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Dry Creek Vineyards

Forty years and still going strong

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There's very little that's strictly dry about Dry Creek, and we take that for granted. The creek itself has a pretty good flow year-round, thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In another sense, the valley through which it flows is absolutely boggy with booze, thanks to generations of winegrowers. But 40 years ago, there was no Lake Sonoma and merely a pond's worth of wine here. Prunes were the ticket back when newcomer Dave Stare founded Dry Creek Vineyards, and it was thanks in large part to the efforts of this New England transplant that Dry Creek Valley won the American Viticultural Area status that this well-traveled wine wonderland enjoys today.

So it was bit of a surprise to find, after a look through the dusty archives of "Swirl," that we've never popped in for a visit. On the occasion of its 40th anniversary, let's not just say we did.

Right away, visitors are offered a long, cool pour of 2011 Dry Chenin Blanc ($12). A comeback varietal vinted from Clarksburg-area fruit, it's floral, with sweet fruit aromas, and refreshingly dry. More cerebrally refreshing is the design of the winery, an à la Loire chateau—with a soupçon of Maybeck?—inspired, like the wines, by Stare's travels in France's Loire Valley. Throughout, there is a nautical theme, from the rope lanterns in the tasting room to the iconic sailboat on the label. Nothing to do with Lake Sonoma. It's kind of a Boston thing.

The flagship 2011 Sonoma County Fumé Blanc ($14) has tropical aromas, but it's lean on the palate—crisp melon rind and grass. Visitors may enjoy this on the parklike picnic grounds with a sandwich from nearby Dry Creek General Store, with no reservation required. A variety of experiences are available, from swirling at the bar, to sit-down samplings, to a spin through the atmospheric barrel room. They're flexible; an interest in Zinfandel, for example, may lead visitors to a barrel-top tasting aside a new planting of robust Zinfandel, head-trained in the old style.

Among other firsts, Dry Creek Vineyards was first to use "old vine" on a Zin label. The 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel ($30) has nutmeg spice, ripe plum and prune fruit and a lush finish with fur-textured tannins, contrasting the 2009 Heritage Zinfandel's ($19), deep, cool black cherry flavor. With solid, well-priced wines and friendly, competent management from a 40-year-old family winery that's keeping up with the times, there's nothing to take for granted here.

Dry Creek Vineyards, 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg. Open daily from 10:30am to 4:30pm. Tasting fees, $5–$10, waived with one bottle purchase. 707.433.1000.

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