Dry Creek's Zinful Secret Is in the Soil

That’s a quote that the growers of Zinfandel grapes in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley use to promote the variety that pays their mortgages and tractor bills.

And even though it comes from someone who writes for the New York Law Journal–sort of like a movie being recommended by the “film critic” for the Greater Podunk Express and Shopper–no truer words ever were written.

Zinfandel may be the most barbecue-friendly of all wine varieties (check out last week’s posts for our special BBQ series), and a solid argument could be made that the Dry Creek Valley is Zinfandel’s hedonistic headquarters.

First planted in Dry Creek around 1870, most of Northern California’s Zinfandel vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera in the late 1880s. Some century-old Zinfandel vines survived either because they were planted on resistant rootstock or were isolated from the disease. Zinfandel remained popular among home winemakers during Prohibition.

In 1973, White Zinfandel was created, and it has been seen as both a savior and a curse for the future of Zinfandel–a savior because it called attention to the variety, which was being passed over by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and a curse because much of the supply of Zin grapes was being used for the “white” version.

Be that as it may, the new attention paved the way for vintners to begin taking a fine-wine approach to Zinfandel winemaking, and by 1985, “real Zin” (as some called the traditional red version) had ascended to high on the wine coolness scale.

The terroir in Dry Creek Valley plays a major role in Zinfandel’s development. The well-drained soils and fog patterns from the Pacific Ocean create perfect growing conditions for the variety. Zinfandel likes to grow on well-drained, low fertility sites that are warm enough to fully ripen the grapes–and that’s a perfect description of Dry Creek’s geology.

In the case of Zinfandel, hedonism, it would seem, begins with Dry Creek Valley soil.

Posted in Wine Region Profiles
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