Dry Creek Sonoma

Dry Creek Vineyards

Goblet (Bush Vines)         

  VSP(vertical shoot position

Lyre Trellis

 Californian Sprawl

Sonoma Valley

Lying north of San Francisco about one and a half hours drive you come to the Sonoma Valley. Running parallel with its more famous big brother the Napa valley. There is a lot of diversity along the valley and ridges and many wineries and

vineyards to visit.

The area is split into many sub appellations from Alexander Valley and Knights Valley in the North

East to Dry Creek and Rockpile in the north west Russian River and its sub regions of Chalk Hill and Green Valley in the middle going down to Sonoma Valley in the south and into Carneros closest to San Francisco which shares its appellation with the Southern end of the Napa Valley. The final appellation is Sonoma Coast a large region that encompasses all of the coast north of Russian River itself and then inland down to Carneros. Most of the area is effected by the fogs that roll in from the ocean.

However unlike the Napa that gets the bay area fogs in the morning the Sonoma valley fog entry point is both the Russian river mouth and the San Pablo Bay. Depending on where you are in the valley and how early the fogs lift and drain away determines what will ripen here. From a cold 10 degree morning (50 fahrenheit) to a 35 degree (95 Fahrenheit) hot sun afternoon this can make even consistent ripening a little difficult. Many of the vineyards have the mist in the morning and the baking sun in the afternoon with the only breeze created when the fogs retreat back towards the ocean. Grapes varieties that have tighter bunches and thin skins will be prone to botrytis if there is any moisture about and even in dry years the misty fogs can still induce botrytis particularly in Zinfandel.

Most of the vineyards are trellised either with VSP,Lyre trellis,the Californian Sprawl(on single or T- trellises) or goblet bush vines. Some produces will leaf pluck the morning sun side where little or no sun reaches (depending on how many days they have fog free). And non-leaf pluck for protection against the afternoon baking sun. These are generally north south facing vineyards. The area may well be one of the few regions suitable to east west facing vineyards. Some will try leaf plucking others will drop fruit at veraison ( when the grapes change from green and start to colour up) and some well beyond veraison. Others crop way to heavily and will over expose the berries on the morning side to compensate for the cropload. Sauvignon blanc, viognier and chardonnay are the main white varieties here. With the most exceptional examples coming from Russian River for sauvignon blanc and chardonnay where the fogs lift later. 


Sauvignon blancs tend to have noticeable alcohol and are more textural than NZ examples and are more passionfruit pineapple and tropical fruit.As the US public don’t seem to warm to the lantana/tomato leaf (methoxy) aromas and flavour and tend to not like high acid wine styles generally.


     Fruit Thinning

   Low Vigour (Needs water and or nutrition particularly on shallower stony soils)  

     High Vigour Needs management  

The chardonnays have noticeable oak even in more toned down versions and buttery creamy malolactic styles with considerable alcohol heat are still the fashion. The trend in Australia to more restrained acid line and length styles does not seem to have any noticeable momentum here.Dry Creek seems suited for viognier where the sun emerges earlier relative to Russian River. 

Zinfandel degrees of berry shrivel from the same bunch


The viognier is particularly good from Porter Creek, Dry Creek

Vineyard and Lambert Bridge and most one’s i have tried have been good to

great examples with lifted apricots and orange blossom and a full but not fat character with a good phenolic fullness that is not aggressive.

The reds vary widely based on not only site but also on vineyard management. Zinfandel the most prestigious variety in Dry Creek in terms of price anywhere up to 5000 to 8000 dollars a tonne is also the most difficult to grow with red unripe fruit, ripe fruit and heavily raisin fruit all on the same bunch. Combined with the propensity for botrytis and up to 50% of the acidity being malic acid , its a variety I would not grow personally. Other varieties that seemed more suitable for dry creek were malbec and cabernet franc these looser bunched varities having a better balance of fruit acid and tannin and no botrytis problems. Cabernet Sauvignon does well but tannin development can lag behind the fruit/acid and sugar parameters although they seem to be better in Alexander Valley. And Merlot just doesn’t seem to gain any generosity or flesh still having green hints and unripe tannins/phenolics. Syrah or Shiraz

depending on your postal address does well both in Dry Creek and further north west in Alexander valley. Unfortunately it is not fashionable with the locals a bit like semillion in Australia. The big alcoholic fruit bomb variety is I guess zinfandel and the spicy leaner shiraz style would not be in vogue with the general wine consumer or the wine spectator palates. Petit Verdot seems well suited from what i observed and tasted.With great acidity and fruit concentration brown seeds firm and clean fruit with a ph in the order of 3.3 and a brix of around 26 ( 14.4 baume). And Peite Sirah (supposedly Durif) is the colour and extract booster which can be a bit much on its own.

Other french varieties are being tried on a smaller scale like Grenache, Mouvedre,Marsanne and Rousanne.

Finally what I think is most interesting are the successful experimentation with all things Italian.

White varities such as Fiano , Vermentino and the red garden of Barbera, Dolcetto Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo (cherry like in looks and flavour), Mammolo (violets sometimes seen in old chianti blends), Nebbiolo and Montelpuciano ( that is almost black in colour fleshy tasting without any perceivable aggressive tannin). The reds in particular shows signs of providing flavour without needing alcohol and oak to get in the way from savoury with something like Sangiovese to more fruit forward flesh from Montelpuciano.



Healdsburg Havens

  In Healdsburg the first thing you notice are 

the beautifully well kept large porch homes with a 

splash of red white and blue proudly displayed up front and some neat well kept gardens. When you reach the central town plaza a few lonesome large redwoods rise up to meet you surrounded by great restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and wine tasting rooms.

There are over 250 wineries in Sonoma, with more than 20 tasting rooms in Healdsburg itself all within walking distance. What better way to introduce yourself to the flavors of Sonoma.

I managed to try eight places and all of them were of a high standard. Of particular note were three smaller producers. 

The first Williamson wines was interesting for the way they matched food and wine. A large selection of wines but the food matches like truffle salt and cheese or a mango ginger cheddar is what made the experience particularly fun.

Stephen and Walker around the corner made a textually rich and riper tropical style Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River and some savory Zinfandels from both Russian River and the warmer Dry Creek Valley which i liked. They also had a rich and complex 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from a highly regarded Napa Valley vineyard subregion called Howell Mountain.

The last of the three amigos was Hawley Winery. Not a bad wine in the whole list. First rate quality. From the fresh and clean NZ style Sauvignon Blanc, a rich varietal orange blossom Viognier and  a european styled elegant textural Chardonnay a little funky and doesn’t have oak as a main component. The reds didn’t disappoint the richest and most intense Zinfandels of the day with that baked christmas cake character I associate with great Zins (due in part to some raisins in ferment). And both the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon had a sophistication and elegance that can only come from a winemaker who really knows what they are doing. Hats off to you Mr Hawley.


Novel Browsing


Wandering through the centre you will stumble upon Copperfields a chain that has a good selection of magazines and a small but interesting selection of coffee book style selections. For a more in depth  and compelling read just across the plaza their is Levin & co. Here you will find great food and wine information, a good selection of novels and interesting hard to find books. The layout of the store has a chaotic library feel that any book lover will really get into just for sheer diversity and scope. The store is locally based and has a real personality. Grab a read and then pick up a coffee and something hot at the Downtown Bakery just next door.




The intense aromas of the Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley of fruitcake and Chocolate berry at any of the wine tasting rooms in Healdsburg.


At Campo Fino as  many courses of three share bite sized dishes from great pizza to pork belly as you can muster. Wash it down with a great Vermentino or any of the local reds on offer.


Check out the cute couples and dog walking oddities of people around the plaza that seem to appear on the weekend. Up from San Francisco or further afield for their weekend wine and food fix. 



Extreme Vineyards

The Vintage  Nomad

A  Beautiful Coastline of Olive groves, grapevines and picturesque villages

 Extreme Viticulture

 Throughout Cinque Terre on the terraces that dot the coast the grapevines tan in constant sunlight, struggling like resting climbers for a foothold before plunging into the Mediterranean.

 After a winding and treacherous drive from Pisa relying on the local Bus driver to keep you alive you will arrive at Riomaggiore the first of five villages know collectively  as CINQUE TERRE . This part of central Italy was for many years separated from most of the country, as the only way in to the communities was by boat. Even today it is not easy to get into them and most  cars are rendered useless due to the narrow roads to the villages. Old golf cart like three wheelers seem to be the vehicle of choice. However a train now runs along the coastline stopping at each village making it more lazy traveller friendly.

Being  the most southern, Riomaggorie main vista is really the only street in the town rising up from the sea which small boats use   as a jetty, the clean slatted street climbs some fifty metres above the water giving you great views towards the other villages. Heading for Corniglia you weave through the village  labyrinth and emerge out  on a breathtaking terrace that sits out of the town like a crows nest, with magnificent views in both directions.

The vineyard and fruit growing terraces of the region are UNESCO listed having been established and farmed from as early as when the Normans first invaded the area.

Bosca, vermentino and albarola are the three grape varieties used to make the local speciality. They are grown in all manner of styles  up individual stakes to be mostly overhead trellises, where the fruit hangs down protected from the mid September sun. Small plots mainly no bigger than a small motel pool before the land falls away to the next terrace.

The grapes are picked into 40 litre baskets and loaded onto the back carriages and then the bloke who drew the short straw takes them up to the main road some 50 to 100m above.The driver seat being just a plastic chair you would use in any school assembly hall.

Arriving at the local winery co-op, a  wine is made from partially drying the  grapes on racks in the shade, providing heightened sweet berries with a greater acidity due to the natural water evaporation. These grapes are then crushed and are given some skin contact to extract more of the sugars.

The resultant wine is known as Sciacchetra an interesting mix of madeirised brown apple nutty raisined apricot sweetness followed by a fresh and lively acid finish, it has a deep golden amber colour. A wine that goes particularly well with the local deli spread of salami creamy buffalo mozzarella on a foccacia.

Views from above the villages where the temperature is considerably cooler and the air fresh with the smell of the pine forest, not many tourists are up at the heights preferring to stay on the main paths making them very quiet peaceful retreats.

Architecture with old world charm and stunning vistas are also on offer

    The  local villas offer stunning views and some of the narrow laneways hold visual surprises with neat well kept windowsill gardens and colourful pastels and rustic red walls. 

The shutters all bear a consistent deep green and the mailboxes have a certain charm. This in combination with the people, the hikes the vistas and the food and wine make for a rich experience.

Sights Sunset on the crows nest in Corniglia. Or any vista from the

paths between and above the villages.


 Debating in the square in Corniglia in late afternoon in your best garbled Italian about nothing in particula


Kayaking between the five villages here coming into Vernazza


The local chilli mussels washed down with the sweet nutty and apricot madeirised yet fresh acidic Schiacchetera wine


Pine forest floor freshness emanating from the slopes as you hike to the top peaks above the villages.

























The Journey Begins

From humble beginnings the nomad travels across the globe seeking activities, tastes, flavours and smells that arouse his interest. From far flung corners of the continents to well travelled paths, the experience of a travelling vinofile getting his hands dirty all to unravel the mysteries of the ancient vitis vinifera. The Journey is about to begin.