During the 1970s, California began opening many new wineries. The wine boom in California that began in the mid-1960s blossomed to such an extent by the 1970s that new wineries were opening up practically every month.
Dave Stare, who founded Dry Creek Vineyard in 1972, is one of the early pioneers of California’s wine renaissance. He was inspired to go into the wine business after making a few trips to the Loire Valley. Stare took wine courses at UC Davis in the late 1960s, and began searching for vineyards up and down the California coast. When he arrived at Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, Dave found an ideal location--an old prune orchard. He purchased it and immediately began planting vines.
Dry Creek Valley at that time was a sleepy place, made up of family farms and a few prune orchards. The primary grape variety here was Zinfandel. David Stare truly brought new life into the winery business in Dry Creek Valley, opening up the first new winery here since Prohibition. Today, there are 60 wineries in Dry Creek Valley and more than 150 growers. Dave also pushed hard for AVA recognition of Dry Creek Valley; the appellation “Dry Creek Valley” was granted to the region in 1983.
Dave’s trips to the Loire Valley converted him into a Sauvignon Blanc enthusiast, and this variety has played a big role in the wines produced by Dry Creek Vineyard--even though he was advised by some vineyard specialists not to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley. Dave proved them wrong, because Sauvignon Blanc, first planted in Dry Creek Valley by him, has been successful here. Dave also made the decision to produce arguably the most renowned dry Chenin Blanc in California (from grapes grown outside Dry Creek Valley), and it’s a great value--retailing for $12 to $13 a bottle. Dry Creek Vineyard bottles stand out, because most of them have a sailboat on the label (Dave is a sailing enthusiast).
These days, red wines also play a big role in Dry Creek Vineyards’ wines, especially Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, Dry Creek Valley has a strong reputation for its many excellent Zinfandels. Dry Creek Vineyard Winery now has 185 acres of vines, and makes about 20 different wines--almost all of which come from its own vineyards.
In 2007, Dave turned over the running of his family winery to his daughter, Kim Stare Wallace, who is now the President of Dry Creek Vineyard. I met with Kim recently in New York. Kim introduced me to two brand new wines, a white wine, The Mariness, and a new Meritage red, Lytton Springs Meritage. I also tasted the new vintage of one of Dry Creek Vineyard’s premium reds, its Estate Zinfandel, Four Clones Vineyard.
The Mariness is the white wine version of Dry Creek Vineyard’s flagship red wine, The Mariner. A Bordeaux-inspired wine, The Mariner is a Meritage blend of all five red Bordeaux varieties; the 2014 Mariner has 69% Cabernet Sauvignon with the other four Bordeaux varieties making up 31%. Its average retail price is about $36 in the New York metro area.
The maiden version of The Mariness, the Estate 2017, contains the two prominent white Bordeaux varieties: Sauvignon Blanc dominates with 88% and 12% is Semillon. It is a rich, vibrant wine, with fine texture and a lengthy finish. The predominance of Sauvignon Blanc allows you to enjoy it now, but I believe it will improve within the next five years. It has 13.9 percent alcohol. It might turn out to be Dry Creek Vineyards’ finest white wine. Just a small quantity of the 2017 Mariness was made. About two-thirds was barrel-fermented in French oak for 10 days, and was released in November, 2018. It is already sold out at Dry Creek Vineyard’s winery, but you can find it in some restaurants and retail stores, particularly in California. Full list price is $35, and so it should retail for around $28 to $30. 92
Dry Creek Vineyard makes several red Zinfandels, but its finest one might be its single-vineyard Estate wine, its 2016 DCV2 Four Clones Vineyard Zinfandel, now in its sixth vintage. As the name suggests, the wine is made from four distinct clones of Zinfandel (including Primitivo), and the wine also has 4% Petite Sirah. The 2016 was aged for 18 months in French, Hungarian, and American oak (28% new oak), and was released in October,2018. It is ripe and rich, with soft tannins and good acidity. The Four Clones Zinfandel has aromas and flavors of black cherry, with herbal and peppery notes. Velvety on the palate, it can be enjoyed now, but I do not doubt that it can age for a couple of decades. Yes, Zinfandel can age, although most of it is consumed in its youth. 14.3 percent alcohol; $42 retail. 93
Dry Creek Vineyard’s latest Meritage wine (a name Dave Stare was the first to use on California wine labels to indicate that the wine was a blend of Bordeaux vintages) will undoubtedly be rated as one of Dry Creek Vineyard’s finest wines, the 2015 Lytton Springs Meritage--a new wine made from grapes of four specific vineyard sites in the Lytton Springs district of Dry Creek Valley. It is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The Lytton Springs Meritage is balanced, with a velvety texture, aromas and flavors of blackberries, and with good acidity. It is made for aging, but like all Dry Creek Vineyard wines, it can be enjoyed now. Personally, I would hold on to it for several years. It will even get better. It can be compared in quality to a Classified Growth Bordeaux, and I believe that it can age for several decades. It was aged for 20 months in French and Hungarian oak (45% new oak), and released in October, 2018. It’s just coming on the market, with a full list price of $65, but its average retail price should be $50 to $55. Alcohol, 14.5%. 96
Dry Creek Vineyard’s wines have always been reliable, and value-priced. With the release of these three wines, two of them totally new, this winery has raised the bar. Dry Creek Vineyard is a winery to watch. It is only getting better with time.