Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dry Creek Valley's Wines Are Pretty Damn Good, Actually

The Wine Spectator's James Laube, in a recent blog post on Dry Creek Valley's wines, argued that California's Dry Creek valley suffered from not having a "signature grape, nor wine, nor even winery." While singling out a few"richly flavored" wines for their "power" and "opulence," he concluded that "there are many dull and ordinary wines being made and poured and sold in tasting rooms here." Dry Creek Valley's wines should be better, Mr. Laube asserted, and urged the adoption of "higher quality standards," something that raised a few eyebrows from those who left comments, as well as some of the region's growers and vintners. (view of vineyards from Preston of Dry Creek)

To all those who believe that what Dry Creek Valley needs is homogenization and branding so that it can be the Napa of the North, I say "NO!" I think what makes Dry Creek Valley wines marvelous and exciting is precisely the fact that that the people who make wine there have avoided becoming the latest EuroDisney of American viticultural regions and resisted following the latest wine trends. I've heard first generation Napa growers tell tales of how they ripped up acres of old European varieties (including Cabernet Sauvignon) when "White Zinfandel" was the valley's signature grape. I'm not sure that represented progress. And many of us have grown tired of the big, bold reds that have become California's calling card in the world of wine. Driving down one of the valley's roads, stopping in at low-key tasting room and buying some reasonably priced wine, and seeing the Winegrower's of Dry Creek Valley placards posted in front of a vineyard makes me grateful that there are few Greek temples, vast Falcon-Crest type estates, and crowded highways such as you can easily find down the road a bit.

I prefer the route that winemakers at places like Quivira, Preston, David Coffaro, and others have taken. They've focused on high quality standards, and on implementing organic and biodynamic viticulture. They've focused on planting interesting varieties from Portugal and Italy--just like the original California vineyard owners--and kept old Zinfandel vines in the ground where they belonged. This approach has brought welcome diversity and excitement to what has often threatened to become a monolithic Californian wine scene dominated by Cabernet and Chardonnay.

While I was wondering what on earth James Laube was thinking, I opened a bottle of 2005 Preston of Dry Creek Old Vines/Old Clones Zinfandel ($19.95, Chronicle Wine Cellar; available through online merchants for between $25 and $28) Dull and ordinary? I don't think so. It was amazing, and combined a full-bodied taste with restraint. The wine is made from three pre-Prohibition Zinfandel clones (originally planted in 1910) that they are preserving, as well as grapes planted in 1940, 1985, and 1995. Though it was a little alcoholic in its aromas when the cork was first pulled, the alcohol (relatively modest for a California Zin at 14.3%) blew off quickly leaving fresh plum and berry. Its beautiful, dark eggplant color hinted at the warm blackberry and cool huckleberry flavors to come. The wine's silky texture played a nice counterpoint to the dark chocolate and roast coffee notes that were also present. This wine has the lovely peppery finish that is all to rare in Zinfandels these days, and made me want to sign up immediately for Dover Canyon's "Pepper Rebellion." With all that going on, how could you not love this wine, the region where it was made, and the organic grapes that went into it?

Dry Creek Valley's wines are pretty damn good, at least the ones that I've tasted. I'm going to go back as soon as possible and drive down a sun-drenched road, taste a few new releases, talk to some winemakers, and enjoy the quality and the pride of a region that may not announce itself with trumpets, parades, and fanfare but certainly delivers in terms of taste.

Here's to more peppery Zins and more business as usual in Dry Creek Valley. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

14 comments:

noble pig said...

The Dry Creek Valley does have a smattering of beautiful peppery Zins don't they? Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I love Quivira's $20 zins.

Taster B said...

Hear, hear!

Dave said...

Completely agree with you. In a blind tasting I did a couple of years ago Dry Creek's Zinfandels wiped the floor with their hotter-climate brethren.

I'm sure there are plenty of "dull and ordinary" Dry Creek wines, but then you could say the same about almost any appellation. There are plenty of dull and ordinary Napa Cabernets, but that doesn't stop the makers from asking $50-$100 or more for them.

If you want superb wines from Dry Creek, look no further than Rafanelli. They make outstanding Zinfandel and one of the few Sonoma Cabernets that I consider worth buying. Sadly there's a waiting list for their mailing list.

But as you say there are plenty of others, and the list continues to grow.

tish said...

Dry Creek Valley epitomizes a very good wine region with a very low profile. Perhaps overlooked here is the simple fact that DCV is dominated by small, family-owned operations. Nothing wrong with that, and count me among those who like it just the way it is.

winehiker said...

Sheesh! Saying that Dry Creek Valley doesn't have a signature grape or wine is like saying James Laube doesn't have two wheels on his bicycle. I'm with you, Doc: I think Mr. Laube has committed a most egregious zin!

dasmueller said...

The healdsburg area is a wonderful area to stay and visit many nice vineyards. We have been drinking Preston's wines for many years and have never had one that we did not enjoy. Although they do not fit the category of under $20 a bottle, Wilson makes some superb zins as well.

Classic Wines said...

Unfortunately it seems as if Mr. Laube has fallen into a rut of the status quo. In an effort to homogenize everything and make it "good" by stereotypical standards, too much is lost in an industry that thrives on creativity and experimentation.

Thanks for giving a different perspective on this and providing readers with a venue to say 'hey,I like dry creek the way it is!'

Dr. Debs said...

Good to know that I'm not alone in my admiration for DCV and its wines. I think Tish is right, many of these operations are small and deliberately so. I do think that this is a good, not a bad, thing for the wine drinker and the wine business, even if "market share" numbers for DCV are lower than they might be if they were willing/able to be more homogeneous. Let's hope that never happens!

MelkyRocks said...

Great post on the DCV. I drive in and through the valley often, and it is indeed the anti-Napa. Some say that many of the winemakers and growers are there because Napa became too pricey and restrictive as to what types of wine they could make, which is quite believable. It's gorgeous, maverick, and there are many fine wines made there, a few of which are mentioned here. For many of us that live in Sonoma County, the last thing we want is to wake up and find ourselves in Napa! So it may be that Laube missing the point ultimately helps us.

mloagogo said...

You nailed it with the 3 Dry Creek wineries you mentioned -- Preston, Caffaro & Quivira are my favorites as well. I'm dying to try Preston's '06 Cinsault -- only had a glass of it last year at a Healdsburg restaurant but it was all sold out by the time I got to the winery... Must get up there soon (and also go to A. Rafanelli, which the other commenter heralded)!

Sonadora said...

I'm a tireless supporter of DCV wines...I'd say a good 75% of what I drink comes from there. So many beautiful wines that would be lost for the sake of a homogeneous style would serve no point other than to disappoint wine lovers everywhere.

Remy said...

After my trip to California, post Wine Bloggers Conference, where I tasted the Preston wines, among other DCV wines, I certainly agree completely. Laube is plain stupid for wanting a signature style. We should all rejoice in diversity, instead of looking for more uniformity.

But hey, let him think that way. That makes more wine for those of us who drink wines, rather than scores and labels.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Isn't Zin pretty much the Dry Creek signature wine? The best Zins I've tasted in the big-Zin style were in Dry Creek. Would Laube like to see corporate wine farms rip out the old vines to plant densely packed, high yielding young vines so that Dry Creek can inundate the market with a "signature" varietal?

I just visited Healdsburg precisely because it had smaller wineries not beholden to the Cab-Chard monoculture mindset. The last thing I wanted was a wine-circus atmosphere.