Spotlight: Sonoma’s Dry Creek Vineyard Celebrates Half-a-Century
Two and a quarter centuries ago, intrepid folks and families flocked to California in search of gold. This last century, the gold was that land itself—once dredged for glimmering nuggets, the sprawling fields and semi-arid highlands of the massive state had proved fertile ground for viticulture. In 1972, a young David Stare joined this growing movement. A graduate of MIT with a degree in engineering, Stare had traversed French wine country in his post-college years and fallen in love with the classic varietals of the Loire Region: the Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. Enthused by California’s shining wine future, Stare moved with his family to the Sonoma Valley, where a rundown 55-acre prune orchard across the street from the Dry Creek General Store caught his eye. After buying the orchard, Stare planted his first crops: despite the warnings of seasoned California viticulturalists, he went ahead and planted his beloved Sauvignon Blanc in the supposedly unhospitable Sonoma soil. The varietal flourished, and the rest is history.
Fifty years later, the Sauvignon Blanc continues to be one of Dry Creek Vineyard’s flagship wines—they distribute two selections, one made entirely from Dry Creek-grown grapes, and make several more for vineyard-only tasting and purchase. This success—well-marked by the vineyard’s many years as the official wine of the SAG awards—has rubbed off on the wider Dry Creek Valley.
After putting out the Valley’s first locally produced wine since Prohibition, Dry Creek Vineyard is now the eponymous vineyard for the Dry Creek American Viticultural Area (AVA), a federal Tax and Trade designation which allows wine consumers to learn about the geographic particularities behind their favorite bottles. As Dry Creek Vineyard’s Eastern Sales Director Kurt Spann tells it, the particularities of the Dry Creek Valley are especially diverse and well-suited for a wide variety of varietals and vintages. “The terrain goes from 80 feet above sea level to two thousand, this offers a range of growing conditions rare within such a small AVA—the smallest in California at 16 miles by two.”
But it is not just an exceptional swath of land that lends Dry Creek Vineyard its unique flavors and general flair. Not even close. One of a precious few California vineyards that are still independent and family owned, the second generation of Stares at Dry Creek take meticulous care with each step of the winemaking process. Kim Stare Wallace and her husband Don have worked to keep the winery 100% certified sustainable; this means at least 85% of the grapes are grown on-site, and 100% in California, and that hundreds of agricultural best practices are being followed. But as Spann explains, “this isn’t just ecological sustainability. It means maintaining a family operation that is committed to its community, its employees, and its customers.”
Take Kim and Don’s selection of one of their newer vineyard plots, called Endeavor. The owners spent five years combing topographic maps and running exploratory flights over the nearby hills and vales in search of the perfect plot to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. The spot they eventually settled on—which centers on Lytton Springs—features an amphitheater-shaped growing area which circles a small pond. The water in the rainy months runs down the c-shaped slope, gathering in the pond until it is called upon to irrigate the plants in the drier months. As a testament to the vineyard’s creativity, Don and his team even planted the vines irregularly, spacing them according to the relative fertility of their soil.
This image seems to condense Dry Creek Vineyard’s whole approach: learn all you can about the land on which you are growing and the people with whom you are growing; plant and plan carefully with an eye to quality and sustainable production; find ways to preserve and highlight nature’s incredible bounty.
Experience Dry Creek Vineyard
Half the equation behind any passionate, successful vintners has to be the customers and guests who encounter the wines, recognize their unique qualities and experience the bold, complex flavors. For both producer and taster, this experience is enriched when the wine comes with a story like that of Dry Creek’s. To get this story and see with your own eyes the source of the Vineyard’s singular profiles, consider a visit the Dry Creek Valley the next time you’re near Sonoma—perhaps while visiting one of our Not to Miss California Ski Areas.
Kurt, who has over 20 years in the wine industry, considers the hospitality at Dry Creek some of the best around. The top-notch team offers fun, informative and engaging tastings, as well as tours and private events, all bolstered by a wide array of winery-only bottle releases. You can see, smell and feel the rugged, vine-lined beauty of the terroirs behind your favorite sips.
Alternatively, if a trip to wine country isn’t in the cards, stop in at your local wine shop. Chances are they either have Dry Creek Vineyard, or they have a way to obtain it. You can also join the Dry Creek Vineyard wine club, which gives members discounts on wine, annual tours and event invitations, and regular shipments of the varieties of your choice.
If you’ve followed some of our destination guides, and perhaps find yourself in Mammoth Lakes CA, look no further than the Sierra Sundance Whole Foods Market—unassociated with the chain of the same name—right on Old Mammoth Road. This market has been curating delicious, healthful and wholesome produce and products for Mammoth Lake for almost 30 years; so it’s no surprise that Dry Creek Vineyard wines are a staple of their bottle selection.
To enjoy one of Dry Creek’s famous Sauvignon Blanc’s in a more fitting setting, sidle up to the restaurant at one of our original accommodation rec’s: the Lakefront Restaurant at Tamarack Lodge. This rustic lodge, nestled amongst towering pines and sitting alongside Twin Lakes, is home to a hidden gem of a fine dining establishment. Savor the citrus notes and light, summery body of Dry Creek’s Sav Blanc as it plays off the sugar braised bok choy and pickled kohlrabi that accompany the Lakefront’s signature Shanghai Rock Sugar Braised Short Rib dish.
Should you prefer a slightly less formal setting that celebrates the wine above all else, wander down to Minaret Road, where Petra’s Bistro and Wine Bar is pouring Dry Creek Vineyard vino, alongside a beautifully diverse menu with enough flavors to pair well with whatever wine you wish to highlight.
If, perhaps, you have made your way to Northfield, Minnesota and the Twin Cities region, and are looking for a taste of Sonoma amidst the plains, be sure to swing by Surdyk’s wine, liquor and cheese shop on East Hennepin Ave. There, alongside shelf upon towering shelf bearing a wide but well-curated selection of fine beers, wines and spirits sits a whole range of Dry Creek Vineyard bottles, for your tasting pleasure.
To have a one-of-a-kind MSP experience, accompanied by a glass of Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel or a Chenin Blanc, check out The Butcher’s Tale, also on Hennepin. The fruit-forward, almost smoky notes of the Zinfandel will perfectly suit the well-spiced, smoked meatiness of The Butcher’s wild boar chaurice or the famous super-slow-cooked beef long rib. For those slightly less carnivorously inclined, head over to the town of Prior Lake, and its modern American eatery Plate. Though mouthwatering meat dishes still feature prominently on the menu, they are counterbalanced by a nice set of seafood-centric small plates and pasta dishes. Now this is definite Sauvignon Blanc territory, and you obviously can’t go wrong by ordering a glass or bottle of Dry Creek’s famous one.
Cleary this is just a little sampler of the interesting and palate-whetting restaurants and boutique shops at which Dry Creek wines are available. Should you be in the MSP area or Mammoth Lakes, be sure to check out the above locales; should you be anywhere else, keep your eyes peeled for the fruits of this unique Sonoma Vineyard, and experience what fifty years of passion, love and care for one’s craft can produce.