Dry Creek Road. The roads parallel, wait for it, Dry Creek (though to be fair it usually does have water in it).
Along with Healdsburg, you also have Geyserville to the north. It’s a quieter town with half being in Dry Creek Valley and the other half nestled in Alexander Valley. Dry Creek’s boundary line is pretty much comprised of the freeway. Nearly anything west of Hwy 101 is Dry Creek and the vineyards to the east are Alexander Valley.
Dry Creek Valley is about a 90 minute drive north of San Francisco. I would advise either you pack a lunch or eat downtown in Healdsburg or Geyserville (there’s only like 4 places to eat in Geyserville, it’s that small). The Dry Creek General Store, a staple for what seems like a generation, is the only store in the valley. Wonderful sandwiches and cheeses can be found in the shop. During weekends the place is packed. Some wineries have food for purchase, but that’s hit or miss.
If the Dry Creek General store is just too crowded, head down the road to Big Jim’s market. A high-end grocery store, they’ve also got sandwiches, chips and just about any cheese you can imagine, and even probably some you can’t.
Weather is funky in Dry Creek. Summers can either be cool and temperate while other days you’re hitting triple digits. Check the long range forecast if you’re going. And, much like San Francisco to the immediate south, wear layers. This is Northern California, where the weather can change by the hour, and with the change leaning toward the colder side.
That’s funny. There really isn’t much. Don’t count on your cell phone to be at full bars while in Dry Creek. The various mountain ranges play havoc on phone signals. So a physical map and a downloaded Google map usually does the trick (yes, you can view Google maps offline).
Distances are generally measured as the crow flies. This is farmland after all. If you feel the immediate need to Instagram something (no judging here), some wineries offer wifi. Just ask the tasting room staff and see what they have.
Otherwise, when you get back onto Hwy 101, you’re back within cell phone range and your cell phone should be back up to near full bars.
Driving around Dry Creek is fun. There’s just a few stop signs outside of Healdsburg and you really can’t get all that lost. Plan your visits and remember to keep your eyes peeled for a small sign or a quicker turn-off. Pick up some food early and you’ll have a great time! Welcome to Dry Creek Valley.