The appellation’s bounds follow the path of the eponymous creek for more than thirty kilometres with vines concentrated around a fifteen kilometre north by northwest strip, occupying sites along the valley floor and on the hillsides. In total three-thousand-six-hundred hectares of land are planted to vine and a wide variety of grapes are grown. Zinfandel is by far the most prevalent variety with some of the old vines here pre-dating Prohibition, and perhaps the most notable (though not the most planted) of the supporting grapes is Sauvignon Blanc, which thrives in the cooler conditions of the valley floor. The tiny Rockpile AVA sits at the northern end of Dry Creek Valley and is itself known for its premium Zinfandel varietals.
In addition to the principal variety, other red grapes that have found success in Dry Creek Valley include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Cabernet Sauvignon along with a number of other Bordeaux grapes are also grown, however they do not attract the same attention as those from neighbouring appellations. Chardonnay, Viognier and Gewürztraminer are amongst the white varieties grown in smaller quantities.
The overall climate of Dry Creek Valley is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean and the world famous fog that seeps in from the bay. Proximity to the river, elevation and location within the AVA all have an impact on microclimate with southern plots a little cooler than their northerly counterparts and vineyards on the eastern bank of the creek exposed to sunlight for a longer period than those on the west. Similarly diverse are the AVAs soils with hillside plots of free-draining, iron-rich, coarse gravel contrasting with the alluvial, sandy loam of the valley floor.
Viticulture here has followed roughly the same trends as appellations across the entire state, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, experiencing initial growth which was subsequently thwarted by Prohibition and the Great Depression, and finally re-emerging to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the growth in the industry over the last fifty years, the area retains the sleepy, rural charm for which it was always known, the only change being that it is now home to more than sixty wineries including big commercial names and small, bespoke cellars whose robust, powerful Zinfandel wines are amongst America’s very best.