Appearing in today's edition..
A Personal Train Ride On The Dry Creek Vineyard Express
Many of us have "things" in our life we've grown attached to over the years; a comfortable old
pair of shoes, our old Dodge Dart, maybe a frayed old terry cloth robe. For us wine
lovers, we often have a winery that fits that description; a winery whose wines we
keep drinking year after year because....we just like the stuff.
For me, the winery that best fits this description is Dry Creek Vineyards, located near
Sonoma County's Healdsburg. It is a winery that I have followed from the very start, with
its founding in 1972. I've been drinking Dave Stare's wines for nigh onto 34 years now.
I was prompted to reflect on our long time drinking relationship by the receipt of their
most recent newsletter titled "A Pioneer Sails Into The Sunset", announcing Dave's retirement
as President of Dry Creek Vineyards. In today's column, I'll describe why DCV owns
such a special place in my heart.
My first encounter with DCV occurred in late 1973, when Liquor Mart's Phil Reich (in
Boulder, CO) urged me to try this new Gamay Beaujolais they'd just received. It was nothing
great or profound, but just a tasty wine that was absolutely delish. About a year later,
he insisted I try the new Chenin Blanc and Fume (Sauvignon) Blanc from DCV. Having developed
a fondness for Loire Valley whites, I immediately recognized that these two wines were, though
again nothing profound, really great drinking whites and very much in the character of their
French brethern. Those first three labels now reside in Volume #2 of my wine label collection.
As I recall, I fired off a short note to Dave, complimenting him on those two whites. He
responded immediately with a thank you and an invitation to stop at the winery for a visit.
A bit of history: Dave graduated from MIT in Civil Engineering and took a job with the
B&O Railroad, trains being a passion in his life. A trip to the Loire Valley precipitated
a lifelong love affair with those wines, made from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, and
triggered an insane notion that he could make such wines in California.
In 1972, he settled on a plot of land in the Dry Creek Valley, ripped out the prune orchard
to plant grape vines, and founded the first winery in the area since Prohibition. The locals
were convinced he was plum loco and certain this Boston city kid was on the fast track to failure.
Starting with mostly purchased grapes, he expanded his portfolio to include both Zinfandel
and Cabernet Sauvignon. At that time, there were many very old vineyards of Zinfandel in the
Dry Creek Valley and Dave realized, early on, what unique wines came from these ugly/gnarly
old vines; well before old-vine Zinfandel became trendy.
I first met Dave in 1975 when I finally arranged a visit to his small winery. I, like many
others over the years, took an instant liking to the guy. The wines were all good and very
reasonably priced. Interestingly, during one of these early visits, I noticed his daughter, Kim,
sitting in his office, merrily drawing away while Dad entertained this visitor from New Mexico.
Through the '70's, I bought and tried nearly every wine Dave made. His Zins continued to
improve and they brought recognition to the Dry Creek Valley, with it's old vineyards, as the
source of some of California's finest Zins.
I developed a real love affair with Dave's Cabernets. They were polished, smooth, spicy and
very good drinking. In an era of heavy hitters like Joe Heitz, Warren Winiarski, and Paul Draper;
it was easy to overlook Dave's Cabernets. But they became a special part of my cellar.
About 1983, I invited Dave to come to Los Alamos and do a tasting of his wines for our group,
an invitation he eagerly accepted. Ever the train buff, I remember well picking him up at the
Amtrak station down in Albuquerque.
I continued to follow his Cabernets. They were always blended with other grapes, exactly as in
Bordeaux. They showed elegance and balance and forsook the bigger-is-better character that most
California Cabernet makers sought.
In 1986, Dave again returned to Los Alamos and we tasted through a decade's worth of his Cabs
from my cellar, from 1973-1984. It was a day of great upheaval in my personal life and I remember
little of that tasting; but my notes indicate the wines were amazing and a clear illustration of
the importance of balance in aging of California Cabernets.
More history: This cute little girl in Dave's office grows up, goes off to college and gets
her degree in Marketing. She marries Don Wallace, who was then supervising the construction of
the huge dam at the headwaters of Dry Creek that now entrains Lake Sonoma. Don decides
to leave construction and return to his farming roots. In the late '80's, the second generation
begins at DCV with Kim in charge of Marketing and Don supervising the DCV vineyards.
About 1989, Don and Kim are on a cross-country journey in their camper. They happen to be in
Santa Fe, along with Dave's mom, on Thanksgiving. They accept my invitation for dinner. With a
huge turkey, a roomful of special friends, and an ample flow of wines; it was one of the most
memorable Thanksgiving dinners I've had.
Fast forward a few years: Kim and Don launch the third generation; with a daughter, Taylor,
and a son, Spencer. Don becomes General Manager at DCV and Kim Vice President/Director of Marketing.
During the late '90's, I drop in at DCV to chat a bit with Don and Kim. They're having some
friends over for dinner that night and invite me to join them at their home near the winery.
Don introduces me to the new DCV Beeson Ranch Zin. I recognize it as, perhaps, the best Zin yet to
come from DCV. It was a memorable evening, with kids galore.
Somewhere in their photo archives, they have this picture of Taylor and Spencer and several other
kids, all in this line of little chairs, driving this "train" across the Atlantic Ocean to France.
And way in the back, in the caboose, sits this big "kid" from New Mexico, wearing a silly hat and
big aviator goggles, calling out "all aboard" and making all the necessary train noises!! This is
the kind of photo you hope will never make it onto the Internet.
These personal remembrances make DCV very special to me. It's been an exciting journey... and
the train ride's not over by a long shot. With the hiring of Bill Knuttle as winemaker several years
ago, the quality of the wines has ratcheted up another notch. The wines are probably the best they've
DCV is not a winery that attracts a lot of attention from the wine cognoscenti. They don't
receive huge scores from Robert Parker. They don't receive a lot of buzz on Internet wine boards.
But they do what they do best..... making good, delicious, reliable wines at a good price.
Their last Zins, from Beeson Ranch and the Old-Vine bottling, are as good as Zinfandel gets.
Their Chenin Blanc and Fume Blanc continue to be good. The Taylor's Vineyard Musque and DCV3 Vineyard
Estate Fume Blancs are as fine as any you can find in the world. The DCV Chardonnay is one of the
few California Chardonnays I ever drink. And Merlot?? It's probably the only California Merlot I've
tried over the last several years.
So...what does the future hold for DCV?? With Don stepping up to President, I don't foresee any
dramatic changes. Dave is certainly not going to "sail into the sunset" and will continue as
Ambassador for DCV. As more of their vineyards come into production and mature, I expect the wines
will continue to improve.
And...maybe.....sometime down the road, I'll stop by Dry Creek Vineyard to meet their newest
marketing whiz....Taylor Wallace. Or maybe the new cellar rat, Spencer, will be out back; hosing
down a tank or topping off barrels. And...just maybe...they'll remember that wild train ride
across the Atlantic a few years earlier!! Especially if the picture shows up.
TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.