I am delighted to share with you all an impressive winery in Dry Creek Valley that I discovered a couple of weeks ago. But I’ve got to level with you guys—I always do—I’m a couple of days in front of a big trip to Italy and pressed for time. So you are getting a condensed version of what they really deserve here!
The takeaway is this: if you are in Sonoma County looking for good and authentic wine, friendly people, world-class olive oil, beautiful gardens, a farm promoting biodiversity, and an overall genuine experience, GO VISIT DaVero!
You know me, I am always on the hunt for unique grapes and producers. So before my little trip up north, I asked my connections in Sonoma, “who are the best artisan wineries around there making wine from unique varieties, preferably Italian?” DaVero came up every time; so I went to check them out.
“It’s crazy. I’ve driven past you guys like 100 times and never realized what was here exactly,” I said!
“You know, everyone says that,” Ridge replied.
“No but I mean it. My friends and I have been renting a vacation house up the road every March for well over five years so we passed you on the way in and out every day.”
Turns out they opened the tasting room in September of 2010 so to give ourselves credit, we were passing by before they were completely open for business. So that might explain why we hadn’t given them much thought. We are usually pretty set on our agenda.
But little did I know, there was Sagrantino growing right up the hill all along! …
In 1982 Ridgely Evers bought an old property (dating back to the 1880s) situated across Westside Road from the current tasting room location; they now refer to that as Home Farm. But he says it really didn’t take shape until he married his wife and professional chef, Colleen McGlynn in 1993. They combined their interests and passions for sustainable farming and focused on raising olive trees until 2000 when they planted their first Sangiovese vineyard. They decided on Italian varieties (i.e., those that are Mediterranean) based on their vineyard location and the Köppen-Geiger Climate Classification. Basically the climate of Dry Creek Valley (and almost all of California) is of the same Köppen-Geiger classification as most of Italy. So it makes sense.
But what really changed Ridge forever was a dining experience in 1999 with his friend, Mario Batali. He tried Sagrantino for the first time—a 1994 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco—and after tasting it, he said, “I’m going to plant this grape and make this wine.”
And he did.
His first Sagrantino vintage came in 2008; he started growing the grape in 2004. My lucky stars were in alignment the day I visited because I got to try one of 2008s! And believe me! Ridge is guarding the very few bottles he has left! Just a few minutes before I arrived, his assistant winemaker, Evan LaNouette, accidently opened a bottle of the 2008 instead of the 2010 Sagrantino. So Ridge added it to our lineup. Lucky for Evan, it was his birthday so Ridge forgave him—and gave him the rest of the bottle after we tasted it!. I wish I were Ridge’s winemaker! It’s a spectacular wine.
The DaVero farms are biodynamic and integrate a lot of other life besides vines and olive trees into the overall system. Fruit groves and gardens, created to support vine-beneficial insects, as well as chickens, pigs, and sheep are just a few things you’ll find on Ridge and Colleen’s 90 acres.
Vines take up only about 15 acres of the property between Home Farm and Valladares Vineyard (the vineyard around the tasting room on Westside Road). Eleven acres are producing and four have recently been grafted, so it will be a few more years before those are producing wine. They will include a Fiano/Greco field blend and a Nebbiolo/Montepulciano/Sagrantino field blend. There are plans for a Valpolicella blend as well! Among the estate vineyards, Sagrantino covers three acres and Sangiovese, two and a half. All of the wines ferment on their natural and indigenous yeasts and age in neutral oak barrels for however long Ridge and Evan decide is best, given each variety and vintage.
I’ll start with the Sagrantino and work my way backwards on these.
Notes from September 5, 2014.
Sagrantino, Hawk Mountain Vineyard 2008. Dry Creek Valley. Upon first sniff, you know there is something special in the glass. The layers of rose, moss, black licorice, blackberry and other dark, earthy, and truly ethereal aromas really make you think Old World! On the palate, the first flavor took me back to my college days in Berkeley where I used to find these awesome President Plums, little purple, egg-shaped gems that bursted with flavor when you’d bite into them. There is a black fruit vein throughout, along with espresso and piney tannins towards the end. Overall bold, balanced, and truly impressive. The vineyard soils are heavy clay and face northeast.★★★
‘Rosso di Bea,’ Olive Ridge Estate 2007. Dry Creek Valley. Ridge modeled this wine after the blends of Montefalco Rosso, which are Sangiovese and Sagrantino. Red and black cherry integrates well with smells of espresso and wet forest. The acidity is good, evident to me by flavors of tart blackberry and the structure: mouth coating.★★☆
Barbera, Valladares Estate Vineyard 2012. Dry Creek Valley. Plum, jerkey, earth, coffee, vanilla, blackberry; great acidity. For me there was a litte too much of the funky smell that can be common in Barbera, but some people love that.
Dolcetto, Herrick Family Vineyard 2012. Russian River Valley. Cola, purple fruit, marzipan, spice cake, blackberry; great structure. Totally balanced, especially given its 15.1% alcohol stamp. You can’t tell. This is the best California Dolcetto I’ve ever had and I have strong opinions about Dolcetto!★★☆
Hawk Mountain Sangiovese, Olive Ridge Estate 2009. Dry Creek Valley. Red licorice and cherry; evolving to sweet, sundried tomato, cranberry, cocoa, and rose. Fresh and bright with pleasing tannins.★
Sangiovese Rosato, Hawk Mountain Estate Vineyard 2013 Dry Creek Valley. Not saignée (a method of rosé production that involves bleeding off the juice after limited contact with the skins. Pronounced ‘sonyay.’). It is made from an early picking of the Sangiovese bunches and made like a white wine. The berries are pressed immediately and the juice is fermented without skin contact. A really charming aroma profile of strawberry candy, watermelon, and rose. On the palate, full and clean with a super spicey finish. From 2009-2012 the yeast fermented the Rosato dry. But in 2013 it didn’t; there is a tiny bit of residual sugar. (I couldn’t really tell.) Since they use all indigenous yeasts, they just let fermentation follow its natural course and let it do what it needed to in 2013.★★
Vermentino, Shatz Family Vineyards 2013. Cosumnes River. It reminds me of an Arneis because of its pomaceous fruit and hay aromas. Overall not very fruity but quite fresh with a saline finish. Surprisingly light. Next vintage will be different … I saw a little “on-the-skin-maceration” action going on with the Vermentino that had been harvested the day before I visited.☆
I neglected to document the incredible courtyard and two outdoor redwood tables—made from OLD GROWTH redwood. You will just have to go there to learn what that means, if you don’t already, and maybe enjoy a bottle, sitting out on one of them. But I did manage to get a couple shots of The Willow Circle.
What is a Willow Circle? Ridge told me it was Colleen’s idea. They took multiple cuttings from one particular Willow tree and planted them in a perfect circle. This particular Willow tree is the type grown in Italy for branches that are soft enough to be cut off and tied, used to tie vines to trellises. So anyway, they planted them in a perfect circle. And put a table in the center. The roots will join together one day, as well as the top. In a couple of years, when you sit inside, it will be like you are inside of the Willow Tree. That definitely satisfies MY tree-hugging, Pagan, nature-loving tendencies. I don’t know about yours …
Thank you Ridge for a spectacular visit! And thank you Colleen for inventing the Willow Circle, Andrew for your help, and Evan for opening the 2008 Sagrantino!
We will be in touch! Ci sentiamo!