Last year’s Passport to Dry Creek festival was quite the weekend hopping between wineries in Dry Creek Valley. How is this different than any of the dozens of wine events in Wine Country at any given time, you rightfully ask?
Unlike barrel tasting weekends mobbed with drunken carousers and not-yet-mature wines, or smaller events where you gain merely a handful of tastes, Passport includes the majority of wineries in the Dry Creek valley and crowds regulated enough to keep it enjoyable. Each winery serves unlimited food and wine, often with live music and engrossing themes.
It’s like a private party at each winery, limited to Passport ticket holders. Certainly some wines are far better than others, but many settings are magical with typically brilliant weather.
After visiting 24 wineries over the weekend, here’s my take on this year’s Passport highlights (the event ran April 30-May 1) in the categories of food, wine and setting…
Frick Winery – Hands down, I’m impressed every year with the complicated deliciousness of bite-sized snacks from Chef John Mitzewich and Michele Manfredi (husband/wife dynamic duo). Chef John is known for his site Food Wishes (last year’s Saveur winner for best food video blog, nominated again this year).
Michele created SFQ Sauce, an East-meets-West sauce showcasing the diversity of our fair city with its’ first native BBQ sauce (try it if you haven’t!) Her sauce appeared at this year’s Passport in their Duck a la SFQ: duck confit in SFQ sauce on a cocoa corn chip, garnished with duck crackling remolata. Yum.
My two favorites? Main Line Philly Cheesesteak: mini-baguettes topped with Snake River Farms Kobe-style steak over truffled ‘cheese whiz’ (you heard right… Chef John is on the money with this one – I’ll take a jar!) Dotted with peppadew and jalapenos, its perfection.
One of the ‘simplest’ bites was the best, Sausage Luxe: Boccalone’s sweet Italian sausage dusted with fennel pollen and skewered with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry. Seductive and lush.
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Frick Winery – A Dry Creek favorite is Frick. From Grenache Blanc to C3 and C2 (Rhone blends), Bill Frick produces sophisticated wines that maintain Old World balance. This year, I’m really taking to their Cinsaut and Grenache.
Seghesio Family Vineyards – Seghesio’s Home Ranch Zinfandel has been an at-home go-to for a balanced zin reflecting dark berries and the clay soil it’s grown in. At Passport, we tasted pre-releases of 2009 Home Ranch Zin ($38), which remained a highlight in the ten Seghesio wines sampled.
Unti Vineyards – I’ve enjoyed Unti’s wines the last couple years, reminded again that their 2007 Grenache is a standout with blackberry, pepper, even licorice notes.
Stephen & Walker – Besides appreciating their female winemaker, Nancy Walker, who I had the pleasure of meeting during Passport, there’s a number of drinkable wines from a line-up of ten. The most celebrated is her 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($65). Winner of multiple awards and their benchmark wine, it’s a fine showcase of the region’s cabs.
Bella Vineyards – Just like last year, Bella’s African safari theme and moody, cool caves are a highlight of the entire weekend. Lingering here with their crisp Rose is a joy every time.
Truett Hurst – Another top spot last year, they also have a memorable Zinfandel Rose ($15), best enjoyed in red Adirondack chairs alongside the river running through their property… after you’ve visited the goats and sheep on the back of their land. A dreamy respite, I leave this winery relaxed.
Family Wineries – You’re not there for the wine nor the cluster of non-descript tasting rooms off a parking lot, but I’ll stop in annually to spend a happy hour watching the California Cowboys play. They are a truly an awesome country band who keep it real with tunes a true classic country fan will love (from Waylon Jennings to Roger Miller), plus a few newer favorites. Vocals, musicianship, it’s all top-notch.
Seghesio Family Vineyards – With a raucous New Orleans theme based on the winery family’s Nola roots, Seghesio boasted one of the top bands of the weekend: Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic. Grilling Cajun ribs and spooning up bowls of seafood gumbo, the spirit was festive and familial, like one big backyard party.