Dry Creek Vineyard
Suggested Retail: $16
“We’ve been enjoying Dry Creek Chenin Blanc for a long time—maybe as long as this Sonoma County winery has been making it. For most of those years the grapes have come not from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley that is home to the winery and source of its identity, but from Clarksburg. Now defined by an official AVA (American Viticultural Area), the once-obscure growing region has become known for producing great Chenin Blanc fruit. The Clarksburg soils are sandy, silty and loamy and, due to frequent Delta breezes coming in from the west, the region is cooler than what’s typical in Sacramento, just 20 miles northeast.
“David Stare was a fan of wines from the Loire Valley and began making wines from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, grapes native to that part of France, when he started his Dry Creek Vineyard winery in 1972.
“In this era, Chenin Blanc was a very popular grape variety in California. For Instance, over in the Napa Valley the 1968 Chenin Blanc acreage was nearly three times that of Chardonnay. At 616 bearing acres, this grape represented more than half the vineyard space devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Charles Krug Winery was selling many, many cases of Chenin Blanc and many other wineries in Napa included this grape variety in their product mix. But Chenin Blanc, often made in a sweeter style than is popular with American drinkers today, began to fall out of favor as Chardonnay ascended.
“A popular observation heard these days is that ‘Cab is king in the Napa Valley.’ In 2018 there were nearly 22,000 bearing acres of Cabernet in Napa, with a few hundred more planted, but not yet bearing. Over 5,900 acres of Napa Chardonnay were crushed in that year. And Napa Chenin Blanc? Well, the total acreage of Napa vineyard land devoted to Chenin Blanc was eight. Yes, that’s eight (as in less than 10) acres. The evolution may be due more to economics than the public’s changing palate. Average price per ton paid for those few acres of 2018 Napa Chenin Blanc was $1,813—not bad, but much less than the $2,917 average paid for Napa Chardonnay. All those acres of Cabernet fetched an average of $7,925 an acre, however. It’s difficult for a vineyard owner to justify growing an under-paying variety on very pricey real estate, no matter how much he appreciates its charms.
“Happily, there are still people like Dave Stare and his daughter, Kim Stare-Wallace and her husband Don Wallace, who appreciate the charms of Chenin Blanc and regions like Clarksburg capable of producing outstanding fruit from this grape variety.
”The 2018 vintage of Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc is fermented in stainless steel and made in a style to emphasize the freshness of this grape variety. This dry Chenin Blanc exhibits charms that are subtle, rather than bold. Aromas of melon and maybe some honeysuckle and orange blossom are followed by flavors leaning toward Bartlett pears and lemon curd. The grape’s natural citrussy acidity offsets the slight amount of residual sugar (0.4%) left in the wine after fermentation and there is a feeling in the mouth that is rich and full—almost viscous. Those used to drinking bigger, oakier styles of Chardonnay might not immediately appreciate the charms of this wine, but with growing familiarity they could become converts.”
Food Affinity: “Excellent when paired with briny oysters on the half shell. We think you wouldn’t go far wrong if serving with almost any fish or chicken dish, but this Chenin Blanc’s orange/lemon aspects would be highlighted when poured with fish or poultry incorporating lemon or orange in their preparations.”