Sonoma County always boasts incredibly scenic vistas but the county is especially beautiful during the annual fall grape harvest. One of the best ways to enjoy these venues is hiking the newly designed Vineyard Walks created jointly by the Sonoma County Winegrowers and various Wineries in Sonoma County.
Grapes for sparkling wines and Sauvignon Blanc have begun rolling into the crush pads and all our vineyards are bustling with winemakers sampling grapes in anticipation of the 2016 vintage. If you would like to experience wine country like a local, the vineyard walks should be on your bucket list. These walks are all very diverse and truly highlight the participating vineyards and wineries.
I’ve walked these beautiful pathways and hope to share some of their highlights, so that you can find the perfect one for you. There are currently seven vineyard walks, but the numbers will be expanding as more wineries join the party. This will be a multi-part series highlighting the current vineyard walks by appellation, Amista Vineyards (Dry Creek Valley), Balletto Vineyards (Russian River Valley), Francis Ford Coppola Winery (Alexander Valley), Matanzas Creek Winery (Bennett Valley), Paradise Ridge Winery (Russian River Valley), Schug Carneros Estate Winery (Carneros) and St. Francis Winery & Vineyards (Sonoma Valley).
Amista Vineyards harvested their Chardonnay grapes for some of their many delicious sparkling wines this morning and celebrated the event by blessing the grapes with a previous vintage of the wine. Workers start early in the morning under the watchful eye of winemaker Ashley Herzberg and owners Mike and Vicky Farrow. The grapes looked fabulous this year and were at about two tons per acre. Last year they were the first grapes harvested in Dry Creek Valley about two weeks ahead of the harvest this year. This year they followed the Sauvignon Blanc harvested at Dry Creek Vineyard a few days ago.
My vineyard walk here was a few weeks ago via an #InstaMeet held by the Dry Creek Valley Winegrowers at Amista Vineyards. An early evening walk highlighted with wines along the path that is not the usual fare on these walks but a true treat.
Dry Creek Valley (DCV) is home to over 9,000 acres of vineyards that carpet the intimate 16-mile long x 2-mile wide valley, floor to hillside. With a grape growing history going back 140 years – one of the longest in California – producing premium winegrapes is core to this region. In fact, the valley boasts one of the densest concentrations of Old Vine Zinfandel in the world. Grapes in the DCV are approximately 28% Zinfandel, followed closely by 24% Cabernet Sauvignon with significant plantings of Chardonnay (12%) and Sauvignon Blanc (7%) as well. The remaining 29% include many of the Rhone varietals like the Sarah, Grenache and Mourvèdre grown in the Amista Vineyards.
The highlights of the easy, flat vineyard walk
(approximately 0.6 mile) were the 200-year-old Heritage Oak tree that was here
when California became a state in 1850 and the Dry Creek Restoration Project
with Fish Habitat. The restoration project is a massive habitat enhancement
project that is intended to restore endangered Coho Salmon as well as other
Salmonoid species to the 14 miles of Dry Creek in the Russian River watershed
by voluntary cooperation of the many landowners and winegrowers along the Dry
Creek Valley floor.
Additional stops on the tour included an old frost pump as spring frosts are often a concern in Northern California vineyards and various vineyards from Rhone varietals to Chardonnay. Many of these grapes you walk pass are used in Amista’s sparkling wines. I highly recommend their seated sparkling wine tasting with cheese pairing as the ultimate indulgence for the start to a wine tasting adventure in the Dry Creek Valley. Dry Creek Valley Winegrowers, Sonoma Vintners and the Wine Road all have great tour planning information on their websites that help Sonoma County visitors plan their perfect wine tasting tours of the many great offerings in this appellation.
Amista, roughly translated, means “making friends”
in Spanish and honors those who originally settled this area. In fact, Amista’s Vineyard straddles the
boundaries of two former Spanish land grants.
The grant known as Rancho Tzabaco encompassed most of what is the Dry
Creek Valley of today. Rancho Sotoyome, just to the south, extended along the
Russian River incorporating the Alexander Valley and present day Healdsburg.
Amista Vineyards and many Dry Creek Valley wineries are friendly locations with family farmers eager to share their stories and produce with guests. Vineyard walks require some planning – I recommend comfortable walking shoes, a bottle of water, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. This makes a great trip for locals as well as visitors. Plan to stop at the winery for a tasting at the end and you have the perfect adventure to include in your Dry Creek Valley tour.
The next vineyard walk will be in Alexander Valley at the beautiful Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Additional tour information for Dry Creek Valley wineries are highlighted on the Sonoma County Vintners’, DCV Winegrowers or Wine Road websites along with tour planning suggestions. Alexander Valley tour information can also be found via these resources and the Alexander Valley Winegrowers.
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