Thursday, December 28, 2023

Dry Creek Valley & Rockpile

There was a time when I was almost as passionate about baking bread as I am  about tasting wine.  My passion was so strong that I bought a baking stone for my home oven, a baker's peel to move the loaves in and out of the oven, and I made a sourdough starter for that authentic flavor and texture in my breads. 

Then I read an online article about Lou Preston, owner of Sonoma's Preston Farm and Winery, in the Dry Creek Valley, who claimed to be as enthusiastic about bread baking as I had become.  Preston is a winemaker who understands the science behind yeast fermentation in bread and wine, and I wanted to know what he knew about bread baking. 


After a few failed attempts, my starter was bubbling and had multiplied, so I baked two loaves of Rosemary and Sea Salt sourdough bread. Then, with the warm aromas of fresh bread filling the kitchen, I called Lou Preston for an interview about baking bread and making wine.

Preston's hobby had taken on a new dimension when he found the directions for building your own beehive wood-fired oven. Using adobe and willow, Preston fashioned an oven in the yard beside his winery, which he proudly showed to me.  In the winery tasting room, there was a basket of freshly-baked bread pieces, for tasters to cleanse their palates between sips of Preston wines. The Preston touch is unusual as most winery tasting rooms offer store-bought bread or crackers.

Dry Creek Valley

That visit to Preston Vineyard helped me gain confidence as a bread baker, and it  re-acquainted me with the wines of Dry Creek Valley, one of Sonoma County's premier wine regions. 

Dry Creek Valley is wedged between U.S. 101, west of Healdsberg, and the low, rolling north-south hills in west county.  A mere 16 miles long and 2 miles wide, the valley has Warm Springs dam at the north end, holding back Lake Sonoma. 

In the latter part of the 19th century, Zinfandel and a mix of varieties, known as field blends, were common in Dry Creek Valley. Before Prohibition, the valley was mostly pears and prunes.  Today, there are 150 grape growers and 70 wineries. J. Pedroncelli and Frei Bros. (now a Gallo winery) are the only wineries to have survived Prohibition.


After repeal, Zinfandel took on increased importance in Dry Creek Valley, but since 2004, the emphasis on big Zins has moved to Rockpile, a rugged stony tract overlooking the lake and part of the valley.


Rockpile, a patch of rocks and shallow soil at 800 to 1,900 feet above the valley, became an AVA in 2002, about 11 years after the reservoir known as Lake Sonoma submerged some of Dry Creek Valley's best Zin vineyards. 

With cooler daytime temperatures than the valley, Rockpile, a sub region of Dry Creek Valley, became a good spot for red varieties, particularly Zinfandel.  Some Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah are grown, plus small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. 

Rockpile vineyard and Lake Sonoma

Zinfandel is considered the best expression of the Rockpile vitisphere. In an earlier piece I wrote about Rockpile, I found this quote by Carol Shelton of Carol Shelton Wines on why she thinks Rockpile is a good place for growing Zinfandel. "The fog begins to burn off earlier on Rockpile than it does further down in Dry Creek Valley...and the view goes on forever."

Rockpile Zins are fleshier than Zins from the valley, with more berry and spice notes, plus black pepper and fine tannin.  Zinfandels with Rockpile on the label include Rosenblum, Carol Shelton Wines, Mauritson, Rockpile Vineyards, Paradise Ridge and St. Francis. Price range: $42 to  $55.  

More Dry Creek Valley...

Other important Dry Creek varietal red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon and a collection of Rhone-style wines such as Syrah and Grenache, two varietals that are growing in popularity. 

While red wines dominate in Dry Creek Valley, there is interest in white wine, mainly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Since David Stare, founder of Dry Creek Vineyard, made his first Fume Blanc in 1972, Sauvignon Blanc has been the valley's leading white wine. 

Today, DCV continues to make Fume Blanc, plus three Sauvignon Blancs, including their flagship DCV3 Sauvignon Blanc and The Mariness Meritage blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle du Bordelais.  DCV also makes a crisp Chenin Blanc, answering the demands of a faithful market for the variety.

There is no "Dry Creek wine character," but plenty of winery tasting rooms up and down the valley are available for the taster to sip and decide for themselves.  Here are a dozen Dry Creek wineries that can be counted on for consistent quality and value: Dry Creek Vineyard, Preston Farm & Winery, Sbragia, Ferrari-Carano, Wilson, Ridge, J. Pedroncelli, Mauritson, Seghesio, Nalle, Mazzocco, Michel-Schlumberger. 

Combined, Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile, offer a diversity of wine styles, one for every taste and budget.  Discover for yourself by visiting DCV today or stop at your local wine shop to see what is so special about Dry Creek wines.


Next blog: Oz Shiraz

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The perfect meal: A hunk of freshly baked sourdough bread and a glass of wine.


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