Your Cheat Sheet to Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
Besides looking at the bottle and seeing Dry Creek Valley printed right there on the label, we wanted to find out what makes Dry Creek Valley zinfandel is so recognizable and unique. So we asked the experts themselves – our growers and winemakers. Dry Creek Valley zinfandel thrives in our unique AVA thanks to the diverse soil, changes in elevation, climate and 100+ years of experience with growing the variety sure helps too. For full quotes from Nalle Winery, A. Rafanelli Winery, Kokomo Winery, Pedroncelli Winery, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Dry Creek Vineyard and Comstock Wines, continue reading past the infographic.
Thanks to our vintners for sharing your invaluable insight on Dry Creek Valley zinfandel. We asked them a simple (not so simple) question to help provide details for the above infographic. That question was, “what do you think makes Dry Creek Valley zinfandel so distinctive?” And here’s there full responses…
Doug Nalle, Nalle Winery
“The Dry Creek appellation has four quadrants that give Zinfandel different characteristics from port-like jammy, to full-throttle black fruit, to raspberry-strawberry to peppery-cherry Koolaid. Overlay this with multiple soil variations that are predominantly well-drained, and many aspect orientations, and you have a very complex ‘climat’. “
I’d also like to add that Dry Creek has a significant amount of historical old-vine Zin vineyards which are recorded in the Historical Vineyard Society: https://historicvineyardsociety.org/. Our Estate Old-Vine Zin vineyard is included: https://historicvineyardsociety.org/vineyard/henderlong-ranch. The HVS defines anything older than 50 years as an old-vine site (ours is 92 years old). In some cases old vines carry a greater sense of place and tend to be more balanced in terms of production, yielding more concentration and depth in the final wine.
Shelly Rafanelli, A. Rafanelli Winery
Growing…. A temperamental grape that reflects the growing season and Mother Natures’s influences. This makes every year unique and each vintage different, then the winemaker can personalize it with their own style of wine making. Zinfandel likes to grow wings or shoulders which we cut off and then we like to separate canes and open up the fruit zone so that we can get as much even ripening as we can, something Zinfandel does not like to do naturally. We also thin down the amount of fruit clusters after verasion. This entails going through the vineyard multiple times during the growing season. As growers we become very close to each and every vine.
Zinfandel has a great history and there are many old vines that are dry farmed, and also still managed in the head pruned style. I do not know too many other varietals that are grown like this and still producing at 100 years old. If only they could talk!
When I finally decide to pick our Zin grapes, they are usually one of the first reds to come in. We do hand sorting and open top fermentation. Their sugar/alcohol can be hard to predict because they like to soak up overnight in the tank, and they are known for their stickiness (stuck fermentation). This can make for a lot of sleepless nights, but once they are finished they are a very rewarding wine. The jammy fruit, balance and food friendliness is what makes Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel so wonderful. You can drink them alone, with a meal, on the young side, or choose to age them. They are a true reflection of their terroir and the people who have planted and farmed them in the valley for generations.
DCV Zinfandels can never be called generic or boring and I feel this is the best valley to grow them in:)
I also have been tasting and showcasing some of our older Zins, 1988, 1987, 1999. They were great, and a true testament that Zin can age well!
Erik Miller, Kokomo Winery
We are the Goldilocks Valley! Not too warm (Alexander Valley) and not too cool (Russian River Valley) bit just right!
We also have a lot of diversity in our Zinfandel from the East side to the West side and the benches and hillsides to the valley floors.
Montse Reece, Pedroncelli Winery
Valleys in general, offer the most complex soils to grow grapes and Dry Creek Valley is not an exception. Zinfandel grown in the Dry Creek Valley shines for its uniqueness and complexity. Our Zinfandels show higher aromatics like spices and bold rich flavors. Making Zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley is not an easy task, you need to be familiar with the weather dualities, cool nights and hot days and monitor closely the maturation of the grape. Once in the cellar, Zinfandel benefits of slow fermentations to showcase all its potential. In bottle, Dry Creek Zinfandel is a fest for the flavor seekers, baking spices and berries dominate Dry Creek Zins.
Nick Briggs, Dutcher Crossing Winery
The soils play a role. Dry Creek displays its own unique soil types/makeups. The weather and micro climates also play a big role. We see lots of morning fog that burns off and can end in days well over 100 degrees F. Normally we also get afternoon breezes that help to cool everything down and then nighttime temperatures can drop all the way back down to the 60’s or even 50’s. These big temperature swings and fog help create some of the ripeness Dry Creek is known for while allowing the fruit to mature at a slow enough pace as well as helping to retain some of that natural acidity. We are also lucky enough to have growers who are willing to go the extra mile and dry farm there vines. This leads to lower yields of more intensely flavored bunches.
Tim Bell, Dry Creek Vineyard
I’ve worked with Zin from Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, and I really do think Dry Creek Valley Zin is the best. What makes it distinctive? Hard to say exactly, but I think the fact that we are at a nice balance of warm days and cool nights (Region II/Region III, I believe) gives us that special character in our Zinfandel. We get beautiful red fruit flavors that don’t turn pruney with more spice and bramble/briar patch/sage character than any other Zinfandel region I’ve worked with. I feel like we also get more even ripening on this notoriously uneven ripening variety.
Chris Russi, Comstock Wines
I believe Dry Creek Valley is one of the premier places in the world to grow Zinfandel. Zinfandel needs this heat, during the growing season, for the fruit to reach full potential, which is the ripe, red fruit characteristics paired with the savory, black pepper attributes we find in the wine. The fertile, alluvial soils help maintain the vigor even in the oldest vines in the valley, which can be well over 100 yrs old, and still producing fruit with incredible concentration.