September 2008 Archives

I'm still pinching myself.  For the first time in 36 yearSonoma County Harvest Fair 2008s we have won a Sweepstakes Award at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair! On Saturday night, our 2007 Fumé Blanc was selected the “White Wine of the Year” out of 1051 entries. Talk about exciting…we still can't believe it.

That's the good news. Now here's the bad: I missed the whole darn thing! Every year we submit wines for judging at the Harvest Fair. And for decades, we've attended the swanky awards night, donning our best duds, standing shoulder to shoulder, sipping wines and grazing hors d'oeuvres while we anxiously await the announcement of all the medal winners. I have honestly gone to this event so many times, I've lost count. (All I know is that some of the people aren't aging as gracefully as their wines!)    

But this year it was a case of the kids come first. Our teenage daughter asked at the last minute if she could invite a few friends over, namely a boy. This was a parenting opportunity just too good to miss. So there we were chaperoning a bunch of pimply-faced teenagers, when we got the call. We'd won the Biggest Award in Sonoma County for our signature white wine-unbelievable! It's a little bit like winning an Oscar right here in our own backyard. Judges come from all over the country to competitively taste the bounty of the county. And, while we've won scores of gold, silver and bronze medals over the years, we've never won the coveted Sweepstakes Award.

So if you haven't tried our signature Fumé Blanc, this is the vintage to try. It's absolutely delicious with zippy, zesty, invigorating citrus fruit flavors and aromas. And, at $14.50 a bottle, you needn't feel guilty about splurging on a Sweepstakes Winner!  

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Every September, I tread off to Napa for the annual Wine Industry Financial Symposium. Now in its 17th year, this conference is supposed tWine Industry Financial Symposiumo give us the latest and greatest in financial information, so we can run our businesses better and navigate the choppy waters of our times.  I'm not sure it achieves all that, but it does provide a snapshot of trends, challenges and opportunities. Of particular interest, are the results of an industry survey that the University of California at Davis puts out.

I remember years ago when neo-Prohibitionists were considered our primary threat. Everyone was a buzz about how to protect our beloved industry. We came away well versed and armed with talking points on how to combat the anti-alcohol movement. Then there was the year that White Zinfandel was proclaimed the next best thing. (Thankfully, this one passed us right by!) After that it was Chardonnay. This was followed by Merlot. Then, one year we learned about Generation X. I was a Generation Xer myself, and I began to spend way too much time trying to analyze the demographics of my social circle.  Of course that was BK (before kids) and The Husband and I had a lot more time to sit around and ponder this stuff while drinking a good bottle of Zinfandel!

This year, the over-riding messages were consolidation (both at the distributor and winery level), Internet sales, and the potential of the Millennial generation to be the largest market for fine wine in the history of America. Every year, 4 million people turn 60, and another 4 million will turn 21. So the market is growing. And unlike my parent's generation, or even my own, these young people are enthusiastic about wine and not afraid to experiment.

The symposium has changed a great deal over the years. It used to be 75% of attendees were winery owners with just a small group of bankers, venture capitalists, and financiers. Despite the economy, I was struck by the sheer number of “guys in suits” representing the financial industry in one form or another. Bankers, private equity firms, analysts, insurance agents…all there making it clear that money is available and brands are desirable for acquisition, growth and consolidation. There was an entire panel devoted to this. And while we all hesitantly speculated about the impact of the situation on Wall Street, we agreed with cautious optimism that when times are tough, people still drink. And, wine is a relatively affordable luxury.

Probably the most profound realization was when I looked around the room. To my left sat Margaret Duckhorn (Duckhorn Vineyards). To my right was Warren Winiarski (Stags Leap), both pioneers of iconic brands who've been acquired recently. I realized what a dinosaur I'm becoming…an endangered species practically, as few of the people I grew up with are still around. Even keynote speaker Michael Mondavi, who spoke passionately about the importance of authenticity and family values in branding today, was a harsh reminder of the rapidly changing environment in which we do business.

I came away with a new mantra. AUTHENTICITY. The fact that we've been that way for over 36 years, and now it's considered trendy is somewhat ironic.

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Sometimes it seems that everyone and their brother is after a free case of wine. Every charitable cause known to mankind has hit us up for a donation at one time or another. It's just one of the things I've come to expect and accept about being in this industry. But I must admit it gets a bit old after a while, especially when budgets are tight and the financial pressure is on.

Mothers Against the Cruelty of Moths. Concerned Citizens in the Fight Against Hickeys. Or my favorite, Snowboarders in Search of a Future. Just kidding of course, but honestly, we could give away every last drop of the stuff to worthy causes if we were so inclined. And that's just the wine. At one point our cash donations were the equivalent of an entire employee!  So for the last few years, we've tried hard to limit our charitable donations to local causes, schools and our support of US SAILING. But, another one recently pulled at our heart strings -The National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

My sister was afflicted with MS several years ago. So, I have witnessed first hand how debilitating and unexpected this disease can be. And currently, there's no cause and no cure.

A couple of months ago, I was approached by the Northern California MS chapter about getting involved in their largest fundraising event, Bike MS: Waves to Wine Ride 2008. This annual event attracts cycling enthusiasts from all over the world in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis. This year, over 1700 cyclists cruised the scenic roads of wine country, winding past our winery to the finish line at Lake Sonoma. We provided boatloads of wine and pledged $1 a bottle for Fumé Blanc sales in the tasting room. While it doesn't come close to the $1.3 million dollars they raised, it felt good to support something that directly hits home with my family.

Next year, I hope to get off my duff and form our own team in honor of my sister. No more excuses, it's time to just do it! 


click photo to enlarge!
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I am in the middle of a very exciting project and one that only comes around every so often — a complete new label design! For those of you who are die hard Dry Creek fans, and love our sailboat labels, don't worry, I'm not getting rid of our characteristic sailboats (horrors!).  Nor, am I going to some weird outlandish design, what I call the “hey, look at me damnit” label.  (Lord knows there are enough of those out there.)  And, I promise you no critters will ever grace our labels!

Rather, it's a refinement of the original design and layout, with a revised use of the oil paintings that we had commissioned by local artist Michael Surles years ago. I'm working with Tony Auston of Auston Design Group, who by the way, I highly recommend.

A project like this, for a brand like Dry Creek is tricky. We have years of brand recognition and very identifiable wine labels. And, we can't afford to screw it up!  But, it's time we have a package that reflects the true quality and distinction of our wines. So while sailing and all things nautical are still family passions, I'm toning them down a bit to portray a more upscale and serious image. But don't think we're going to get all snooty and arrogant like so many others who've entered this industry. No way man. However a grown up version of our former selves is in order, given the serious quality of our wines these days.

I'm also hoping to come up with a tagline that we can use. Something that captures the true essence and authenticity of our family winery and wines. So, if there are any brilliant word meisters out there, I'd love to hear your ideas!

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I woke up this morning to the welcome relief of a cool foggy morning, as it has been blisteringly hot these last two weeks. Temperatures well into the 100s were the norm, and everyone from the UPS guy to the dog was complaining. As a result, we are already 50% done with the 2008 harvest! People often ask me if this quick ripening of the grapes is any better or any worse for wine quality. So, I sat down with winemaker Lisa and asked a few questions while she took a brief moment to catch her breath.


What has been the biggest challenge of the 2008 harvest thus far?

“Everything coming in all at once! The last two weeks of hot weather has led to everything ripening all at once. It's been a real juggling act to schedule picking as everybody wants to pick at the same time. We've had to be very organized and plan way ahead to ensure we're on the picking schedule and that we have adequate tank space, etc. This is also a year where some degree of faith and intuition is part of the picking decision-making process, since scheduling has been such a challenge. I've heard of some winemakers really being caught by surprise. I'm just really glad I have the history I do with our vineyards, otherwise, it would be even harder to make these decisions.”

What came in first, and what do you predict will ripen last?
  "Sauvignon Blanc came in first, just like usual, and we'll pick Cabernet last."
How do you really know when a grape is ripe? Do you ever cheat just to get something picked before the end of the day?
  "Never! The ultimate test is taste, which is why I'm out there tasting our vineyards over and over until we know there are no more unripe or “green” flavors. And, because different sections of a vineyard can ripen differently, it's critical to taste all areas of the vineyard to determine their ripeness. For example, there was a 1-day spread between picking the east and west side of one of our Merlot vineyards this year. Last year that spread was 10 days.”
How do you juggle tank and barrel space?
  “This is one of the hardest parts of harvest, especially in a year like this where everything's happening all at once. We just try to make the smartest choices we can. Creative tank juggling!"
How are overall crop yields compared with last year?
  “That depends on the variety. Chardonnay is down, Sauvignon Blanc yields are bit up, and Zinfandel seems a bit low, but it's hard to say, as we're not done picking. Ditto for Cabernet
What do you predict will be the outcome, quality-wise of the 2008 vintage?
  “That's impossible to say and anyone who tries to predict it at this point is crazy!”
What's the first thing you'll do after we finish this year's crush?
  “Sleep in and maybe see a movie. (But definitely not Bottle Shock!)”
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Sometimes I just crack up when I think about myself blogging. A year ago, I hadn't even heard of this form of communication and now I'm a regular with 40 posts so far!  Really folks, I am the least likely person to engage in this form of high tech gibberish.  

Anyway, like most business people today, I am constantly bombarded by all kinds of online sales and marketing venues. FraClick to visit www.winewoot.comnkly, there are so many, it's hard to keep track.  But, I recently learned of a very cool website called If you haven't heard of them, you simply must check it out.  This is an online retailer that features a special assortment of wines for a one-week period. Kind of a “get it while it lasts” approach like the Nordstrom's Half Yearly Men's Sale.

What's unique is that they have a very active blogging community (known as “wooters”) with a shared passion for wine. I was recently a guest “wooter” and had loads of fun. We made scores of new customers and received instant feedback on our wines through their innovative “labrat” program.  Apparently, hordes of high tech wine geek types find all kinds of unusual offerings at bargain prices. More importantly, they are learning and growing in their wine knowledge and proving that wine buying doesn't have to involve getting in the car, driving to the store, and staring at aisle after aisle of confusing labels. This could be just the panacea for wine lovers who don't want to add the cost of gas to their everyday consumption habits.

So, if you're reading this post, check it out. And, if you know of other online wine sites that we should pursue, please do let me know!
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I have illuminating news. Michelle Obama is a bargain hunter. I know this for a fact because she's wearing the same dress I have in the August 4 issue of People Magazine. And, I bought mine for 39.99 at the H&M store in downtown Chicago, her home town. So there you have it. Even wannabe president's wives are frugal fashionistas. What's all this nonsense have to do with wine? Absolutely nothing! Except that change is in the air and I for one, am optimistic about the future of this country and specifically, our economy.

However others, including our very own board members, don't agree. They're convinced that things are going to get worse before they get better in the good ole' US of A. Thankfully, we make a bunch of reasonably priced wines to satisfy people's thirst for great wine at a great price. Case in point, our 2007 Chenin Blanc, just got selected by Sunset Magazine as the white wine STEAL OF THE YEAR. I'll repeat, STEAL OF THE YEAR!!! This could not come out at a better time for us. And, we have plenty of inventory, which is not always the case when you get a great review.  On top of that, it's featured as a GREAT BUY in this month's issue of OPRAH. And everyone knows that what Oprah says, goes!!! 

So, if you're looking for a delicious wine that won't break the bank, check out our 2007 Chenin Blanc! Serve well chilled as an aperitif or with lighter foods, and you're all set for a good time. And, if you want to play a fun trick on your self proclaimed wine expert friends, disguise the label with a brown paper bag and see if they can guess the varietal and the price. Chances are they won't have a clue and you'll end up looking like a wine hero!

Click the graphics
to read the reviews

Click to read the review!

Click to read the review!


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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2008 is the previous archive.

October 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


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Honorable Mentions

Wilma Hits The World of Blogs
Most Intriguing New Wine Blogs of 2008
Midwest Wine Guy
Winery of the Month
Julia Flynn Siler
Meritage wines - and a fascinating glimpse into family business
Winery Web Site Report
New Winery Blog: Wilma's Wine World
Start Up Ladies
Insider's View of Family Owned Dry Creek Vineyard
The Glue that Keeps the Whole Thing Going
Atlanta Dish
Blog of the Week
Blind Muscat
The Merits of Meritage
Boston Wine Expo exhibitors, and the reason why winemakers are so darn happy