One of our absolute favorite roads in wine country is West Dry Creek Road, located in northern Sonoma county on the outskirts of the town of Healdsburg. The first time we drove it was to visit the Rafanelli Winery back in 2004, a wine tasting that now lives as almost legendary in our minds because we had so much fun and were lucky to be hosted by owner Dave Rafanelli, a warm and generous guy whose family has made incredible Zinfandel for generations. [see our post about that visit if you’re interested]
For us, West Dry Creek Road was the gateway to discovering the less traveled pathways of wine country. Not to say that it is an isolated backwater of wine territory—hardly. The road begins just minutes from Healdsburg, the unofficial “capital” of northern Sonoma, and is home to many great wineries. Yet, it has a much more quiet and quaint feel than central Napa Valley or the areas nearer the town of Sonoma. After happening upon West Dry Creek Road, we began a quest that continues today in search of more such idyllic, narrow, winding drives— roads that literally force you to slow down and savor the scenery. These are the nooks and niches of wine country we love best.
The West Dry Creek Road begins at Westside Road on its southern end and meanders northwesterly, roughly parallel to the larger Dry Creek Road, about ten miles until it dead ends at Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves. Bella was one of the winery suggestions we received from you, our loyal friends and readers, when we were on our recent trip to Northern California. With its sublime location, Bella immediately rose to the top of our hit list for the trip. [A truth-in-blogging disclosure: Bella is owned by the family of one of Kip’s high school friends and thus has a Minnesota connection, making it even more irresistible to us.]
We arrived at Bella on a sunny day just before noon and were impressed with the gorgeous grounds, lavender lined walkways and hearty rows of grapevines on the rugged hillside. As hard as it was to leave the sunshine behind, we felt the wine caves and tasting room calling. One of the most impressive tasting settings we’ve been in, the Bella wine cave is cool and inviting, with a gorgeous table set in a barrel lined room just off to the side of the tasting bar. Before we’d even sipped any wine, we could already picture ourselves feasting at that table and having an exceptionally good time.
The tasting room staff was warm and welcoming, making us feel right at home, even though we have to admit that the wine cave was just a wee bit more opulent than our own house. We loved that our wine pourer had left an engineering job six years before in favor of a slower pace of life in wine country, a change which clearly suited him because it was quite apparent that he loves what he does. Interestingly, he was second person we met on our trip who’d left behind a successful career in another industry and followed a personal passion to wine country and a lifestyle that nourishes heart and soul, not just the pocketbook. Right on! If this is a new trend, we like it.
We were impressed with Bella’s full bodied, intensely flavored Zinfandels and Syrahs. They’ve clearly mastered the art of making a big wine that retains balance and smoothness— something not easily finessed, we know. We were also impressed with the talented winemaking team they’ve brought together, combining experienced hands with new talent. Their consulting winemaker, Michael Dashe, has an extensive resumé in the wine world, which includes making Dashe Cellars Zinfandel, long one of our favorite Zins. Vineyard manager, Charlie Chenoweth, comes from a family that has farmed in Sonoma for seven decades, lending proprietors Scott and Lynn Adams roots in the community. Joe Healy and David Majerus, winemaker and assistant winemaker respectively, though newer to the business than Dashe and Chenoweth, are by no means rookies, with their accomplishments evident in every one of the wines we tasted.
Bella also has a smaller specialty label called Ten Acre, named after the property where the Adams live in the Russian River Valley, which specializes in cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. While we weren’t able to sip any at the tasting room since it is such small production, we are eager to try it after experiencing what the Adams have been able to create with their warm climate Zins and Syrahs.
So this week, we toast to roads less traveled, to leisurely meandering, and to finding the nook an niches that bring you joy. Cheers!