The scene is the corner of Westside Road and Kinley Drive in Healdsburg, on the edge of Dry Creek Valley. A rainbow array of flags line the southwest corner, marking the spot where some of Sonoma County's best Zinfandel is flowing.
The spot is Alderbrook Winery, a family owned venture that has been flying its welcome flags at this well-traveled corner for many years.
Alderbrook is something of nirvana for Zinfanatics who want as many different Zins as there are days in the week. Alderbrook offers six different Zinfandels, each with its own personality. For the seventh day, Alderbrook has a snazzy Zin/Syrah blend called "Confluence", and for dessert, a Zin Port.
All of the Alderbrook Zins come from Dry Creek Valley, which has a history of growing and producing Zinfandel that is 135 years long. Many of the earliest immigrants to Sonoma County who settled in Dry Creek Valley after the Gold Rush brought with them grapevine cuttings, including Zinfandel. Most of the oldest vines in Dry Creek Valley are Zinfandel, and some are as much as 125 years old. In fact driving through Dry Creek Valley you can see some of these old vines, easily distinguishable for their appearance as bushy shrubs in the summer and barren stumps in the winter.
Winemaker Bryan Parker, now heading into his seventh harvest at Alderbrook, has the luxury of working with Zinfandel from several different vineyards in Dry Creek, plus estate and old vine fruit. Parker uses just 25-30% new French oak, saying "I don't want the oak flavors dominating the profiles. By keeping all the things the same for the most part, I want the vineyard site to show through."
Of the winery's current list of four vineyard-designated Zinfandels, Parker says "the Old Barn I think shows the most red fruit (cranberry) character with silky tannins. The Three Goose is the biggest of the four and shows the brambly, black pepper flavors of Zinfandel. The Wagon Wheel is a hillside vineyard and typically has firm tannins and plum flavors that Zinfandel typically shows. And the Wind Machine is always on the blue/black fruit spectrum, with silky tannins and floral notes."
Alderbrook also produces one of Sonoma County's finest Carignane, a Spanish varietal often used in California as a blending grape The Alderbrook Carignane is dark, firm and bold. Ask anyone in Dry Creek who's got the best Carignane, and they'll say Alderbrook. Better yet? It's a steal at $19 and well worth buying by the case.
In 2001 the Terlato family purchased a majority interest in Alderbrook, adding it to their portfolio of small Napa and Sonoma wineries that includes Chimney Rock, Rutherford Hill and Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara County. The Terlatos also have their own wines featured under the Terlato Family Vineyards label. At Alderbrook visitors will find the Terlato Family's Russian River Valley Pinot Grigio, a crisp, light wine made in the traditional Italian style that is the perfect foil for oysters, a chilled calamari salad or anything from the sea. You can also try the Terlato's Dry Creek Syrah, a dark, bold wine showing many layers of flavors, is a nice match for anything off the end-of-summer barbecue, red meats or even medium to strong cheeses.
If you are tracking your wine buying more closely in this soft economy, the quality to price ratio at Alderbrook is sky high. Factor in the savings after you leap into the Alderbrook wine club (with 20% off wine shipments and a staggering 30% off when you reorder in the first 45 days after your club shipment arrives), and you're covered for everyday wines at less than $15 a bottle as well as highly-rated weekend or special occasion wines for about $20 to $25 per bottle. These winery exclusive wines are available in the tasting room and through the wine club only.
The Alderbrook wine club has many more benefits, including a pick-up party four times per year where you can sample the wine club releases along with light hors d'oeuvres. As an Alderbrook club member, with each purchase you'll also accrue points to save up towards a stay at the winery's beautiful guest house. The guest house is a sprawling, contemporary two-bedroom ranch with formal dining room, large eat-in kitchen, fireplace, a roof deck to watch the sun set and spectacular vineyard views throughout.
Alderbrook has a fantastic porch out front where you can enjoy a picnic and a bottle of one of Alderbrook's Zins. If you don't want to lug around your own picnic all morning, check out the tasting room's supply of lunch munchies: prosciutto and other deli meats, a selection of cheeses and crackers, and an assortment of dips. After your picnic, don't miss the fabulous array of housewares and unique wine gifts to take home as mementos of your wine country vacation.
Visit Alderbrook Winery, easy to find just off 101 South at the Westside Road (turn right) or 101 North at the Central Healdsburg exit (turn left onto Westside Road). Either way, look for the colorful flags on the left, and turn left on Kinley Drive. The tasting room is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily.