“Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.”  Pope John XXIII

A dry creek is not fun for fishermen or sailors, but if you’re an oenophile, the Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County California is a joy for the taste buds and offers you great value in both pricing and grape education.  My travels through Sonoma County required a trip to Dry Creek Vineyard, because  both guide books I used recommended their Fume Blanc (a.k.a. Sauvignon Blanc), Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel.  The guide books were correct, but didn’t go far enough. Dry Creek sails ahead of the pack with other wines too.

Owner David S. Stare graduated from MIT with an engineering degree.  But after travelling through the Loire Valley in France, Dave realized his true passion was wine. He began winemaking classes at the University of California (Davis) and founded Dry Creek in 1972.  It was the first vineyard established in Dry Creek Valley (now an AVA) since prohibition. In all, Dry Creek makes 24 wines including Chardonnay and several labels of Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Cabinet Sauvignon, as well as Merlot and red blends, a Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir and dessert wines.

It’s often said that winemaking involves precision (among so many other things) and an engineer’s discipline is evident in Dry Creek’s consistency. So is the influence of David Stare’s trip through the Loire Valley. This was especially evident to me with the 2011 (Clarksburg) Dry Chenin Blanc.  Like Rodney Dangerfield, the chenin grape “gets no respect”.  Call it, instead, Vouvray, Savennieres, Anjou or Samur and the perception changes, along with price. While I respect the influence of terroir (and I do), I have to remind people at times that all these wines are from the same grape. (France identifies wines by the region {appellation} while in the U.S. we identify wines by grape).
Joe Czesnakowiz showing me the grapes

There’s another problem:  in the late 70’s & early 80’s, Chenin was overproduced and often of poor quality. It became the “white Zin” of its time and not for “serious” wine drinkers. Thankfully, Dave made a courageous commitment to Chenin at Dry Creek from its start, knowing how great well made Chenin could be.  Dry Creek’s Dry Chenin Blanc has, over the last several years, earned more than 30 gold medals. A recent vintage earned seven top awards, including a Double Gold at the California State Fair and a Gold Medal at the international Wine Challenge in London.

This is a beautiful wine of pale straw with brilliantly clear edges and a lemon-citrus nose underlying a base of peach and pineapple. The wine offers rounded tastes of citrus and apple with chalky minerality that develops on the back taste. There are hints of white melon and fruit cocktail syrup without the sweetness. The mouth feel is clean and refreshing due to the wine’s perfect acid-fruit balance.  Having travelled to the Loire myself, I can’t sufficiently express my excitement over this delicious domestic offering from Dry Creek.  Apparently, neither can the French.  In 2004 Dry Creek Vineyard won the “Grandes Expressions de Chenin” award at the Loire Valley Wine Competition in France; the only American vineyard to do so.

I later enjoyed an additional bottle with a Panini of chicken and Havarti cheese on sourdough bread. But I can picture this wine against mildly spiced Mexican food or chilled oysters on the half shell, or mussels in garlic-wine sauce with crusty French bread. I can imagine this Chenin at a picnic with fried chicken and various salads. This is a remarkably versatile wine

Enough said?  ….. Not quite: the price for this elixir is $12.

My surprise continued with the 2011 Rose of Zinfandel. I don’t like rose wines. Then I had two roses in Sonoma that changed my mind. This wine was one of the mind-changers. A spice nose that develops more strongly into clove.  In the mouth, you taste lemon zest, rose, green apple and – if you can imagine it – the green grapes found in canned fruit cocktail.  90% of this juice is free run! $18.

2009 DCV-10 Chardonnay, Russian River AVA:  14 months French oak, 75% maloactic fermentation. I’m worried this will be a butter and oak bomb, but again, I’m surprised.  Beautifully balanced. Vanilla, caramel, pear & apple. A rich mouth feel with a nice finish of baked apple. $30.

2009 Heritage Zinfandel:  Again, the “French” influence is evident. At 13.5% alcohol, this is a softer, more seductive wine than many Zins. A blend of Russian River and Dry Creek Valley fruit, aged 10 months in medium toast American & French oak, (40% new). Raspberry develops into blackberry with traditional black pepper and anise. Smooth finish. Wine Spectator says, “Best of the West for $25 or less” but it is only $19.

2009 Spencer’s Hill Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley AVA): Fermented for 20 days in steel, aged 19 months in French, American & Hungarian Oak, this wine offers a finessed, “old world” balance: (10% Syrah?). Ripe blackberry and plum with cherry tones. Spicy clove finish. This is an ageable wine, but sells out quickly.  $38.

THE BEST PART, tasting! Joe, host extraordinaire, and the "Mizer"   
2008 “The Mariner” (red blend: 48% Cab Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec, 3% Cab Franc). 100% Dry Creek Valley AVA.  The juice spends 20 days being fermented with twice daily pump-overs, then it’s off to 26 months in 100% French oak (52% new). Other than the 6% Malbec, my first impression is that this is a classic Medoc wine. The tannins are smooth. The nose elegant with black fruit and mocha. It offers plum, mocha, black cherry all in wondrous balance. $40.

2005 “Soleil” (62% Semillon, 38% Sauvignon Blanc) 100% barrel fermented in French oak for 14 months. (An American Sauternes-style wine). And the 10% residual sugar spells dessert wine. It presents a sweet mix of apricot and pineapple with a rich and full mouth feel that finishes cleanly. Have it with freshly ground Ethiopian Harrar coffee. $35.

The Mizer wholeheartedly recommends that you put Dry Creek Vineyard on your “must visit” list of wineries. But if you can’t make the trip to California soon enough, you can still visit them via the web. Dry Creek has the best web site of any I visited. You’ll find information on the winery and their vineyards and, of course, descriptions of the wines they produce. There seems to be a trend forming among some wineries to attract interest in their wines with semi-crude, self-perceived humorous but useless descriptions. Thankfully, Dry Creek has not joined in that effort. Their descriptions are useable and helpful. They accurately detail the flavor profile of the wines. On their web site, you may also enjoy the food & wine pairing recommendations, and the “Wine 101” section for those newer to wine drinking. Both provide useable information.

Of course, the best part on their site is the tab that allows you to order wine. A tasting at the winery is always my first choice, but if you can’t make the visit right away, consider a visit via the web. Look at it as pre-trip planning. 
…………………… Jim     
* Visit facebook.com/winemizer for mini-tips on wine & food
3770 Lambert Rd
Healdsburg CA 95448
(707) 433-1000


  1. Jim - this is an excellent post and thank you so much for visiting our winery. Wishing you the happiest of holiday season!


    The DCV family

    1. Thanks, Bill. But I only wrote about what my taste buds directed me to. Dry Creek Vineyards did all he hard work. I hope to revisit you because I understand the 2012 harvest looks to be a great vintage throughout the valley. Follow me on facebook & twitter (WineMizer) where I have posted other news on Dry Creek. Yes, I'm a fan!