Visiting any wine country is thrilling any time of year. Most people prefer to see a wine country late spring and anytime during summer and to a small extent Fall prior or during grape harvest. The wine cycle may seem predictable and vineyards of idyllic and profound beauty—a pastoral setting where it seems there is never a trouble and only perfection abounds. It appears that wine grapes grow on their own and solely via natures nurturing and that intervention is not needed. But the human touch is needed and what many may not see is what vineyard management is all about . My visit to Dry Creek Valley for Harvest 2011 was eye opening on many levels. There is no typical year in any wine world and more often than not every harvest is vastly unpredictable and often filled with concern.
My first visit during Mid-September was that some grapes were that some were coming in and I got to see Pinot Noir in the making at Fritz Underground Winery where they were punching down Pinot Noir. Punching down sounds like a very physically brute experience, however, it is ever so gentle and the colour process begins and is firmly rooted. The scent and the immediate notice was that this looked no where near the wine that I so highly prize. And that is the beauty of the wine making experience. Tasting the pre-fermented juice was eye opening—my first thought was “I must consume all of this and where can I buy this?” The answer is simple—no where—this would be very expensive juice if it was sold in the pre-fermented form. I also tried the pre-fermented Sauvignon Blanc juice as well. I was delighted in thinking and knowing that in the deep coolness of winter was the juice develops into wine. And that is interesting because winter time is depicted as a season of ends as opposed to a season of beginnings.
I loved walking the vineyard grounds of Fritz and the pristine land—it was like the wildness of the land gave up some of its space to make way for vineyards. Fritz is a rugged and yet approachable landscape where native plants are flourishing and vibrant.
I visited Lambert Bridge next and they proudly displayed that they were sorting grapes—Sauvignon Blanc. I walked in and loved how it looked in this warm September day but my thoughts immediately went to winter. Wintertime in Dry Creek is especially appealing—the landscape looks slightly different than summer time—you can see large patches of earth. There is a multitude of winterish touch points—wood in a fire place, sweet scent of winter earth, a profound coolness. All this went to my minds eye just on the entry. I loved the beautiful wooden entire and large and open barrel room that is opti-present to the tasting room. I went back outside to see grapes being sorted and knowing that I was witnessing the sort and juice being created as we watched. I tasted a bit of the Sauvignon Blanc juice and it is always hard to imagine but it is awe-inspiring how this becomes wine.
I came back in to enjoy a food-wine pairing which showed how prime time Dry Creek Valley is and how confident this winery to showcase fine wines with equally fine food. I started off with Bevill Vineyard Viognier which was paired with Chile Lime Glazed Prawn, I then tasted Cabernet Franc served with Roasted Pork and fig jam—a fantastic pairing. It is more difficult to find a Sonoma County Cabernet Franc. The Crane Creek Cuvee was served with Black Forest Ham and Olive-fig spread. And I finished with their sterling Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Beechers Flagship cheese. Wondrous wines, served with absolutely friendliness and an environment that was Dry Creek Valley cool and comfortable.
I enjoyed having dinner with Dry Creek Valley wine growers and how they picture framed their experience and their love for this special land. I walked the Comstock Vineyard—a pristine vineyard on Dry Creek Road and was bounded by Dry Creek itself –it was overcast and a bit of sprinkles which would ordinarily be okay most of the year but during harvest and in particular with the bounty of Zinfandel becomes a precarious thing.
I woke up early for a “night pick” at Del Carlo Winery & Teldeschi Vineyards to see the picking of Zinfandel from 120 year old vines. This was a great way to see picking from old vines is not just an easy proposition and by the way—nothing like an early morning pick and especially from old vines. I could feel moisture and an intermittent sprinkle in the air which was an absolute concern to winery and vineyard owners – Lori and Ray Teldeschi. Luckily the sprinkles stopped and the vineyard workers completed their job. The night pick is essential—though it was chilly –the workers were sweating and I couldn’t believe that they were carrying at least 50 lbs of grapes on their head—so it is not just strength, stamina but an ability to work quickly. Witnessing this pick—thought it was in the morning was brightly lit for the workers to see everything they needed to do—was truly a re-testament moment for me appreciating this amazing activity and how wine literary is also about sweat and toil.
My last stop was at Mauritson winery. I met Clay Mauritson and he was absolutely friendly; he offered for me to watch or help sort Rockpile Zinfandel. I looked forward to working with the morning crew. I got a quick lesson on what to pick out. The fruit was sterling and tasted nicely. I thought I would “help” for a few minutes and stayed through the entire four tons. It was sticky and fast—and I was a bit tired but I did feel a bit of accomplishment. I stayed for lunch and enjoyed a wonderful home made Mexican meal and talking with the winery staff.
My Dry Creek Valley experience was brief but very impactful. I saw the living and breathing Dry Creek Valley during a very important part of the wine calendar. I loved the close connection of enjoying wonderful food and tasting a wide variety of wines from the expected of excellent Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon to Cabernet Franc and Teroldego and beyond. Such a great wine country that is both known and yet is still awaiting to be discovered. I highly recommend a visit to Dry Creek Valley—a wondrous journey—and be sure to take time to enjoy!
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