If you want a taste of true Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, make an appointment to come here, where four generations of Rafanellis have grown the valley’s signature grape. Of course, there are Cabernets and Merlots too, but the Zin is the story--and this one is not available in retail shops. arafanelliwinery.com; 4685 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 707/433-1385 (call for appointment).
At one point, the Seghesio family made most of the commercial-level wine in this county--more than a million-and-a-half gallons! Now, though, the fifth generation is focused on burnishing the legacy of their winemaking great-great-grandfather, Edoardo. Some of the Zinfandel they make today is from the vines Edoardo began planting at the turn of the last century. Taste with a view of the barrels, or bring some friends with you for a sit-down food-and-wine tasting on the weekend (Fri-Sun). Recipes include old family favorites, and some of the tables are made out of the winery’s historic redwood tanks. seghesio.com; 14730 Grove Street, Healdsburg; 707/433-3579.
The Ridge Lytton Springs tasting room is innovative and kind to the environment in every way--rice-straw bales covered in earthen plaster let the walls breathe, computer-controlled louvers regulate the natural temperature, and solar panels generate about 75 percent of the winery’s energy needs. Brainchild of Ridge Vineyards chairman Paul Draper--widely considered the dean of contemporary California winemaking--Lytton Springs is the winery’s Zin-focused branch. Ridge Vineyards continues to capture the character of single vineyards by bottling many different Zins (all invariably wonderful). Groups of more than eight should make a reservation for tasting. ridgewine.com; 50 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg; 707/433-7721.
You can see all the way to Mt. St. Helena from Mazzocco’s tall-windowed tasting room or from the gorgeous patio and picnic areas. While winemaker Antoine Favero does produce some Zin, as you’d expect in this place, he also works with Bordeaux varieties--Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Petit Sirah--diversity worthy of his French birthplace and childhood sojourn in Peru. Groups of eight or more should make a reservation. mazzocco.com; 1400 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg; 707/433-3399.
A former winemaker at Quivira, Rick Hutchinson is the artist behind Amphora now: The pots he throws, modeled after the clay vessels--amphorae--that the ancient Greeks and Romans used for wine, became the symbol for his own winery. After a bold, boot-strapping few years of winemaking in a prune barn (where he became known among the wine-touring underground for letting women stomp in his grapes), Hutchinson has moved up to this co-op complex, where he has a proper tasting room. Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah--they’re all lush and balanced. amphorawines.com; 4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 707/431-7767.
A project newly launched among former business associates and friends, Ben and Yolanda Papapietro with Bruce and Renae Perry, this winery has earned quick acclaim for its single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. You can taste them now at their copper-topped, barrel-stave bar in the same casual complex that houses Amphora Wines. papapietro-perry.com; 4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 877/467-4668.
The ivy-covered stone blocks of the winery make a grand backdrop for a picnic here, and the wines in the tasting room of this longtime Dry Creek player are getting better and better, thanks to a recent refocus on estate wines. A happy exception to “estate” here is Chenin Blanc--a great version of a wine we shouldn’t lose, this one from Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta. Stop in at the Dry Creek General Store on the corner for some sandwiches, or order boxed lunches at the winery, then snag some Chenin and grab a table. drycreekvineyard.com; 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg; 800/864-9463.
On the edge of Zinfandel territory, Lambert Bridge somehow became known for Merlot, although it does make some very interesting vineyard-designated Zins. Turn left after crossing the old trestle bridge the winery was named for and you’ll reach this auspicious spot against the eastern hills, with its warm-feeling tasting room (the fireplace must have something to do with that) and one of the loveliest Dry Creek Valley gardens for picnicking. lambertbridge.com; 4085 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 707/431-4675.
Another great stop for classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Rhône varietals, and three different Sauvignon Blancs that are a treat. At Quivira (pronounced key-VEER-ah), you can also see former owners Holly and Henry Wendt’s collection of maps depicting the West Coast of North America as it appeared to cartographers from the 1500s to the 1800s. quivirawine.com; 4900 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 707/431-8333.
You’ll find the casual, country side of winemaking here. Lou and Susan Preston are organic farmers as well as wine producers. Their products--olives, pickled veggies, hot sauce, and, if you are lucky, fresh bread--can be had in the tasting room. prestonvineyards.com; 9282 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 707/433-3372.
Solid Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs (labeled Fumé Blancs) are to be found here, in a grand arched and porticoed Italian setting. In the ultracool underground Enoteca Reserve Tasting Bar, you can try some of Ferrari-Carano’s very good single-vineyard wines, and their new Il Terrazzo terrace allows you to enjoy wine while overlooking the property's five acres of stunning formal gardens. ferrari-carano.com; 8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg; 707/433-6700.