Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Organic Lover's Guide to Dry Creek Valley's Passport Weekend (April 24-26)

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma's popular hot, sunny Zin and Rhone loving region just west of the town of Healdsburg, opens its door this weekend for three days of music, food and wine.

This is a fun, albeit crowded, way to experience this 16 mile long valley (2 miles wide) covered with 9,000 acres of vines. The region's wine history stretches back 140 years. Zinfandel is the local religion.

Sunday only tickets are already sold out; be forewarned that the entire area will be mobbed. (Drive carefully and don't ride a bike on Westside Road this weekend). If you're planning to attend, you may still purchase a two day Passport ticket for $140 per person which gets you free tasting and food on at the wineries from 11 to 4:30 on both days. Friday there is a quieter day planned with winemaker dinners and vineyard tours, but most are already sold out.

More information is available here.

While the Dry Creek Valley promotional web site says that the valley has "a majority of the producers following sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyards," I'm not sure the facts actually back up that claim. "Sustainable" is a standard in the eye of the beholder (and in general, the beholder is the wine industry).

While Dry Creek Valley has 9,000 acres of vineyards, fewer than 400 acres are certified organic or biodynamic. The entire county of Sonoma has only 1,000 acres of organic vineyards out of 60,000 acres in vine.

What sets Dry Creek apart is the organic vineyards of just three of the largest producers with organic or biodynamic vineyards - Preston Farm and Winery (70 acres), Quivira Vineyards and Winery (88 acres), and Ridge Vineyards (157 acres).

In honor of Earth Day this week, raise a glass, and sample some of the wines from Dry Creek's organically farmed vines.

DaVero Vineyards and Winery
12 acres of organic and Biodynamic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

One of the first to make gourmet olive oil, DaVero uniquely grows wine varietals from Italy. A large olive tree graces the garden. Only Club members get their prized Sagrantino, but there's lots to entertain on the biodynamic vineyard and tasting room property which is conveniently located on Westside Road at the intersection with W. Dry Creek Valley Road. A visit to DaVero is a veritable agrotourism experience, where you can stroll to see pigs happily resting in their pig shack and perhaps see sheep in the fields. About half of the wines come from the estate's organic and biodynamic vines.
For Passport:  DaVero will be serving their own lamb, pork and veggies raised on the farm. One of the proprietors is a former gourmet chef; expect the food to be sensational. 

Martorana Family Vineyards
29 acres of organic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

The family started by making olive oil in the late 1990s and gravitated to wine. It's a great spot for relaxing by the creek where they have picnic tables on the edge of the banks. The easy going tasting room is in a cave structure nested inside a berm and has a living green roof. Everything is estate grown and organically farmed.
For Passport: The pizza oven will be fired up and cranking; there'll be live acoustic mandolin as well.

Quivira Vineyards & Winery*
88 acres of organic and Biodynamic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

One of Dry Creek's major Rhone hot spots, Quivira's focused on Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre as well as the Dry Creek regulars - Zin, Zin and Zin. They're also famous for their Sauvignon Blanc and their Petite Sirah. About a third of their wines are grown organically and biodynamically and are bottle labeled with certification.
For Passport: To celebrate Rhone wines, taste southern French food. A small market will also be featured, with wares from local artisans. Don't miss the rosé.

Ridge Vineyards*
157 acres of organic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA (and 47 acres more in Geyserville; and even more in other locations)
A classic, not to be missed winery that is one of the defining wineries of the region, Ridge was born from Sonoma's heritage vines and proudly carries the tradition forward today, making super wines at its Healdsburg and Geyserville sites. Some of the vines are more than 100 years old. And they're converting all of these vines to organic farming and labeling the new East Bench Zin with the words "organic grapes" for all to see.
For Passport: You can bet that Ridge has been searching for the perfect food pairing with Zin for decades. This year they're serving forth a Korean clay pot beef and spring onion dish along with Zin, Grenache and more.

* = Top Pick: Don't Miss

See where these and other wineries are on the Passport to Dry Creek Valley map here.

Preston Farm & Winery, another prominent Dry Creek Valley producer devoted to Rhone wines and Zinfandel, has 70 acres of organically grown vines (and certifies their wines). Hawley Winery has 9 acres of organic estate vines, and the focus is on Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet). Neither participates in Passport although Preston is open to visitors (as it is on a regular basis). Hawley has a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg open to visitors; vineyard tours are by appointment. In addition, Syrah specialist Montemaggiore, with 10 acres of vines, has for years been certified biodynamic (and is now transitioning to organic certification). Visits are by appointment.

Can't make it to Passport? You can, of course, visit any of these wineries the rest of the year. Most are featured in the Dry Creek Valley Green Trail, a listing of only organic or biodynamic producers. (It used to list "sustainable" ones). You can find a map of these producers here.

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