Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Red wine weekend

by Barb Rybicki

Where can you attempt to get five dozen passport stamps in a single weekend with no jet lag? Passport to Dry Creek Valley, of course. Now in its 23rd year, the sold-out annual wine and food tasting event, held the last weekend of April in Northern Sonoma County, California, once again offered visitors a spectacular whirlwind tour of one of California’s loveliest wine appellations.

The “Zinfamous” region celebrates a century of Zinfandel growing, often by multi-generational families. Boutique, small production wineries lie just around a bend from renowned cult producers. The weekend open house allows eager passport holders to sample the remarkable variety of nuanced conglomerations of grapes, terroir and individual winemaking philosophy.

Passport weekend is almost as much about the food as the wine. This is no “cheese cubes and water crackers palate cleansing” between wines. Not when local chefs stake out a few of the wineries: Dustin Valette from Dry Creek Kitchen set up a kitchen station at Mauritson, turning out sliders, crab cakes and savory cones for barrel room minglers under Christmas lights; Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar’s John Franchetti helmed an outdoor pizza oven adjacent to grapevines at Amista; duck and lamb tamales from farmer’s market king Mateo Granados tasted even better on the deck above Zichichi’s estate vineyard; at Passalacqua Winery, Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar’s Jeff Mall seared sausages across from Petite Syrah’s Josh Silvers plating ham hock arancini.

Other wineries took picnicking to a new level with impressive full plates prepped on the spot. Top tastes were Talty’s tacos and Kokomo’s barbecued pork with sweet corn cake.

As for the scene, the late spring heat unveiled yet-to-be-tanned legs in cargo shorts and silk summer dresses; wedge heels seemed just right to negotiate gravel and grass. Amusements included petanque at Kachina Vineyards and bocce at Martorana. Chateau Diana revived the 1980s: a DJ spun Billy Idol and Oingo Boingo, Flash Dancers poured against a backdrop of Ghostbusters and Ferris Bueller’s posters, pop rocks chocolate popsicles provided a stimulating zin pairing, and posers nestled into a spread-eagled DeLorean. Kokomo’s old-time photo booth with props and Dry Creek Vineyard’s nostalgic sailor singers were other revivalists. Meanwhile, VIPs embarked on a show-stopping helicopter flight straight out of Passalacqua’s vineyard.

If you missed it, a few photos might offer up some of the weekend’s flavors, and tempt you for next year. Visit for upcoming wine events in Napa/Sonoma and elsewhere.

You can click on each photo to enlarge.