Visiting the Dry Creek Valley outside of Healdsburg in northern Sonoma County presents many great choices.
The valley is 16 miles long, two miles wide and is home to 64 wineries. You can drive or ride a bicycle from nearby Healdsburg. Dry Creek Road offers decent shoulders so it safe for cyclists and motorists—the same cannot be said for West Dry Creek Rd. It’s essentially one-lane at its northern end where you find Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves.
We sought out Bella at the suggestion of a knowledgeable Dry Creek person and were pleased with her recommendation. The tasting room is in one of the caves cut into the hillside on the property. Lucy and Alex took good care of us once our eyes adjusted to the dim cave. The caves complemented the rustic production barn and nice lawn that overlooks the valley.
A few years after Lynn and Scott Adams bought the winery in 1997, they decided to take advantage of the hillside location and drill caves. It turned out to be a huge job because the hill was granite under the topsoil. So, the caves were blasted in a two-year project that finished in 2004. They are the third family to farm grapes on the property, dating to the early 1900s.
We tasted on the calm Monday after a busy Mother’s Day that had 350 people on the property—note: you don’t stumble across Bella. It needs to be a destination, unlike the many wineries located across the valley on Dry Creek Road. For wine club members and other special events, they will open the caves for tours. The tasting room was 64 degrees, deliberately a bit warmer than the caves where the barrels of wine were aging.
We started with two wines made by Mike Zardo at a custom crush facility in Santa Rosa. The 2014 Richie Vineyards chardonnay ($55) was a rich, well-balanced wine that would complement the right food beautifully. It was very good as the first taste of the day.
We moved on to the 2016 ru’s Farm Pinot Noir that is bottled in a growler. The growler gives it a different marketing spin, but don’t miss the wine. It was drinking well.
We then turned to the winery’s specialty—single-vineyard Zinfandels. Winemakers Mike Dashe (consulting) and Joe Healy make up to 15 different Zins in any one year. Grapes are sourced from three different Dry Creek vineyards plus one in the Russian River Valley that was planted in 1906. Most of the small lot Zins are sold to wine club members and not available to the public.
We tasted the Lily Hill estate Zin ($48), made from grapes that have grown on that hillside above the caves since 1915 and the Collier Falls Zin ($45). We could easily have taken both home—the same goes for the 2013 Big River Ranch Petite Sirah ($50). It’s a 93-point wine from Robert Parker.
What we did take home was the Zin from three vineyards in the Rockpile AVA. The vineyards sit above the fog line near Lake Sonoma, so the dry-farmed vines must struggle for any water once the winter rains subside. This was a special wine and typically is only available to wine club members. Ask for it.
Topping off the tasting was a 2016 late harvest Zin that was accompanied by a peanut butter cup topped with sea salt. Wow—a perfect way to finish the tasting.
Bella is open daily for tasting in the cave and private tours can be reserved in advance. Bella wines are available through its wine club and at the winery—less than 1 percent are distributed.
By Tim Hunt