By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: Just down the road from "Where the heck are we?" and around a couple of windy turns, Bella Vineyards rises up gently from the land, a small sign quietly directing you to the big barn on the hill. Well off the beaten path, Bella is a wonderful find at the farthest end of West Dry Creek Road, just past its more well-known neighbor, Preston Winery.
Small and unassuming, Bella is a family-run operation dominated by a faux weathered barn that looks as if its been there for years. Inside, the tasting room is a simple affair, just a couple of tables and friendly, helpful staff who are eager to share the spicy, funky wines of Bella.
Mouth value: The winery specializes in old-vine Zinfandels and the occasional Syrah. Created in the late '90s, the winery is still a mere babe compared to many of its longtime neighbors but is already creating some notable wines that are getting some big attention. The 2001 Dry Creek Zinfandel ($24) is the simplest of the selections, great for taking along on picnics and barbecues. More impressive is the 2001 Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel ($28) that has tons of dark fruit and herbiness. You'll want to save this one for people you like . . . and I mean, really like--don't waste it on the riff-raff.
The 2002 Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel ($30) is also powerful, with concentrated flavors from the 85-year-old vines, but lacks some of the aged character of its older sibling. Predictably, the winery's biggest Zin, the 2001 Big River Estate Zinfandel ($32), got a glowing review by wine critic Robert Parker, who is famous for his lust for powerful reds. It's big and throaty, with lots of complexity and earthiness. This is not a wine for girlie-men.
Don't miss: Take a stroll through the caves, completed just this year. They're large and impressive for such a smallish winery and are a soulful bit of Zen after a long afternoon of winetasting. Look up at the glowing lamps, which hang from the cave ceilings by metal "roots," lighting your path. Then, stop at nearby Preston Winery for some freshly baked bread and a game of bocce ball.
Five-second snob: The winery offers semifrequent cooking classes in the caves. Watch for upcoming classes given through Relish Cooking School.
Spot: Bella Vineyards, 9711 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, Open daily, 10am-5pm. 707.473.9420.
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From the November 24-30, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.