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.