Back in April, I spent two great days in the Dry Creek Valley, meeting several growers and wine makers, and visiting a handful of wineries. Up until this last stop, I had visited (with the exception of Ridge, of course) smaller producers in the Valley. Not many would classify Dry Creek Vineyard as a small producer with over 100 thousand cases produced, but all would recognize the pivotal role that the winery has played in the history of Dry Creek Valley and Northern Sonoma County.
I strolled into the spacious, yet not ostentatious tasting room, weaved through the dozen or so people tasting at the bar, and disclosed to the tasting room attendant that I was looking for my host for the day, Bill Smart, the Director of Marketing and Communications. Moments later, Bill came out with a welcoming smile and a hearty handshake. I instantly thought I was not going to like Bill very much. He was sporting a full beard–something I have tried to do numerous times in my life, but failed horrifically each time (and therefore I carry a bit of a grudge against those that can).
It turned out that he was an incredibly nice guy despite the beard (yes, I remain steadfast in initially judging people based on their facial hair–I’ll admit that I am a little bitter). Bill, who has been with the winery nearly ten years, would lead me through a tasting of several wines, while sharing a bit of the history of the winery and exhibiting his considerable wine knowledge.
In the late 1960’s, the founder of Dry Creek Vineyards, Dave Stare, was traveling in France when he became smitten with the wines from the Loire Valley. When he returned to the U.S., he was determined to open a winery, and after some searching, he bought a run-down prune orchard in the Dry Creek Valley where he established the Dry Creek Vineyard in 1972.
He modeled the property after what he had experienced in the Loire and, despite being advised against it from some respected wine growers at the time, he was resolute to first plant Sauvignon Blanc (one of the signature grapes in the Loire) in his vineyard, which he was able to purchase some from a nursery in Clarksburg, CA–about 100 miles away. His decision to eschew that advice was a good one–Sauvignon Blanc has not only thrived at Dry Creek Vineyards, but it has become the signature white variety of the Dry Creek Valley.
Today, the second generation of the family is very much involved as Dave’s daughter, Kim Stare Wallace serves as the winery’s President, and her husband, Don, is a partner and former president and general manager of the winery.
While the family owned vineyards, mostly in the Dry Creek Valley, provide nearly 70% of the fruit needed for production, Dry Creek Vineyards sources additional fruit from both the Russian River Valley (Chardonnay) and Clarksburg (Chenin Blanc) to produce the winery’s 20 or so different bottlings.
Bill and I sat down outside in the tasting room’s courtyard to go through a few of the nationally distributed wines.
2013 Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc: Retail $12. Fermented and aged in 100% stainless steel, the wine is rich and a bit unctuous with bright acidity and a steely minerality. The tropical notes on both the nose and the palate lend this a sense of sweetness despite the near-dry (0.6% residual sugar) fermentation. Bill told me that Dave Stare’s goal was to “put the best wine in the bottle and charge a fair price for it.” I am not sure if this is the best wine, but is a darned good one, and for $12? I would buy it. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2013 Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc: Retail $13. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Dave Stare “borrowed” the name from Robert Mondavi and the winery has considered changing the name of the wine, but according to the feedback provided by their customers, it has become a part of the wine’s identity and so it remains. The wine, which represents over half of the winery’s yearly production, is a 50/50 blend of fruit from Dry Creek Valley and the neighboring Russian River Valley. With a nice floral component initially, the wine is clean and bright with some additional citrus notes. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2013 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc: Retail $18. While this wine is vinified in exactly the same way as the Fumé Blanc, it is 100% Dry Creek Valley fruit and 9% Muscat is added to round out the acidity and provide a bit more floral nose. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay Russian River Valley: Retail $20. There is certainly some oak here, which is not obtrusive, but this is more of the “traditional California” style Chardonnay, since 70% of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and 40% sees new French oak (with the remaining 60% in 1-2 year old barrels). The wine is a pleasing creamy lemon curd, with nice acidity on the finish. This is another wine that, for the price is a no-brainer. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel: Retail $19. 14.5% ABV 85% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah. 70% of the fruit comes from Dry Creek Valley (where grafted onto old vines–thus “heritage”), while the other 30% is from the Russian River. Rich red fruit and spice (sage and thyme), this would be a great pasta wine, or paired with red meat off the grill. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2010 Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $25. 100% Dry Creek Valley fruit from 10 different vineyards.There is both pepper and a bit of tobacco on the nose, with nice fruit initially on the palate. A bit thin through the mid -palate, but there is a nice finish with hints of mocha. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2011 Dry Creek Vineyard “The Mariner” Meritage: Retail $45. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec. 100% Dry Creek Valley. Great red berry fruit initially, followed by some darker fruit and spicier notes. On the palate, the fruit is initially forceful, but gracefully mellows over the mid-palate, leading to a spicy finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Last, Bill handed me one more bottle on my way out, which I recently had with my beloved tri-tip (and my wife, of course) at home.
2011 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel DCV2 Four Clones: Retail $40. This needs time. Let me repeat: This needs time. At first, fruity and rather one-dimensional, but as the evening wore on, the wine revealed some more depth and secondary flavors. Dark red fruit, licorice, cassis–really inviting nose. On the palate, a wave of fruit initially with some chocolate. The finish really wants to linger, but fades a bit too soon. Initially? Very Good. 86-88 Points. With some air? 89-91 Points. In a year or two? I think this firmly achieves Outstanding. 91-93 Points.