Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California Is Awash in Sights to See

Ferrari-Carrano Vineyards and Winery
The beautiful Ferrari-Carrano Vineyards and Winery offered a wonderful feel of being in Tuscany, complete with Italian architecture, poplars, valley vistas and, of course, great wine. (Photos by Jeff Orenstein)

When it comes to wine, the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California, has what it takes.

Located northwest of Healdsburg, the fertile valley 16 miles long by 2 miles wide is formed by Dry Creek, a tributary of the Russian River. The valley’s terroir encompasses the right soils, microclimates and terrain that creates the conditions for growing excellent wine grapes.

The valley is also blessed with a coterie of skilled winemakers who call Dry Creek Valley home. These dedicated and knowledgeable men and women have the talent and experience to take great grapes and make world-class wines with them year after year. Put it together and the valley produces some of the world’s best zinfandels and many other delicious varietals.

More than 50 wineries are located in the Dry Creek Valley AVA, and more than 160 wineries produce wines that bear a Dry Creek Valley AVA designation.

Every year since 1989, the valley’s wine grower association has hosted the Passport to Dry Creek Valley Wine and Food Festival, drawing throngs of wine lovers from around the world to taste the valley’s latest vintages, enjoy great food pairings and be entertained with live music.

Montse Reece holds a bottle of wine
Montse Reece, the winemaker at Pedroncelli Winery, is one of the new breed of female winemakers who are continuing the Dry Creek Valley’s tradition of excellence. Here she is holding a magnum of one of her finest vintages.

The 2019 festival lived up to its billing as a memorable 30th anniversary celebration of the Dry Creek Passport event. Forty-one wineries were open to passport holders and each put on quite a show with great wine samples, food and drink and spectacular vistas.

While it is almost impossible to visit all 41 wineries during the two-day event, with advance planning, we did our best and managed to hit 16 over the two days. (We were not driving.) Fortunately, some were adjacent to others, minimizing transport time between them.

As illogical as it may seem, each was superb in its own way, with great wines, cordial hosts, enticing food pairings and good music as well as some amazing views. Participating winery buildings ranged from rustic to elegant and each produced memorable vintages and excellent ambiance to enjoy along with the wine.

Next year’s event will be April 25 and April 26. If you love wine and wineries, it is not too early to set aside the date. Tickets will be available in 2020, and they sell fast.

If those dates are not good for you, the valley’s wineries and tasting rooms are open year-round. It is definitely worth the trip.

Getting There and Getting Around:

The Dry Creek Valley can be reached by air, highway, public transport, cruise ship and rail.

  • By car, the Dry Creek Valley can be reached via U.S. 101. Start in Healdsburg, 62 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, and explore the back roads from there.
  • The nearest commercial airport is Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) at 10 miles distance from Healdsburg. San Francisco International (SFO), is 82 miles away and Oakland International (OAK) is approximately the same distance away.
  • The nearest cruise port is San Francisco, at 69 miles distance.
  • The nearest Amtrak station is in Martinez, 72 miles away, with connecting buses to Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. Santa Rosa and Charles M. Schultz airport are also served by the SMART Train, which connects to San Francisco via rail, direct bus and ferry.

Must-Sees for a Short Trip:

Among attractions that you should take in are:

  • Wine tasting at any of scores of locations at valley wineries and tasting rooms
  • Enjoying eateries, tasting rooms, shops in Healdsburg, Guerneville and/or Geyserville

If You Have Several Days:

  • Visit nearby Napa Valley for more wineries and restaurants.
  • Ride the Napa Valley Wine Train (reservations necessary).
  • Explore Santa Rosa.
  • Take a day trip to the Pacific Coast at Jenner (mouth of the Russian River) or Bodega Bay.
  • Extend your trip by exploring San Francisco.
  • Enjoy the vivid Oakland cultural and cuisine scene.

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way for the Dry Creek Valley Passport Festival:

Comfortable chic is the order of the day. While some casual is OK, classy jeans, a sun dress and hats for women are common and men usually wear a dress shirt and slacks. Dress in layers because weather can be iffy — or hot.

This Destination at a Glance:

Over 50 Advantage: Great wine and entertainment in a relaxing and unhurried environment for the Passport Festival. Great wine, restaurants and gorgeous vistas year-round.

Mobility Level: Moderately high. While some wineries are accessible, gravel walks and hills and steps are common.

When to Go: The Passport Festival for 2020 will be April 25 and 26. Visit year-round for the region. Fall and spring are great, winter can be rainy.

Where to Stay: There are scores of B&Bs, guest houses and hotels in the region, many with winery views. Lodging can be pricey, but a web search can unearth affordable places.

Special Travel Interests: Wine, craft beer, California cuisine, photography

Jewish Sonoma

Jewish life has a rich history and is alive and well in the 21st-century California wine country around Sonoma and Napa.

There are more than 40 Jewish-connected and/or owned wineries and a kosher winery, Hagafen Cellars, in the region. There are also many congregations covering a spectrum of worship traditions throughout the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions. Moreover, the resources of the Jewish Federation of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties and the Sonoma County JCC in Santa Rosa are also readily available in this world-famous wine region.

In Sonoma County alone, there are five active synagogues, three other worship groups, a Chabad religious school, a preschool and several summer camps. The JCC’s Teen program, Chaverim, serves teens from all Sonoma County synagogues and the Jewish community at large. There is a coterie of the usual Jewish organizations in the region, too, as well as a Hillel program at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College.

In the 19th century, Jews who immigrated to Sonoma were mainly from Eastern Europe and brought a diversity of cultural, educational, political and religious backgrounds, including pro-worker and Zionist contingents. They came together and incorporated as Congregation Society B’nai Israel 1871.

In 1904, Sam Melnick became the first local Jewish chicken farmer, with seven acres near Cotati. He came from Lithuania via New York. By 1925, Sonoma County had around 100 poultry-raising Jewish families, and their numbers grew steadily. They were known for their socialist politics, like many of the original Jewish settlers from Eastern Europe.

During World War I, there was another influx of Jews. Word spread in New York that Petaluma was a good place to settle and that brought many Jews from the shtetls of the Old Country and the sweatshops of New York’s Lower East Side. The 2002 documentary A Home on the Range featured them. Today, the substantial Jewish community in and around Petaluma owes its origins to these farmers.

The Petaluma Jewish community and the Jewish community of Sacramento are the oldest Jewish communities between San Francisco and Portland.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.


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