Sonoma Spotlight: Dry Creek Valley

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by Courtney Cochran

DryCreekValley_VineyardinSonomaCounty.jpgOrganic farms and Rhône varieties and lots of cycling, oh my! Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley - encompassing 16 miles north-south in Sonoma's bucolic northwestern corner - is a quieter part of the county that beckons with gracious vineyards, welcoming wineries and a rustic agrarian atmosphere that's downright soothing.  Come along as we take a closer look.

Getting There
Dry Creek is easily reached from adjacent Healdsburg and also makes a reasonable day trip from other parts of the county.  Coming from the south, exit 101 at Dry Creek Road and head northwest. Coming from Mendocino and the north, exit 101 at Dutcher Creek Road to tackle the valley from the northern end, heading south. From Healdsburg, access the valley via Dry Creek Road or start at the far southern end of the valley - via Westside Road - if you have time for a longer drive.    

Weather, What to Expect
Dry Creek Valley is one of Sonoma's numerous excellent wine-producing valleys.  Though it is one of those more closely situated to the ocean (it's just about 20 miles inland from the Pacific), Dry Creek experiences significantly warm temperatures during summer months.  During this time, heat necessitates smart warm weather preparation such as taking plenty of water with you, stopping to rest if pursuing cycling or other physically activities, and avoiding excessive sun exposure during peak sunshine periods. Evening temperatures are cool year-round, and winter is cool and wet during the rainy season. Spring and fall offer the mellowest conditions for traveling, and fog can be found in the morning year-round.  
wineEtiquette.jpgTouring & Tasting
Zinfandel is king in Dry Creek - some of California's best versions of the variety hail from here - but heat-loving Rhône varieties like Grenache have found a strong niche in the valley, too.  Ripe but balanced Sauvignon Blanc is also a standout. If tasting is your main activity in Dry Creek, aim to visit three to four spots and be sure to schedule a lunch midday. Restaurants are few and far between, so you'll want to plan ahead with a picnic, stop into the Dry Creek General Store (another Dry Creek must-see!) or arrange for food service at one of the wineries you plan to visit (subject to availability; call ahead).   
 
Etc: Biking, Scenic Drives, Gourmet Lifestyle
Cycling is a natural fit for Dry Creek's gently undulating byways, and you needn't be an expert to enjoy this popular activity.  Several hotels in Healdsburg offer free bike rentals to guests - and encourage excursions into the valley, some with the added appeal of pre-packed picnic baskets - while local rental companies cover the needs of experts and novices alike. A nine-mile north-south stretch of West Dry Creek Road - with vineyards making up the right panorama and dense fir and oak woodlands the left - is among the most popular rides in Sonoma. For similar reasons, Dry Creek - with its miles upon miles of vineyards and rustic agrarian patina that smacks of a bygone era - is a sweet destination for driving cruisers and sight-seers of all stripes.

Gourmet shoppers will find plenty to appreciate in the valley's Dry Creek General Store which stocks an expertly curated selection of local produce, meats and cheeses. Agrarian enthusiasts will appreciate local farm-to-table operations and small winery-farms like Quivira Vineyards and Winery and Preston Vineyards & Winery, where visitors can picnic amongst the flora and fauna. Because Dry Creek is mostly made up of small farms, the area retains an aura of the past, even while other parts of wine country hurtle ahead in a more corporate farming fashion. Here's to hanging with the little guys.  

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