- Oh, Lytton up
The age of the motorcar had hardly begun when the vineyards at Lytton Springs were first planted on bench land above Dry Creek Valley.
Back then, wine-country visitors might first glimpse this new planting of Zinfandel, mixed with other varieties in the old school California style, at the pace of a horse cart—and that’s about the speed that I can push my bike uphill to rediscover this treasure from the past that’s still putting out great wines every year, thanks to the team at Ridge Vineyards.
To better appreciate the vineyard’s context, I start this ride in downtown Healdsburg and take a spin around Dry Creek Valley. From Grove Street, venture into the new roundabout and take the right at Mill Street, which becomes Westside Road. After the bridge at Dry Creek, it’s a right turn at Madrona Manor onto West Dry Creek Road, a quiet, lightly trafficked and meandering back road.
Before West Dry Creek dead-ends, it’s a right at Yoakim Bridge to busier Dry Creek Road. (Road Warrior option: turn left for a steep out-and-back detour to the great vines of the Rockpile AVA.)
A ways past the Dry Creek General Store, look for Lytton Springs Road, which wends east into the hills. It’s an easy climb through woodland and pastureland, past the Healdsburg Municipal Airport, until the view opens to a hillside of gnarled old vines, standing by themselves without trellis wires, leaves flecked with gold in autumn.
Founded in 1959 by a gang of Stanford scientists, Ridge first gained fame for their Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cupertino area, but they soon discovered venerable Zinfandel vineyards like Lytton Springs, which they purchased in 1991 and farm organically.
With 69 percent of the blend, Zin takes the leading role in the Ridge Vineyards 2016 Lytton Springs ($44). A supporting cast of Petite Sirah, Carignane and Mataro (also known as Mourvedre) adds inky color, grippy tannin and other, complexing elements until the wine doesn’t scream “Zin” from the nose, but rather comes off something like a well-mannered claret that could pass as a Bordeaux Right Banker.
It offers a toasty undertone with hints of graham cracker, pencil lead and creamy red-fruit aromas. It would pass for a Right Banker except for that heady hit of boysenberry and the liqueur-like heat revealed after a little time in the glass.
The scenic route back to Healdsburg is a right turn on Chiquita Road, leading back to Grove Street. Look for the left-hand turn into the Foss Creek Pathway just after Dry Creek Road, and we’re on the home stretch of this easy, twenty-mile ride spanning over a century of wine-making.