For wine lovers looking to dig deep into Dry Creek Valley’s roots, we’ve put together a tasting itinerary that showcases some of the region’s most influential wineries, whose founders helped to put Dry Creek Valley on the map as one of California’s most esteemed appellations. We regard the wineries on this list as pioneers that helped unearth the qualities that make Dry Creek Valley distinctive.
The Founders Tour
Start your journey in the morning in downtown Healdsburg, one of America’s best food cities, according to Conde Nast. Before you hit your first winery, Healdsburg is a perfect place to grab a delicious breakfast. Another plus: Seghesio Family Vineyards opens at 10:00 a.m., a bit earlier than many of our wineries.
Seghesio Family Vineyards was established in 1895 by Edoardo Seghesio, an Italian immigrant who brought his viticultural knowledge with him from the Old World, and planted zinfandel vines in Sonoma County more than a century ago. Seghesio Family Vineyards was one of less than 100 wineries in California to survive through Prohibition. For decades, Seghesio sold grapes and bulk wine to larger wineries, until fourth generation family member Ted Seghesio made the first wines to carry the Seghesio label. Ted and his cousin Pete Seghesio make premium zinfandels and wines from Italian grape varieties.
- Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel – This zinfandel comes from Seghesio’s Dry Creek Valley Cortina Vineyard, first planted in 1972.
- The tasting room and cellar uses wood from the cellar’s original century-old redwood tanks and reclaimed bricks from the original winery.
After a tasting at Seghesio Family Vineyards, head 3 miles north on Dry Creek Road to Mauritson Wines.
Since 1868, the Mauritson family has been growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley. Founder S.P. Hallengren first planted vines in what is now Rockpile in 1884 and shipped the wine he made to his family in Sweden. The Mauritson Family’s homestead and ranch had grown to 4,000 acres by the early 1960s, when all but 700 ridgetop acres was acquired by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to develop Lake Sonoma. The vineyards shown in many of Mauritson’s historical family photos are now under water. The Mauritson family currently manages 310 vineyards acres. Like Seghesio, the current generation of the Mauritson family was the first to release wine under their own family label. Winemaker Clay Mauritson made the inaugural zinfandel vintage in 1998, and the winery opened to the public in 2004. Clay’s brother Cameron Mauritson is Mauritson’s vineyard manager and was named “Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year” at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair in 2014, when he was only 30 years old.
- Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc – This utterly refreshing white has notes of citrus zest and surprising minerality.
- To really delve deep, you can coordinate a private vineyard tour to the steep mountain slopes of Mauritson’s Rockpile vineyards.
Next, your route takes you west across Dry Creek on Lambert Bridge Road to a winery with tremendous cult appeal: A. Rafanelli Winery. Alberto Rafanelli, an Italian immigrant, first founded A. Rafanelli Winery in the early 1900s. He settled in the Healdsburg area with his family and started growing grapes and making wine. In the 1950s, Alberto’s son Americo moved the winery to its present location in Dry Creek Valley. Americo was a huge proponent of the region, even selling real estate to up-and-coming growers in the area in the early 1970s. Around that same time, he began to bottle A. Rafanelli Zinfandel to sell commercially. Today, A. Rafanelli Winery is best known for its zinfandel, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. Wine is only sold directly, and the tasting room is open by appointment only, so plan ahead!
- Rafanelli Zinfandel – David Americo Rafanelli was recognized at the 2016 Sonoma County Barrel Auction for his work in promoting Dry Creek Valley, including his efforts toward making Dry Creek Valley its own appellation back in 1983. This is a classic expression of Dry Creek Valley zinfandel.
- The rose gardens in front of the winery smell as lovely as they look, and make for an essential photo op, with a hilly estate vineyard in the background.
Where Lambert Bridge Road meets Dry Creek Road, you’ll find Dry Creek Vineyard, the first new winery to open in Dry Creek Valley after Prohibition ended.
Founded in 1972 by David S. Stare, Dry Creek Vineyard was instrumental in paving the way for a renaissance of winemaking and viticulture in the Dry Creek Valley. When Stare arrived, much of the vineyard land in the area had been replanted to orchard fruits. Stare migrated west to California from Massachusetts with wine on the brain. After a visit to France’s Loire Valley, Stare took viticulture courses at UC Davis and bought a prune orchard to convert into a vineyard and winery. With national distribution and recognition for the winery, Dry Creek Vineyard helped bring the name Dry Creek Valley into prominence nationwide. Stare was famously warned that sauvignon blanc would not grow well in Dry Creek Valley; we’re grateful he didn’t heed that advice, since sauvignon blanc is the flagship grape variety for the winery to this day!
- Dry Creek Vineyard’s Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blancs – While you can find the fabulous Fume Blanc at stores throughout the country, a visit to the tasting room means you can enjoy limited offerings that are only available direct from the winery.
- With a group, you can book Dry Creek Vineyard’s bocce courts for 2 hours. The rental price includes a tasty bottle of chilled wine.
To round out your exploration of Dry Creek Valley’s founders, venture north about four miles to the scenic Pedroncelli Winery on Canyon Road.
In 1927, Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli purchased hillside property west of Geyserville of which 25 acres were planted mostly to zinfandel. At first, the family sold grapes to home winemakers in order to keep the vineyards producing wines. As soon as Prohibition was repealed, Giovanni applied for licensing to begin wine production for the 1934 harvest. Since 1949, Pedroncelli has produced bottles with their family label, and, in 1954, they were among the first wineries to add Sonoma County’s name to their labels. The Pedroncelli family has been forward-thinking in so many ways–from opening a tasting room in the 1950s to vintage dating their wines in the 1960s to producing an affordable dry rose of zinfandel continuously since the 1960s. The winery has always offered a broad range of wines, from great-value wines for immediate enjoyment to premium old vine offerings that can cellar for decades.
- Pedroncelli Four Grapes Vintage Port – This is one of the most authentic port-style wines to be found outside of Portugal, thanks to the use of indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, which thrive in Dry Creek Valley. This is a decadent and well-deserved treat at the end of your journey.
Be sure to check out our other Dry Creek Valley Itineraries here.
Want to plan your own Dry Creek Valley Itinerary? Visit our Interactive Winery Map where you can sort by varietal and amenity.