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Springtime at Preston of Dry Creek

It’s lambing season in Sonoma County, and it’s particularly entertaining at Preston of Dry Creek.

Sharing a pen with a mobile chicken coop, recently born lambs are stumbling around their nursery on shaky legs, clucked over by a cadre of hens. This group are so-called “bummers,” rejected by their mothers because they were one lamb too many this season, and the downy-faced lambs will bleat at anyone who pays a few moments of attention to them.

There are other wineries with sheep and chickens, garden produce, and maybe even friendly cats on the porch, but there’s only one Preston of Dry Creek.

A forward-thinking winery that nods back to the past, Preston is the epitome of the casual country Sonoma County winery that manages to become “more so” through the years. Venture down the long, gravel drive, bordered by riots of blooming mustard and cover crop, gravel banks and olive groves, and slow down for an hour’s visit to the future past.

Vineyards into Farms
Today, Lou and Susan Preston might be thought of as old timers of Dry Creek Valley — they settled into an 1895 farm house back into the early 1970s, uprooted 200 acres of prune trees, and planted vineyards in time for the coming fine-wine boom.

But they also learned from an older generation of neighbors, eventually adopting some old-fashioned practices — like putting sheep on the land — that they hadn’t taken seriously in those early years.

In the early 2000s, Preston took a step or two back from a 25,000-case production to 8,000 cases, and got their vineyards certified organic in 2005. Adding fruit trees to their olive trees, and animals in their vineyards, Preston is putting the farmyard back in the vineyard.

Take a Sip, Fill up a Jug
The tasting room is like a farmhouse kitchen, with high ceilings, wood floor, and house-cured olives for sampling and sale. Wine, too: The 2013 Madame Preston ($30) is a floral, full-bodied white Rhône-style blend; the 2013 Barbera ($23) contains gobs of lush, palate-lacquering cherry, blackberry flavor. Only on Sundays, tasting and sales of the “cult jug wine” Guadagni Red are offered.

Take an Egg
For the fourth season now, Preston’s “farm stand” is located in a wing just around the corner from the tasting room. On the way there, next to some of my favorite variety of tomato plant starts for sale, hello, here’s Lou Preston himself, settling into a porch chair with the day’s mail.

Inside the well-stocked and not too precious farm stand, farm-fresh eggs, kale, leeks, and turnips — and more throughout the season — are for sale on the honor system: weigh and pay. Bring cash!

The picnic grounds are well manicured, but no lawn sports are allowed, just picnicking for visitors. For many, the highlight to Preston is a visit with some of the winery’s eight cats, some of whom apparently don’t mind being picked up and loved like fluffy rag dolls.

Hit the Road
If you find the baby lambs on the way out, remember that this isn’t a petting zoo, tasting room staff will remind you — the fence is electrified. Nearby non-winery attractions include Lake Sonoma; adventurous drivers may wish to continue on Skaggs Springs Road to the coast and Fort Ross. Dinner’s a lot closer in Cloverdale or Healdsburg.

9282 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448. Open daily 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tasting fee, $10. 707-433-3372.

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