Dry Creek Valley is so densely populated with great wineries that you could easily make an unforgettable trip just by stopping at whichever spots catch your eye along Dry Creek Road and West Dry Creek Road. Our Hidden Gems itinerary showcases off-the-beaten-path wineries and by-appointment-only tasting rooms. These destinations require a bit more planning, but they will reward your effort with memorable, personalized tasting experiences.
The Hidden Gems of Dry Creek Valley
1) Gustafson Family Vineyards – Estate Tasting Room and Picnic Area
This itinerary begins with Gustafson Family Vineyards, a winery that makes an ideal first stop since you’ll need to take a winding mountain road to get to it. While Gustafson makes a broad range of estate-grown wines that you can enjoy without an appointment in their downtown Healdsburg tasting room, the most complete way to experience the winery is by visiting their mountain property on Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Road.
The winery and tasting room, located at 1,800’ of elevation is surrounded by 87 acres of vineyards. Winemaker Emmett Reed says, “If you think you’ve gone too far, you’re probably almost here.” Truth be told, as remote as the winery feels, you’re only about a 20-minute drive from the wineries of northern Dry Creek Valley. The Estate Tasting Room is open to the public every Saturday from 10:00am – 4:00pm, and by appointment Friday, Sunday, and Monday between 11:00am – 3:00pm. Pack a picnic and a camera so you can show all your friends at home what wine country paradise looks like.
- Gustafson Estate Riesling – The elevation and steep slopes of Gustafson’s vineyards make them uniquely suited to growing riesling.
- While you’re taking in the jaw-dropping view of Lake Sonoma from above, be sure to also check out the Sonoma County Heritage Tree on the property — a 300 year old madrone tree that is thought to be the largest of its kind in Sonoma County, and perhaps the whole state.
2) Frick Winery
Your second stop takes you to a one-man winery on Walling Road in northern Dry Creek Valley. Founded in 1976 by Bill Frick and Judith Gannon, Frick has operated this small-batch winery by himself for 40 years.
Today, Frick is laser-focused on Rhone grape varieties, which he bottles as varietal wines and in blends like his tasty Cotes-du-Dry Creek. The property is home to just under 8 hillside acres of vines. Despite producing only 1,400 cases of wine each year, Frick Winery has a far-reaching reputation for exceptional quality. In 2015, The Daily Meal listed Frick Winery among the, “101 Best Wineries in America.” Frick Winery is open to the public for groups of up to 6 people on weekends from 12:00pm-4:30pm. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the winery is also open on Fridays. Larger groups may call to arrange an appointment.
- Frick Cotes-du-Dry Creek Red – This American Rhone-style blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault is a complex wine to exemplify Dry Creek Valley hillsides.
- The tasting room features art by Frick’s late wife Judith Gannon. An accomplished painter and sculptor, Gannon’s memory lives on in the work Frick showcases at the winery.
Next you’ll head to another one-man winery: Talty Vineyards and Winery, owned and operated by Michael Talty since 1997.
Talty works only with zinfandel, and the resulting wines are surprisingly lean and complex expressions of the grape. Talty’s estate wine comes from grapes grown on his six-acre property of nearly 50-year-old vines. Talty’s estate zinfandel is dry-farmed and head-pruned. In the winery, he ferments his wine using only native yeast. Gregory Dal Piaz says, “If you like Zinfandel, I urge you to give Talty a try. If you don’t like Zinfandel, you really owe it to yourself to try Michael Talty’s wines at least once. They redefine what Zinfandel can be!” Talty is open to the public from 12:00pm-4:00pm Friday-Sunday. Appointments can be made Monday-Thursday.
- One of the pleasures of tasting Talty Vineyards wines is comparing different vintages of the same wine. It’s an enlightening experience to learn about vintage variation and Talty’s wines are a testament to how well good zinfandel can age!
4) Nalle Winery
Family-run Nalle Winery pairs serious winemaking with a playful attitude, which is evident on their squirrel-adorned family crest. From Dry Creek Road, you’ll see a sign pointing you toward the winery, which is housed inside an above-ground cave with hundreds of rosemary bushes planted atop it.
The winery has been open since 1984, but some of their vineyards have been in Lee Nalle’s family since 1927. Nalle Winery produces lean, claret-style zinfandel and Bordeaux-style blends from their Dry Creek Valley estate vineyards and other choice vineyard sites around Sonoma County. Elaine Chukan Brown says, “Nalle makes some of the finest Zinfandel…wonderfully vibrant while focused.”
- Henderlong Nalle Estate Zinfandel – A highly-limited offering from vines approaching 90 years of age, known for showcasing ripe fruit flavors with complex herbal accents.
- Nalle’s collection of hilarious custom zinfandel-themed label art, which they updated annually until 2007.
Lambert Bridge Winery sits nestled among redwood forested hills and rolling vineyards, just west of its namesake bridge on West Dry Creek Road. With a total case production of about 5,000, this boutique winery might fly under the radar, despite being open more than 40 years.
Lambert Bridge’s winemaker Jennifer Higgins produces a range of beautiful high-end wines, but the winery never submits them for reviews; their avid fan base knows about Lambert Bridge via word of mouth. Through meticulous winemaking practices like hand-sorting each berry, small batch fermenters, and small lot oak aging before blending, Higgins strives in her wines to create a complete, balanced portrait of the perfectly ripened fruit on the vine. In addition to their four estate vineyards (of which, two are in Dry Creek Valley), Lambert Bridge also sources sauvignon blanc and viognier grapes from Dry Creek Valley’s renowned Bevill Vineyard and zinfandel from Forchini Vineyard and Grist Vineyard. The tasting room is both elegant and cozy, with vaulted redwood ceilings and a large fireplace.
- Lambert Bridge Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – combining 100% zinfandel grapes from multiple vineyard sites, this opulent wine bursts with red fruit flavors, from tart pomegranate to ripe bing cherries.
- Check out the Chef’s Table series for an intimate wine and food pairing experience featuring top local chefs and Lambert Bridge wines.
The Vineyard of Pasterick is nestled on the western hillside of Dry Creek Valley with ten acres planted to syrah and viognier. Since 2001, the Pasterick family have produced sustainably-farmed wines made with methods used in the Northern Rhone.
The tasting room at Pasterick is found inside their hillside wine cave, which was designed by Diane Pasterick and completed in 2007. The outside of the cave is covered with ivy, giving it the appearance of an otherworldly secret garden. Gerry Pasterick and his daughter Alexis make the wines, which include a highly limited Viognier and several expressions of Syrah.
- Vineyard of Pasterick Angle of Repose Syrah – The most limited red wine at Pasterick, this is named for the estate vineyard’s steepest hillside block and is only bottled in vintages when the yield is high enough to fill one 400 liter Taransaud French oak puncheon for aging.
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.