#57 Wine Country

I'll admit it; we love wine. It adds so much to a conversation or meal. We've found it pairs well with any sunset, real or imaginary, just about any time. After a day of hard work, we like to think of the traditional pour as a 'reward'. About the only time we don't have wine is when we're underway. Otherwise, you can be sure as Debbie prepares the evening meal, there will be a bottle opened.

Eliana has a small wine cooler on board. We usually keep a few bottles of red and white in there. We tend to purchase only a few bottles at a time, usually at Costco or the grocery store. However, knowing we're leaving the country soon, we thought it would be a good time to stock up. What better timing than to be within driving distance of California's wine country!

Road to Healdsburg

My background is in Agriculture so I thought this might be a good time to go a bit beyond the tasting rooms and tours. Debbie recalled that Rebecca (you know Rebecca, my pilates instructor from back home) has a sister, Theresa and her husband, Brian in Healdsburg. You won't believe it, but Brian represents Canton Cooperage, so he calls on the wineries and supplies some of the finest oak wine barrels in the business. Theresa is the high school principal in Cloverdale. Between the two of them, there are no strangers in the community. So we hit the jackpot, what can I say!

Coincidentally, this is a beautiful time of year in wine country. It's harvest time so the grapes are coming in at a furious pace. Everyone is incredibly busy, but what an interesting time. Anyway, we made our way to Healdsburg to get our bearings. Brian and Theresa were the perfect guides for us.

After a short tour of town, Brian made up a map for us of suggested visits. Knowing we were more interested in the nuts and bolts, he suggested Dry Creek Valley as a great area since we only had limited time. Unlike more commercialized areas, this one is dominated by small, family owned vineyards and wineries.

 
 
Healdsburg is a charming town. A great place for foodie's.

 
 
Brian prepared a map with advice for each proposed visit.

 
 
Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley to the North.

Dry Creek Valley

Dry Creek is bordered on the North by Lake Sonoma and is a tributary into the Russian River. It's not on the beaten path, but may be one of the most pastorally, captivatingly beautiful places I've been. French and Italian immigrants first planted grapes here in 1870. The geography reminded them of their homeland's Tuscany and Piedmont.

The well drained, fertile soils of the valley floor rise to meet a large area of bench land vineyards on the East and coastal mountain vineyards on the West. Zinfandel is the signature grape. The valley is renowned for Old Vine Zinfandel, much of which was planted in the early 1900's. But the cool climate is also perfect for Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. We found properties with as many as 17 different types of grape which are then blended in pleasing ways.

The farmers of the valley are small to medium sized and are commonly multi-generation, family owned establishments. The vineyards are integral with olive groves, orchards and vegetables. One shouldn't be surprised to see chickens, goats and a whole host of other barnyard animals! Reminds me of home.

 
 
It's actually not too hard to find what you're looking for here.

 
 
Aerial view of the valley.

 
 
Grapes about to be harvested.

 
 
Ferrari-Carano, one of the larger and a beautifully maintained estate along Dry Creek.



 
 
Michel-Schlumberger, an older estate on the bench land has been managed agriculturally the same way for many years.

Wine Making

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that individual growers and masters have widely varying ideas on best practices. Passion is one thing they all have in common. "Good wine starts with the grape. It all happens out there, not in here ..."; "No, it's the soil. Otherwise, you're fooling no one."; "All good wineries need a chief wino, and I'm him."; "Nobody can pick grapes with a machine and make good wine. Only hand picking gets you want you want."; "Small vats are the way to go. Stay away from the big tanks." I had to smile as it so reminded me of coffee shop chatter growing up on the farm.

Harvest is a madhouse. One of my misconceptions was that harvest was synonymous with crush. Well, it is, and isn't. The grapes aren't crushed as they come from the field, they are cleaned and sorted, but then fermented in controlled conditions before pressing the juice from the solids. It was amazing to see the wine makers brooding over the grapes as they were being picked, then nursing each little batch along. Makes me appreciate even more the wonderful quality of a good glass of wine.

 
 
Checking temperature on newly vatted Syrah grapes.

 
 
Winemaker Steve Law (Maclaren Wine Company) keeps careful records on each batch. He is passionate about Syrah.

 
 
Purchasing some unbelievable zinfandel from Michael Talty (Talty Vineyards). He and his wife Katie do a fantastic job.

 
 
Preston Vineyards advocates more than just a sip or two. But please drink responsibly! Debbie also got some olive oil produced on this farm.

 
 
Aging barrels at Quivira Winery.

Conclusion

I now have a huge appreciation for the dedication of the farmers here. How they love the land, the science and the art of their work. There are a few widely recognized labels in the valley, but most are small and pay close attention to every detail of their production. Spending time with Brian and Theresa left us with the positive impression of a close knit community living and working together. I like it that the world class wine isn't going to their head, so to speak.

 
 
Theresa and Brian with us at Quivira. They were awesome.

 
 
And yes, we did find Canton barrels everywhere. Brian must be doing a good job!

Before Signing Off

Thank you again for following Eliana's Journal. We're not quite finished in San Francisco, but by the end of October will be picking a time to move south to Dana Point, CA. We love hearing your comments so please visit our web site by clicking on the link below.

Rick Heiniger

N7617 Eliana

Lying: Richmond Bay Marina

Mileage: 8,214 Nautical Miles

 
 

Comments

Frank and Pam Coggins -- Reunion N4066 10/12/2011
Our little new N40/II is at Dana Point now and we will be aboard her the second week of November and will take her down to San Diego for the TrawlwerFest 10-12th. Back to Dana Point and depart for New Mexico again on the 15th. Hope to see you and Debbie there and that we can share a drink. Know we enjoy your travels.
Candi Sweeney 10/12/2011
Truly a slice of Heaven on Earth !!! Fabulous pictures .... the scenery is just amazing ! Will have to check out that area on our next trip out ! xoxo Candi
Claire McCoach 10/11/2011
We are in the San Francisco area from time to time and am so disappointed that it hasn't worked out to be there at the same time as you. It seems that we are always a step behind you wherever you are. Would love to see Eliana and meet up with you and maybe it will happen some day. In the meantime, it is fascinating to read your blogs. Keep them coming. Claire
Claire McCoach 10/11/2011
We are in the San Francisco area from time to time and am so disappointed that it hasn't worked out to be there at the same time as you. It seems that we are always a step behind you wherever you are. Would love to see Eliana and meet up with you and maybe it will happen some day. In the meantime, it is fascinating to read your blogs. Keep them coming. Claire