Monday, November 27, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard: Sonoma Winery Visit

Dry Creek Vineyard is celebrating 45 years of family winemaking. We did some celebrating of our own, making the winery our first stop on our recent trip to Sonoma.

A Winery Of Firsts

Dry Creek Vineyard is a groundbreaker in many ways. It was the first new winery established in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley following Prohibition and founder David Stare paved the way for a winemaking rebirth in the area.

Recognized as the first winery to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley, the winery also pioneered Bordeaux-style blends. In fact, Dry Creek Vineyard was the first to use the term Meritage (with its 1985 vintage) and the first to coin the term “Old Vines” to describe pre-prohibition Zinfandel vineyards.

That’s a lot of firsts. Enough, in fact, to make it our initial stop in wine country earlier this month.

Satisfying A Thirst For History

Dry Creek Vineyard is certainly a suitable name for this iconic winery, but in this dry valley, the winery is an oasis of flowering plants, growing vines and sustainable farming. We went through the front entrance, which has as much ivy as the outfield at Wrigley Field, and into the tasting room.

High above sun shone into the tasting room through a stained glass window featuring a sailboat, a signature image for Dry Creek Vineyard. Meanwhile we were treated to a glass of chilled Dry Chenin Blanc and Fumé Blanc, both 2016 vintages.

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As we enjoyed these crisp, refreshing wines, Sara Rathbun, the DCV marketing and communications director, related some of the rich history of the winery. Dry Creek Vineyard was the first winery in Sonoma to put “Fumé Blanc” on the label – a fact I found even more interesting as a downed a glass. The DCV Fumé is one of my favorite white wines.

The estate was formerly a prune orchard. Thankfully founder David Stare ripped up the prune trees and planted grapes, including Sauvignon Blanc, which he was told would never grow. Stare not only pioneered Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley, he pioneered the Dry Creek Valley appellation itself.

We contemplated an interesting history display while we enjoyed the 2014 DCV2 Four Clones Zinfandel and moved into the vineyard. The wine incorporates four distinct clones (Bradford Mountain, St. Peter’s Church, Primitivo and Dupratt) on St. George rootstock to preserve the heritage and authenticity of these old vineyards.

Value And Spectacular Specialization

Walking in the vineyard garden (which is also an insectary) we also sampled another standout Zin, the Heritage Zin. Together with the Fumé Blanc, they are a pair of great values that overdeliver enjoyment and craftsmanship.

The Heritage Zin is the result of a special project wherein old vines from a pre-Prohibition vineyard were grafted onto young phylloxera-resistant rootstock. The result -- a “young” vine with “old vine” Zinfandel characteristics.

We had a chance to savor four different Zinfandels, displaying the DCV mastery of this signature Dry Creek Valley grape. In addition to the Four Clones and Heritage Zin, we tasted the 2014 DCV7 Wallace Ranch and 2014 Vogensen Ranch Western Slope single vineyard Zins.

Each of the three single vineyard Zins retails for $40. Each had its own unique flavor profile – and fans in our tasting group.
The Four Clones had an amazing balance between acidity and dark fruit. Wallace Ranch had notes of caramel and cola while the Vogensen Ranch offered raspberry, floral and anise flavors.

Triumphant Trio

Crisp, refreshing whites – check. Superlative single vineyard Zins – check. Now we were ready for another strong suit for Dry Creek Vineyard: Bordeaux-style reds.

One of our favorite red wines, and one we readily recommend to friends, is The Mariner. The Mariner is a Meritage and the 2013 vintage is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

Just as the trusty Mariner pilots the ship through rocky waters, so the winemaker is the captain of this wine, picking just the right blend.

The 2013 vintage is another winner, with blueberry and vanilla and a dash of spice. Enjoyed at a picnic table on the beautify winery grounds, there are few finer wine experiences.

Something completely new to me was the special 45th Anniversary 2014 Cabernet. This is made in the style of founder David Stare, with a 3% dollop of Spencer Hill Zinfandel added to the wine.
American oak is used in another nod to the winery’s roots. The bottle is badged with a retro label featuring the original winery logotype.

This anniversary bottle is only available to wine club members or at the winery. It is a rich, rollicking wine – flowing smoothly on the tongue with a lingering finish.

We were then treated to a rock-star wine: the 2014 Endeavor, the winery’s high end Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are grown in the Lytton Springs district of Dry Creek Valley and it includes 10% Petit Verdot. The terroir has a distinctive stamp, resulting in notes of cedar, strawberry and toast. This is a wine to savor. Dry Creek Vineyard has been quite innovative in their packaging, and Endeavor takes it to a new level with a striking yet subtle painted design.

An exclamation point was added to mark the end of our visit: a taste of the 2009 Mariner. Far from being a crusty old seafaring soul – the Mariner has mellowed with time. The years have polished the tannins, rounding all the edges into a smooth luxe experience. This almost makes me wish I had aged all my Mariner bottles. Almost, because each was quite delicious and enjoyed with the best of friends.

Dry Creek Vineyard has a remarkable history. It was a treat to drink it in first hand at the winery. We suggest you make it a stop on your next visit to Sonoma. Even if California isn’t in your travel plans, you can enjoy a taste of the family tradition at your nearest wine shop.

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