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help in selecting shortlisted Dry Creek Valley wineries

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This is my first time posting but I have used chowhound for my previous holiday trips to much success. Hubby and I are going to be in Healdsburg in Oct and I'm having problem with deciding among all the good wineries in DCV. We are looking to go to 4 wineries.

We are avid wine drinkers and are excited to learn more about Californian wines.
Other than Pinots, we do not have much knowledge about them.
Fyi, we stay in Hong Kong which has zero wine tax.
Hence, are often able to get widely distributed wines at same price as in CA.

Winery/Vineyard:
-prefers non-commercial, family run ones.
-willing to include a commercial one if the wines and vineyard tour are really good.

Style of wine we like:
-reds: big bold reds or elegant old world. Really like bordeaux blends, not too impressed with burgundy reds but perhaps we have not tried any good ones).
-whites: buttery chardonnays or elegant Chablis. Hubby dislikes Sauvignon Blanc.
-sparkling: yucks to the likes of Moet and Veuve, extremely overpriced for the quality. Loves Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose, good Proseccos.

Price:
We are value buyers (i.e. price to quality ratio), hence shy away from widely distributed wines.
Acceptable range: less than $100, best between $30-$50.
But are willing to fork out more to purchase those that really impressed us.

shortlisted DCV wineries :
Amphora
A.Rafanelli*
Bella Vineyard and Winery
David Coffaro Vineyard & Winery
Papapietro Perry*
Pedroncelli
Preston*
Quivira Vineyards and Winery
Sbragia Family Vineyards*
Unti Vineyards*
Yoakim Bridge
Zichichi
*those we are leaning towards.

Planning to have lunch at Diavola.
Sorry for the long winded post.
Thanks in advance for reading and replying!

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  1. My opinions on a few of those. The many omissions mean only that I don't know (or remember) enough about them to have an opinion.

    Amphora - A favorite small winery-in-a-warehouse. Very personable owner/winemaker and staff, quite good wine (I've only tried their reds). Their Syrah is my favorite. There are several other wineries in that same group of warehouses on the top of a hill just off Dry Creek Road. You could stay up there all day :-)

    Bella - One of my favorite places. Very good reds. Tasting in underground cave-like space. Good place for a picnic.

    Preston - One of my favorite places, but alas not for their wine. They bake a wonderful "country bread" and produce their own olive oil. Gazebos for picnics. But I take their bread and olive oil up the road to Bella for a picnic with wine I like a lot more.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

      Am undecided between Bella and Preston after researching on this board, altho Preston seems to garner more postive reviews. In your opinion, what are the impressive wines at Bella?

      1. re: sherkoh

        I remember several good Zins at Bella. Don't remember the rest; it's been while. Preston and Bella are very close to each other. As you're driving north on West Dry Creek Road, you come to Preston first (a bit off West Dry Creek Road). Bella is a short distance further up the road. Easy to try both :-)

        1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

          Both are great, and they're next door to one another. I think the Preston wines are great (they are usually Rhone varietals), and the Bella zins are very good.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            OK, I'm going to have to try Preston wines again. The last couple of times I've been there (last time two years ago) I thought they were not so good compared to several of their neighbors. I used to like their wines a lot and would love to like them again because I love the place.

            Which of Preston's reds do you particularly like?

            1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

              I have to share your opinion of Preston, but I also am now thinking maybe I should give them another chance. The last time I was there (about 9 months ago) I found their wines a bit disjointed, and many of the reds had bretty/leather/bacon type notes or green/herbal notes which I am personally not a fan of (though I understand others enjoy them).

              I guess it could just be a rough few vintages for Preston and they'll be back to form for the 2012 vintage.

              1. re: goldangl95

                2009 and 2012 are the good vintages. 2010 and 2011 were pretty awful for everyone in both Napa and Sonoma counties. I don't know anyone who collects/savors wine who is purchasing 2010 or 2011. 2008 was the year of the all the forest fires, so many wines have a smoke component, but not all. 2009 is shaping up nicely.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Maybe because 2010 or 2011 red wines destined for the cellar have not been bottled and released yet? :)

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Reports from growers and winemakers, and samples of juice so far. The 2010s I've had so far have not been exemplary, even when you figure in aging.

                2. re: goldangl95

                  <many of the reds had bretty/leather/bacon type notes or green/herbal notes which I am personally not a fan of (though I understand others enjoy them).>

                  I dislike Brett a great deal also, but can tolerate at low levels the only strain of Brett (4-EG, what I call the sweet-smoky strain) that can contribute flavors like bacon or pepperoni to the wine.

                3. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                  the winemaking styles of Bella and Preston are quite different, i.m.h.o., so it's no surprise to me that someone who prefers one might not fancy the other. the Bella style is the post-1980s brawny, big fruit, high alcohol zin ; some of my favorite Prestons aren't zins, and their zins aren't as big and hefty as the Bella. Preston seems to have more variation vintage to vintage ; their tasting room usually has 5-7 wines to try and their farm is quite beautiful, so a visit isn't really wasted if none of the wines seem worthy of purchase.

                  1. re: moto

                    >so a visit isn't really wasted if none of the wines seem worthy of purchase<

                    I fully agree with that.

                    1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                      Try the wines at both spots and at other spots and see what appeals to your palate -- it may be a wider range than what you think.

        2. I like your starred list. One I would definitely add is Ridge - Lytton Springs. They make amazing Zins in a different style from most of the others on Dry Creek, as well as their Montebello and cab which they are world renowned for. Definitely worth a stop. It's bigger than say Papapietro Perry (which can lead to some variations in service), but they've done a great job of maintaining very high quality wine at reasonable prices.

          IMHO it would be a shame to miss out on Ridge. I think my ideal day would be.

          Start @ Ridge, maybe make reservations for the tour.

          Then look at:
          Papapietro Perry if you want to try Pinot (Burgundy reds but CA versions are rather different) since they're the only Pinot centric producer along Dry Creek that I know of; and/or pick
          Sbragia or A Rafanelli If you want to try CA Bordeaux reds since they're the only ones along Dry Creek that I know of ;

          Then pick 1 or 2 of these - depending on your stamina. I put some generalizations next to the wineries:
          Bella - Zin
          Preston - Preston has a cab and some Bordeaux blends as well, but they basically do a bit of everything.
          Talty - Zin
          Unti - A bit of everything. Syrah, Sangiovese etc.
          Zichichi - Zin

          If you have time, or are olympic tasters who dump/spit, then you can go to more, but I would not put into your itinerary more than 4 for a day.

          4 Replies
          1. re: goldangl95

            Thanks for the heads-up on Ridge - Lytton Springs.
            It is not on my list because their wines are available in Hong Kong.
            I'll keep your recommended wines on my 'to try' list for my next visit to a wine shop here. :)

            1. re: sherkoh

              Rafanelli for sure. Call to make appointment.
              Ridge has many wines, most of which never reach the wholesale marketplace. Very limited and good library selections.

              1. re: Bruce in SLO

                hmmm... hmmm...
                upon further research, Ridge is looking very appealing. lol...
                Bruce: you are right, wine shops in HK do carry very limited range of their wines.

                1. re: Bruce in SLO

                  You don't get to taste much at Rafanelli.

            2. Thanks all for contributions, especially to goldangl95 for your helpful insights!
              I am sold on Ridge and below is my revised itinerary.
              A.Rafanelli
              Ridge
              Lunch at Diavola
              Papapietro Perry
              Unti
              Dinner at Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar

              We have 5 full days in the wine country and will do a trip report when back.

              4 Replies
              1. re: sherkoh

                Another vote for Bella if you can squeeze it in. It's a great tasting room in the wine cave and a wonderful place for a picnic.

                1. re: sherkoh

                  Agreed. Papapietro Perry isn't as good as Bella or Preston, and Rafanelli is kind of a bust because of the extremely limited tasting. So I would add those two back in were I you (and I'm in the wine biz).

                  Diavola rocks. I adore the Sonja pizza most of all, but all their pizzas rock. The beet salad is amazing, as is all their house-cured salumi.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Tastes differ, but for what it's worth, I really like Papapietro Perry more than Preston (though perhaps unfair comparison as they sell radically different wines). As background, I am more of a fruit-forward wine lover than an earthy/savory wine lover.

                    Which. Thought! None of the wines on your initial list that I am aware of make low quality wine. No one is here is going to say ugh Ridge is absolute swill or Unti is an alcoholic mess. So it really will come down to your tastes and what experience you want.

                    Along that vein, while I really enjoy Papapietro Perry's wine, and I think they make a great example of the fruit-forward CA Pinot style, they don't have grounds - just a tasting rooms. So that could also factor into your decision.

                    1. re: goldangl95

                      <more of a fruit-forward wine lover than an earthy/savory wine lover>

                      FWIW, I don't think that's an apt or accurate comparison.

                      I find some PP wines to be thin in flavor, so the "fruit-forward" thing doesn't make sense. Though PP occasionally releases a wine with more oomph. Preston offers wonderful full-bodied red and white wines. The Madam Preston is one of my fave white wines around. I love the place.

                      But we're not really talking a great deal of distance between the two wineries, so it'd be easy to check both/all of them out. Dry Creek is relatively small.

                      I do like Sbragia's wines, especially the Zin. Sbragia is a master winemaker. But that winery at the north end of Dry Creek.

                2. Personally, I would swap Yoakim Bridge for Unti as I'm not a huge fan of Unti's wines, and Yoakim Bridge is about as small, friendly, and family-run as you can get. But you can't go wrong with this short list!

                  Michael

                  1. Diavola is one of our favorites in the area, and the only one we visit on every trip to Healdsburg/geyserville. on the border of the Dry Creek area is the very modern (green construction/energy) Ridge winery ; their wines are equal to any on your list, with a distinctive style (old vines + much less oak than most others).

                    1. Sorry for the really late trip report!!
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/891562