The Wine Country Online

Searching for Syrah, Petite Sirah

An Autumn Picnic Tour in the Dry Creek Valley

by Jack Burton

Inspired by Eric Cullen's thoughtful and well-researched writing on the origins and diverse distribution of the grape varietals Sarah, Petite Sirah, and Shiraz, I decided to track down a few winemakers passionate on the subject.

What follows is a guide to a fall weekend of tasting. The excursion is a round-trip tour of five wineries along a twenty-eight mile loop in Sonoma County's lovely Dry Creek Valley.

As is our habit, most Sonoma County picnic and tasting excursions begin at the Downtown Bakery and Creamery (308-A Center St., on the Plaza in Healdsburg). It's a good place to start the day with coffees and catching up with friends in town.

To visit five wineries in a single day is possible, but I might suggest you plan two days to more fully enjoy the tour. It is always good to call ahead to the wineries if you are traveling with a group of six or more people. Also two of the wineries would love to see you, but you must schedule an appointment as they do not staff a tasting room. Simply call ahead to Amphora's Rich Hutchinson or to the Unti family when you are making plans to visit the Dry Creek Valley.

The following five wineries are listed in the order you would follow doing a loop of the valley going up West Day Creek Road and coming back down Dry Creek Road. Plan to have your picnic at either Foppiano, Preston or Pedroncelli.

________ #1 ________

Foppiano Vineyards
12707 Old Redwood Hwy.
P.O. Box 606
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Follow Healdsburg Avenue south out of town. Foppiano is across the Russian River on the right just beyond the Highway 101 overpass where Healdsburg Avenue becomes the Old Redwood Highway.

The Foppiano family have been in the grape and wine business on their one hundred and fifty acres since 1896. It is a good piece of land that sits near the place where Dry Creek enters the Russian River and is in the Russian River Appellation. Winemaker Bill Regan continues a Foppiano tradition started in the 1960s of bottling Petite Sirah as a varietal. Before then, it had always been part of their red wine blend.

Currently, the tasting room has these two nice vintages for you to sample. Click here to view the winemaker's notes:

1998 Petite Sirah, Foppiano Vineyards
1977 Syrah, Riverside Vineyards

________ #2 ________

Hutchinson Amphora Wines
5540 West Dry Creek Road (call ahead)
Healdsburg CA 95448

Our friend Rick Hutchinson would love to introduce you to his little one-man operation. With a visit to Amphora you will have discovered one of Dry Creek Valley's quiet treasures. It's a place with no sign on the road as of yet, and a total production in 1999 of less than 900 cases. Rick and Amphora are almost more a state of mind than a winemaker and a place. I suggest you seek him out and taste what he produces from the well-tended vineyards in his backyard. Call ahead for directions and to schedule your visit. He is mid-valley off West Dry Creek Road, just west of the Quivery Winery.

Click here to view Rick's notes on his 1999 Syrah Unti Vineyards and 1999 Petite Sirah Mounts Vineyard, which are due for release in March, 2001.

________ #3 ________

Preston Vineyards
9282 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Last July 19th was a typically lovely summer day for a Sonoma Picnic. My wife Janette had just returned from a business trip to L.A. and I had tempted a group of friends away from their work for a welcome-home lunch in the vineyards. Preston is almost always our first thought for a tranquil spot to combine friends, food, and wine. Call ahead to see if there is any bread from Lou Preston's great wood-fired oven. If you're lucky, your visit will coincide with one of his baking days!

Click here to view winemaker Kevin Hamel's notes on our picnic wine of choice, the 1998 Faux (a Rhône-style blend with 23% Syrah) and the excellent 1998 Syrah, which is a terrific picnic bottle as well as one you might want to set aside for a mid-winter snuggle in the year 2005!

________ #4 ________

Pedroncelli Winery & Vineyards
1220 Canyon Road
Geyserville, CA 95441
(707) 857-3531 - (800) 836-3894

Pedroncelli   One family, one place, seventy years of fine wine. That's what it says on their brochure. And that's what you can expect to experience when you turn onto the Canyon Road and climb up Dry Creek Valley's gravelly benches and hills to the winery. Pedroncelli is a frequent picnic destination. On a recent sunny afternoon I spent a couple of hours beside the bocce court enjoying one of the valley's best views, some home-cured olives, a loaf of bread, some local goat cheese, and an imported salami (from San Francisco).

Did I mention the wine? Place, family and years of just plain, hard working at the craft enlivens their wines. At Pedroncelli, the wines drink well from this land where the people's roots run deep.

Click here to view winemaker Gary Martin's notes on his 1977 Family Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Petite Syrah.

________ #5 ________

Unti Vineyards
4202 Dry Creek Road (call ahead)
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Don't miss an opportunity to find out what the Unti family is doing with their fifty-five acres of wine grapes planted in the Dry Creek Valley. This exceptional little winery was founded in 1997 and has grown out of the family's romance with their vineyards, which were established on the eastside bench in 1990. The winery itself is in the valley surrounded by four distinctive clones of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Barbera, and Dolcetto.

Winemaker Mick Unti's enthusiasm for producing wines uniquely "Dry Creek" is evident in the glass. He manages to put a little stroll through the vineyard in every bottle.

Click here to view Mick's notes on the 1998 Syrah Dry Creek Valley Estate.