A Trip to A. Rafanelli Winery in Healdsburg
I’d nearly forgotten about my last visit to A. Rafanelli Winery’s cozy little wine cellar in Healdsburg when, during a wine tour of Dry Creek Valley during the crush, I saw three gleaming, green, vintage trucks with “A. Rafanelli” freshly painted on the doors lined up in a vineyard along Lambert Bridge Road.
It was a Sonoma County photo op must, as the Rafanellis clearly recognize — indeed, a similar scene is repeated on their website, but with the trucks heaped with a different color of grapes.
Hardly a day more than two years and five months later (I like to think I’m contributing to the slower pace of life here in Sonoma County wine country) I hopped on their website to find out how to secure a wine tasting. Turns out, the website’s not the place to do that, and neither is any kind of seat-reserving mobile app you can jab your finger at. Smart phones are useless at Rafanelli. You ring Rafanelli on the phone or you keep on driving.
It isn’t that this fourth-generation Dry Creek Valley grape-growing dynasty is so old school they aren’t hooked up with hash tags, insta-pics, videos, and other social media. They’re just old school in some other ways — and they prefer to talk to potential customers by phone.
The Rafanellis no longer participate in barrel tasting events, since the little tree-shaded drive that winds past tidily terraced vineyard to the estate is only one lane—even narrower than scenic West Dry Creek Road, which is practically a one-lane road itself—and the wine usually sells out to a waiting list, anyway. But they’re happy to meet new wine fans—a phone call should secure a visit in the near future.
Nestled into rolling hills covered with vines, everything in the Rafanelli estate seems snugly fitted into place. The tasting room is really just one corner of a warmly wood-paneled cellar (it’s a little like being inside a cigar box) and is decorated with family memorabilia and wine awards. Your tasting may be hosted by a family member, or by a longtime friend of the family.
Ask about getting a peek beyond the little cellar where Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon slumber in traditional oval barrels, into a larger, but also wood-paneled cellar, and then possibly tour the wine cave, which is accessed by a stone passageway that provides another glimpse of Rafanelli style: a house of devotion to the grape, it’s illuminated through stained glass.
Back in the tasting room, my host points out one of the historical photos on the wall. Although matriarch Leticina was born into a winemaking family, her brothers had the family winemaker jobs cornered back in Italy, so she sailed to New York with cousins escorting her.
There, she bought two pistols and headed west, eventually meeting Alberto Rafanelli in San Francisco. In the early 1900s they began growing grapes in Healdsburg. Some generations later, Shelly Rafanelli is the woman in charge of winemaking here.
Another feature with old school charm: wine tasting is free at Rafanelli. There may be only one wine, and you may not be able to buy cult-of-Rafanelli favorites like the 2014 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($42), but it’s good, blackberry fruited, oak-aged Zin — in that old school kind of way.
4685 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-1385. Open daily by appointment; no fee.