Hidden Gems of Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley

Discover three Sonoma County boutique wineries worth the day trip

Kokomo, Papapietro Perry and Preston Wineries

by Courtney Paige

An enclave of boutique wineries beckon to be discovered where Dry Creek Valley meets U.S. Highway 101, just north of Healdsburg. Your bountiful reward is a geographical gem filled with an authentic Wine Country experience.

Cradled between two majestic mountain ridges, Dry Creek Valley is a glorious grove of intimate vineyard venues. The valley’s 16-mile-long and two-mile-wide corridor is home to more than 50 artisan wineries.

The allure for grape growers and winemakers is its unique enclosed valley, which cultivates more than 30 different grape varietals. Diversity of soil in the dry ancient creek bed lends itself to a blend of thriving varietals like Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Barbera.

Select boutique wineries have acquired a cult-like status. Their wines are rarely found in retail grocery stores. They are, however, available at limited local or regional restaurants. These wineries are small-lot venues and produce less than 10,000 cases of wine per year, typically selling 100 percent of the wine produced each year. So becoming a wine club member is one way to secure your favorite vino.

Boutique wineries rarely expect their guests to be experts. Wine novices are greeted like family, so don’t be surprised if you are approached by the winery canine mascot.

Three boutique wineries make the novelty cut: Kokomo, a diamond in the rough with its Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine, Papapietro Perry with its ruby red Zinfandel and Preston with its crimson garnet Barbera.

Kokomo Winery is nestled on a knoll just off Dry Creek’s main thoroughfare where there’s nothing fancy about the curb appeal. Opulence however, is experienced through Kokomo’s luxurious wine style.

Kokomo’s 2012 Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Blanc, recently acquired consummate bragging rights when it gained a gold medal award at the 2015 Sonoma County Harvest Festival. Created in a traditional French champagne style, the wine finishes with a crisp green apple burst of sparkle on the palate leaving you craving for more. It’s a brilliant accessory for a variety of celebrations.

“Sipping wine is like viewing art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Kokomo tasting room manager Ross James. “Kokomo wine is liquid consumable art, constantly changing, getting better as time passes.”

A stone’s throw from Kokomo is Papapietro Perry, an elusive discovery that gets its name from the fellows who founded the quaint winery.

“Papapietro Perry combines the two last names of the guys who founded the winery,” tasting room host Jim May said. “They worked together in The City [San Francisco] for 40 years in the newspaper industry and started making wine in their garage during the ‘80s.”

Papapietro Perry’s Zinfandel is made with a Burgundian yeast. The fruit is punched down by hand in small bins every four hours. Using French neutral oak allows the grapes to breathe during the fermenting stage. This light Zinfandel is loaded with layers of berries and cherries with a little bit of spice in between.

“It’s a Zinfandel made for pinot lovers,” May said. “The winemaker calls it a Zino.” It’s scrumptious when paired with barbecued pulled pork.

Preston Winery, cradled between Dry Creek Road and Westside Road, sits snug in an intimate enclave all its own. As you meander down the olive tree-lined pebble dirt road, take time to consume the authentic Italian experience. Preston is like having Tuscany in your own backyard.

Preston Winery epitomizes life on a vineyard farm. The winery and farm are entirely organic. The owners grow their own fruits, vegetables and wheat. Perched behind the tasting room is a farm-to-market grocer where fresh seasonal fruits, vegetables and breads are available for purchase.

Another Preston perk; purchase a jug of wine, yes a jug, for $38. Equivalent to five bottles of wine, the jug is typically a table wine blend. Make the deal even sweeter and return every Sunday with an empty jug to replenish. Price for that perk is $34 if you recycle the jug. An incredible deal for holidays or dinner parties.

Preston’s crimson garnet Barbera is available for $8 a glass at “Bird and the Bottle,” located on Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa. The Barbera grape is an original Italian varietal with a full-body, earthy and tannic taste. Preston’s organic, clean wine style reinvents this old world varietal with nosegay of blackberry, smoked oak with a long velvet finish. It’s perfectly paired with “Bird and the Bottle’s” Bibb Lettuce Salad; a down-home hearty salad with fried pecans and cheddar dressing.

With this new-found treasure map, you’re free to indulge your curiosity, and in Wine Country, intrigue is just around the corner. Cruise north from a foggy gray city to the sapphire blue skies of Sonoma County and meander through secluded country roads concealed by redwood trees until you reach the lush emerald green hills veiled in vineyards that are Dry Creek Valley’s hidden gems.