University of California Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
David S. Stare
FUME BLANC AND HERITAGE WINES IN SONOMA COUNTY:
DRY CREEK VINEYARD'S PIONEER WINEMAKING
Interviews Conducted by
Copyright 1996 by The Regents of the University of California
Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading
participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the development of
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a method of
collecting historical information through tape-recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-
informed interviewer, with the goal of preserving substantive additions to the
historical record. The tape recording is transcribed, lightly edited for
continuity and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The corrected
manuscript is indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and in
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material,
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved,
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement
between The Regents of the University of California and David S.
Stare dated January 29, 1996. The manuscript is thereby made
available for research purposes. All literary rights in the
manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to The
Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. No part
of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University
of California, Berkeley.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library,
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal
agreement with David S. Stare requires that he be notified of the
request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
David S. Stare, "Fume Blanc and Heritage
Wines in Sonoma County: Dry Creek
Vineyard's Pioneer Winemaking," an oral
history conducted in 1996 by Carole Hicke,
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft
Library, University of California,
David Stare, ca. 1990.
STARE, David S. (b. 1939) Winery owner and winemaster
Fume" Blanc and Heritage Wines in Sonoma County: Dry Creek Vineyard's
Pioneer Winentaking, 1996, vii, 83 pp.
Civil engineering background; early interest in wine, and Wine and Cheese
Cask in Boston; studying enology at UC Davis; Dry Creek Valley wineries,
buying property; making Fume Blanc; label design; Zinfandel.
Interviewed in 1996 by Carole Hicke for the Wine Spectator California Wine
Oral History Series, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley.
TABLE OF CONTENTS- -David S. Stare
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Carole Hicke vi
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION vii
I BACKGROUND AND FAMILY
Growing Up on a Farm Near Boston 3
II EARLY WORK EXPERIENCES 9
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1964 9
Interest in Wine: Tasting, and Planting Grapes 9
Living and Working in Germany 11
Developing a Serious Interest in Wine and the Wine Industry 13
Wine and Cheese Cask 14
III DRY CREEK VINEYARD, FOUNDED 1972 16
Moving to California 16
Studying Winemaking 16
Looking for Property in Northern Sonoma County 18
Purchasing Dry Creek Vineyard Property 21
Building the Winery and Making Wine 23
A Distinctive Label Design 27
Marketing and Distribution 29
Planting the Vines; Vineyard Management 32
Pioneering in Dry Creek Valley 34
Sauvignon Blanc: The Dry Creek Flagship Wine 36
Winemakers at Dry Creek 37
Other Dry Creek Vineyard Wines 38
IV DRY CREEK VINEYARD OPERATIONS 41
Expansion in the 1970s 41
Continued Expansion in the Eighties 43
Tasting Room 44
The Nineties 45
Growth of Vineyards 51
Working With Growers 54
Don Wallace 57
Meritage Wines 59
Sonoma County Soleil 62
Dry Creek Valley Appellation Recognized in 1983 64
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley 65
Bug Creek Wine Label: Rose of Cabernet 66
Celebrities Labels 67
Winery Associates Formed 1982
Society of Blancs, 1990 70
Changes in Sonoma County and Dry Creek Valley Wine Industry 74
Sonoma County Technical Tasting Group 75
TAPE GUIDE 79
A Wine Label Samples
B Winery Logbook Facts & Figures 82
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated by Ruth Teiser in 1969
through the action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a
state marketing order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In
1983 it was reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral
History Series with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship
Foundation. The selection of those to be interviewed has been made by a
committee consisting of the director of The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca, president of the Wine
Institute, the statewide winery organization; Maynard A. Amerine,
Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and Enology, University of California,
Davis; the current chairman of the board of directors of the Wine
Institute; Carole Hicke, series project director; and Marvin R. Shanken,
trustee of The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
Until her death in June 1994, Ruth Teiser was project originator,
initiator, director, and conductor of the greater part of the oral
histories. Her book, Winemaking in California, co-authored with
Catherine Harroun and published in 1982, was the product of more than
forty years of research, interviewing, and photographing. (Those wine
history files are now in The Bancroft Library for researcher use.) Ruth
Teiser 's expertise and knowledge of the wine industry contributed
significantly to the documenting of its history in this series.
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry
in subsequent years will be of aid to historians. Of particular value is
the fact that frequently several individuals have discussed the same
subjects and events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from
his or her own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State
Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its
collection of materials readily available for the purpose.
The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft
The Wine Spectator California Winemen
Oral History Series
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed as of September 1996
Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974
Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions,
Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State's Wine
Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies.
Richard L. Arrowood, Sonoma County Winemaking: Chateau St. Jean and Arrowood
Vineyards & Winery. 1996
Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit
Industries. Inc. , 1972
Charles A. Carpy, Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey, 1994
John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986
Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989, 1990
Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente, and Andrew G. Frericks, The California
Wine Industry During the Depression, 1972
William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967
Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg; The Creation of a
California Champagne House. 1990
William A. Dieppe, Almaden is My Life. 1985
Paul Draper, History and Philosophy of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards: 1970s-
Daniel J. and Margaret S. Duckhorn, Mostly Merlot; The History of Duckhorn
Ficklin, David, Jean, Peter, and Steve, Making California Port Wine: Ficklin
Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. 1992
Brooks Firestone, Firestone Vineyard; A Santa Ynez Valley Pioneer. 1996
Louis J. Foppiano, A Century of Winegrowing in Sonoma County. 1896-1996. 1996
Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy. 1984
Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935-
Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian-American Winemaker in the Napa Valley. 1992
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley. 1986
Agustin Huneeus, A World View of the Wine Industry. 1996
Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry.
Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988
Morris Katz, Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management. 1944-1988, 1990
Legh F. Knowles, Jr., Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership,
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other
Wine Enterprises. 1971
Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its
Second Century. 1992
Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Napa Valley.
Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984
Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Napa Valley Estate
Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy, 1973
Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara
Valley Winery. 1986
Peter Mondavi, Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery.
Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985
Michael Moone, Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World.
Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988
Harold P. Olmo, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976
Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California. Davis.
John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California,
Antonio Perelli-Minetti, A Life in Wine Making. 1975
Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, The Law and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Joseph Phelps, Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Classic Wines and Rhone Parietals.
Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry, 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines, 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971
Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony. 1949-1989; Recollections of a
Third-Generation California Winemaker. 1990
Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian, a Leader of the San Joaquin Valley Grape
Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker. 1988
David S. Stare, Fume Blanc and Meritage Wines in Sonoma County: Dry Creek
Vineyard's Pioneer Winemaking, 1996
Rodney S. Strong, Rodney Strong Vineyards: Creative Winemaking and Winery
Management in Sonoma County, 1994
Andre Tchelistchef f , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983
Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers, 1974
Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story. 1992
Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner, Caymus Vineyards; A Father-Son Team
Producing Distinctive Wines. 1994
Wente, Jean, Carolyn, Philip, and Eric, The Wente Family and the California
Wine Industry. 1992
Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley. 1971
Warren Winiarski, Creating Classic Wines in the Napa Valley. 1994
Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971), 1973
John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon; The First French-owned California Sparkling
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -David S. Stare
David S. Stare, owner and winemaster of Dry Creek Vineyard, was
interviewed as part of the Wine Spectator's California Wine Oral History
Series to document his career and contributions to the history of California
Dave Stare built his winery in Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg,
California, in 1972, the first of many wineries to locate there in many
decades. This long-neglected but historically significant grape-growing
valley offered just what Stare was looking for, and he proceeded to make the
area's first Sauvignon Blanc varietal Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc. Widely
hailed as one of California's definitive wines, the Fume Blanc has become the
winery's flagship, but not its only distinguished varietal. Stare also makes
other whites and reds of consistently high quality, including Heritage wines
and a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Dry Creek's sailboat label design is
unusual- -sailboats on Dry Creek?--and his Bug Creek Vineyard label in 1992
celebrated (or made the best of) the phylloxera invasion.
Stare was interviewed in his office at the winery built, as he
requested, to look as if it had been there a hundred years. Dave was
interviewed on January 11 and 12, 1996, and he reviewed the transcript making
This series is part of the ongoing documenting of California history by
the Regional Oral History Office, which is under the direction of Willa Baum,
Division Head, and under the administrative direction of The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley.
July 29, 1996
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
(Please write clearly. Use black ink.)
Your full name David Scott Stare
Date of birth
Birthplace **adison, Wisconsin
Father's full name Fredrick John Stare
Occupation Doctor - Professor
Mother's full name Joyce Love
Birthplace Columbus, Wisconsin
Birthplace Winnfield, Louisiana
Your children Kim Stare Wallace
Romy Joyce Stare
Where did you grow up? Wellesley, Massachusetts
Present community Healdsburq, California
Education B.S., Civil Engineering, M.I.T.; MBA, Northwestern. One
year graduate work in enology and viticulture at Davis.
Occupation(s) . Vintner
Areas of expertise
wine marketina and sales
Other interests or activities sailing, golf, food & wine, travel, railroads
Organizations in which you are active Sonoma County Wineries Association,
Nautical Heritage Society
I BACKGROUND AND FAMILY
[Interview 1: January 11, 1996 ]##'
Hicke: Let's just start this afternoon with when, and where you were born.
Stare: I was born in Madison, Wisconsin on September 22, 1939.
Hicke: Can you tell me a little bit about your parents?
Stare: My dad [Fredrick Stare] was, when I was born, a graduate student at
the University of Wisconsinor he had some research position
there. He was from Wisconsin. His father had been, for a number
of years, the general manager of what, at that time, was the
world's largest canning factory, in Columbus, Wisconsin. And, my
dad went to the University of Wisconsin, both undergraduate,
graduate, and Ph.D. I think he was the youngest person to ever get
his Ph.D. in biochemistry from University of Wisconsin at that
time. I think he got his Ph.D. at the age of twenty- two or twenty-
Hicke: That's impressive.
Stare: My mother was born in Winfield, Louisiana, which is a small town in
central Louisiana. Her father, when my parents got married, was
governor of Louisiana, Governor Allen, who was Huey Long's
successor, some might say his hand-picked successor. But, my
parents met when my mother was a summer school student at the
University of Wisconsin, living at a fraternity house that my
father was a member of, and he had a summer job that summer,
'This symbol (ii) indicates that a tape or a segment of a tape has
begun or ended. A guide to the tapes follows the transcript.
running the fraternity house as a dormitory for summer female
students, summer co-eds at University of Wisconsin. That was
sometime in the mid-thirties.
They got married in about '36, and they lived in Europe for
three years . They came back and were living in Madison when I was
born. I lived in Madison for approximately three weeks, and as a
baby, moved to Chicago, Illinois, where my dad got his M.D. degree.
Then, he went to Washington and Lee University, in St. Louis, for a
year of internship, and then got offered a job by Harvard
University School of Public Health to found and start the
Department of Nutrition. So, he and my mom and my brother, who is
a year older than myself, and myself, moved to Boston in 1941,
December of '41, Pearl Harbor month. And, that's why I was raised
Hicke: Your father has a very famous name in his field.
Stare: He is well known in the field of nutrition. It's probably safe to
say that twenty-five years ago he was probably this country's
foremost recognized authority on nutrition. He still is alive, at
eighty-five, and still does some minor writing and work.
Hicke: How does he feel about wine and nutrition?
Stare: We've had lots of talks about this. His whole feeling about food
and nutrition is anything is okay as long as it's in moderation.
My father is not a wine drinker; I think he's more of a gin-and-
tonic drinker. He was brought up during Prohibition. And I think
people who were brought up during Prohibition were influenced more
by bootleggers of gin and whisky, and he enjoys a couple of gin-
and-tonics a day during the summer, and during the winter it's
probably scotch and water, it's more of a wintertime thing.
I think the only wine he ever drinks is what I give him,
usually two cases of wine at Christmas, and it's always nice to go
visit him because he always has a nice selection of older Dry Creek
wines [laughter]. He doesn't drink very much wine. Someone did
send me, about a year ago, a little blurb from Wines and Vines,
saying that back in the late fifties, my dad gave a talk at some
medical meeting, I think it was Cleveland, where he was talking
about the fact that small amounts of wine and alcoholic beverages
may make you live longer and certainly contribute to your digestive
system. But, as far as wine, per se, I think he's kind of
indifferent toward it.
Hicke: I think the Harvard School of Public Health has done an impressive
job of educating the public.
Stare: Yes, Dad retired when he was sixty-five, which was probably about
twenty years ago, since he's eighty-five now, and he stayed on for
two and a half more years because they couldn't find a replacement.
The current chairman of the Department of Nutrition, Doctor
Willits, is one of the fellows who has done a lot towards this
whole wine-in-moderation movement. Professor Kurt Elison, Doctor
Elison, from Boston University, who was the guy on "60 minutes,"
the CBS "60 minutes" program, Kurt was a student of my father at
one time, and they're good friends.
Hicke: What was your mother's name?
Stare: Her name was Joyce Allen Stare. I like to jokingly say, my
grandfather was one of the leading pioneers in the food
preservation and canning industry in this country--
Hicke: Oh, was he!
Stare: Yes. And my father was professor of nutrition, and I've just
carried the whole family food theme one more step to a more
enjoyment of good food and fine wine [chuckles].
Hicke: Culminates with Dry Creek wines, yes, that's super. Do you have
brothers and sisters?
Stare: 1 have a brother and a sister. My brother is Fredrick; he lives in
Chicago, he's retired. He was a psychology professor for a number
of years, and then managed some personal investments, had an
interest in a French restaurant for a while, and is basically
retired. Fred's a year and a half older than I am. My sister is
Mary Sue. She's about fourteen years younger than I am, and she
lives in Durham, Connecticut, with her husband, who's a doctor.
They have five kids , ranging from a sophomore at Harvard down to a
four year old.
Growing Up on a Farm Near Boston
Hicke: So, you grew up in Boston?
Hicke: What do you remember about that?
Stare: We moved to Boston, as I said, in 1941, and about the first thing
that I can really recall, I recall the day that my dad came back
from the Second World War. When he got back, the next day we went
out and bought a dog. We nicknamed this dog Douglas after General
Douglas MacArthur. Douglas was a wonderful dog. He lived with us
for probably fifteen years, and we bred him; he was a registered
Black Lab[rador]. For a number of years, we bred black labradors
and probably had black labs for twenty-five years, until all the
kids left home, and we didn't want to be involved with dogs
anymore. But that was one of my first memories.
We moved to my dad's present house in, I think, the fall of
1948, when I was nine years old. My dad was raised in the small
town of Columbus, Wisconsin, a city of probably 2,500, and always
wanted to live out in the country. The first two houses he lived
in had been invery definitelya suburban area of the town of
Newton, which is a suburb west of Boston. I think he had always
wanted to live on a farm. So, in 1948, he bought a forty-acre,
run-down farm, fourteen miles west of Boston, in the town of
Wellesley. We moved there in August of '48, and as I say, he still
lives in the same house, although you wouldn't recognize the house
now because it ' s been renovated so many times . But when we moved
there, it was strictly a little farmhouse. I can recall there used
to be tin can lids nailed on the baseboards to cover up holes where
mice and rats had chewed. It was an old farmhouse, built in the
1840s. And, as I say, it's been renovated many times, and
modernized, it doesn't bear much resemblance to what it was back
when we moved there.
Hicke: I think that it's a great thing to save the original building if
Stare: Yes. I think they actually moved there when I had gone away to
summer camp. I came back from summer camp and saw the farm for the
first time. It was a tiny house. My brother and I shared one
small bedroom, my mother and dad shared a second bedroom, the third
bedroom upstairs was lived in by my uncle. My uncle, my mother's
youngest brother, lived with us when he got out of the army. He
came to live with us when he was a student at Boston University.
He lived with us for a couple of years in this little house. They
started in 1950 to add an addition, and in about '56 to add another
addition to the house. The house bears no resemblance to the way
One of the other earlier remembrances of living on the farm:
one other time I had gone off to summer camp; I was shipped off to
summer camp for about six or seven years every summer, loved it.
One day, before I had gone off to camp, we had planted a garden,
and one of the things I had wanted to grow was watermelon. About
two weeks before coming home in the latter part of August, I got a
letter from my dad saying, "We had one large watermelon that was
growing very nicely in the garden," and nothing elsethe other
watermelons hadn't grown. They picked me up at North Station, on
the train, and we went home, and I ran up to the garden, and there
was a large watermelon there, sitting amongst a field of very puny
Hicke: Was it attached to the vine? [laughter]
Stare: No, it was not attached. I later realized he had bought that at
the supermarket that morning [laughter]! I think it still had
grease pencil, "six cents a pound," or something. But, I got a
kick out of that, and still enjoy it very much; it's fun
Hicke: Oh, that was a great story. Did you grow any grapes?
Stare: As a matter a fact, when they bought the farm, there were two rows
of basically Concord--Vitis Jabrusca, hybrid grapes, Concord
variety, two rows, probably each about a hundred yards long, from
which my mother made, for a number of years, grape jelly, and we
used to always have fresh-picked grapes, and they're still there.
Hicke: I guess that's the grape that would do well in a climate like that.
Stare: Well, Concord is the variety that grows commercially in the
Northeast, and was, for many years, the mainstay of the New York
wine industry. It's a wonderful eating grape, but it makes
terrible wine; it's adapted to the snow and the cold winters that
you have back East.
Hicke: What about your school?
Stare: Okay, I went to the Anger Elementary School in Waban, Mass., for
kindergarten, and first, and second, and for about a month of the
third grade. Then I had an operation I used to have big, Dumbo-
like ears, they stuck out a mile, and I felt very self-conscious
about it, and I had a operation on my ears to get them pinned back
so they didn't stick out and wave at you. That was in the fall of
my third-grade year at school.
I came back to school and did not adjust very well, and
sometime during the fall of my third-grade year, my folks took me
out of Anger, and I was enrolled in a school called the Fessenden
School, which was a private day school in Newton, five miles from
where we lived. Actually I repeated; they put me back a year. I
repeated my second-grade year, and then third, forth, fifth, sixth,
seventh, and eighth grade at Fessenden, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Then, for my high-school years, I was sent away to Phillips
Academy, Andover, Mass., and again, thoroughly enjoyed it, although
a lot of people say that some of my idiosyncracies and weirdness is
caused by the fact that I went to an all-boys boarding school.
Hicke: [chuckles] Well, it makes for a good excuse.
Stare: Yes, well, Andover, as you know, is one of the country's leading
prep schools, where former President [George] Bush was a student,
and Errol Flynn was a student there, and lots of famous people went
there. I was there for four years, and again, thoroughly enjoyed
it. After Andover, I enrolled in three undergraduate colleges:
Princeton, R.P.I. [Renssalear Polytechnic Institute] and M.I.T.
[Massachusetts Institute of Technology] . Got turned down at
Princeton, and that, probably, had been going to be my first
choice; got accepted at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute, in Troy,
New York, and M.I.T. I ended up going to M.I.T.
My four years at M.I.T. were spent living in the DU [Delta
Upsilon] fraternity house. I was a civil engineering student at
M.I.T. --not a particularly distinguished scholar, I had about a B
minus or a C plus average, but I enjoyed it. M.I.T. is a school
where you work hard. But I thoroughly enjoyed the four years at
M.I.T. I think if I had realized I was going to be in the wine
business, I wouldn't have gone to M.I.T.; I would have gone to
[University of California at] Davis, or someplace different.
Hicke : Let ' s back up a minute and find out how you got interested in civil
Stare: Okay. My lifelong love has always been railroads. I think- -my dad
says I got this ingrained when I was two weeks old- -we moved from
Madison [Wisconsin] to Chicago, and there used to be a train called
the Hiawatha, which would run from Minneapolis /St. Paul to Chicago,
and stopped in the town where my grandparents lived, Columbus. At
one time, it was one of America's fast trains, and it would only
stop for thirty seconds in Columbus. The story is told that my
mother and dad got on, and then my grandfather started to hand me
up in a basket, and the train started to leave. He threw me up
onto the platform, and I bumped my head on a railing, and that's
how I kind of got ingrained with railroads as a hobby [chortles].
And, I've been a life long railroad buff, all my life.
So, anyway, I don't know how I got into railroads, but I've
been a train buff all my life. About when I was in junior high, my
real goal was to go to work for a railroad. Back in the fifties
and sixties, the railroads were in a bad position; they were down-
sizing, they were losing passengers, they were down-sizing from the
World War II, and they were in pretty bad shape. My initial
ambition in life was to save the railroads.
So, I went to M.I.T. as a civil engineering student. Civil
engineering is one of the traditional branches of engineering that
deals with railroads, construction of right of ways, bridges and
that kind of thing. That's why I majored in civil engineering. It
actually took me until about halfway through my junior year to
realize I hated engineering.
My first summer job at M.I.T. was working for a construction
company as an assistant surveyor, laying out the Callahan Tunnel,
which is the second tunnel that was built across Boston harbor,
connecting the airport to downtown Boston. The first [was] built
back in the thirties, a two-lane tunnel. They built the Callahan
Tunnel in the late fifties, and I worked on that. If you ever go
to that tunnel, there are a couple of curves in it, and I like to
jokingly say, the reason the curves are there is that we did a
sloppy job of surveying, and they had to put the curves in to
correct our mistakes. That's not true, of course.
But, I enjoyed that job, and then my next summer, the summer
between my sophomore and junior year, I spent, like a lot of kids
do, college kids, in Europe, with a backpack and a Eurorail pass
kind of bumming around for two months.
And then the summer between my junior and senior year, I
actually worked for the first time in California. I was able to
get a job with the Matson Steamship Company, essentially as a
mechanical engineer draftsman working on some of the preliminary
designs of their whole container program. Containers and putting
trailer trucks on flat cars were just coming on-line back in the
late fifties and early sixties, and I thought it was a great
future. As it turned out, half the trucks in the country now go by
train in some form. I spent the summer of '61 as a design engineer
for Matson, living in San Francisco. That's the first time I ever
visited the California wine country. After that job, I realized I
So, my senior year at M.I.T., where I should have been taking
advanced courses in soil mechanics and strength of materials, and
that kind of thing, I took a marketing course, I took an economics
course, I actually took a course in naval architecture, which was
operations research, things out of the civil engineering field.
So, I graduated in '62 with a Bachelor's of Science degree in civil
engineering. I really did not quite know enough to be a licensed,
professional civil engineer with what I knew.
Hicke: You were not interested in doing that anyway.
Stare: No, I was not. I also realized in my senior year at M.I.T. that I
wanted to go right on to graduate school and get an M.B.A. So,
again, I applied to maybe four or five schools, I can't recall. I
think the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State, Northwestern,
and I don't know where else. But I ended up going to Northwestern,
which, at that time, ranked itself as one of the top ten business
schools in the country. I suppose if you say, "one of the ten,"
that means you're number ten; if you say, "We are in the top five,"
we are number five [chuckle]. I got married after graduating from
M.I.T., and moved to Chicago, and spent two years doing my M.B.A.
at Northwestern University in Chicago.
II EARLY WORK EXPERIENCES
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. 1964
Stare: I graduated in June of '64 from Northwestern, and then ended up
working for the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad in Baltimore, Maryland.
Again, I mentioned this earlier, I wanted to save the railroads,
and I got a job with B&O Railroad, which was a wonderful place to
work back in the early sixties, or mid-sixties. My summer job
after M.I.T. and at Northwestern, I worked for the Pennsylvania
Railroad as an industrial engineering assistant. The first summer
I lived in Ohio, and the second summer I lived in Chicago.
In my job at the B&O, which began after graduation in "64, I
was an assistant industrial engineer. What made the B&O kind of a
fun place to work is, it was a railroad that had gone badly
downhill in the late fifties and early sixties, and was flirting
with bankruptcy in about "61 or '62. At that time, a controlling
interest was bought by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, and they
brought in a new president, a fellow by the name of Jarvis Langdon,
who was a real forward-thinking guy for the railroad industry back
then. He brought in a staff of bright, young associates, and my
boss Bill Dickson--W. J. Dicksondeveloped an industrial
engineering team on the B&O railroad, and I became one of his
lieutenants, one of his people. I spent about two years doing
that --loved it, loved the company, loved working, you know, trying
to make it more efficient. I spent about two years as an
industrial engineer for the B&O.
Interest in Wine; Tasting, and Planting Grapes
Hicke: Before we move on, let me ask: when did you start drinking wine?
Stare: Probably when I was a graduate student at Northwestern. I vaguely
recall my first wife and I would occasionally buy a bottle of wine,
but I really became interested in wine more as a hobby when I lived
in Baltimore, and worked for the B&O.
Hicke: You moved from Chicago-
Stare: I moved from Chicago to Baltimore, yes. I don't know what actually
got me drinking wine, but we lived--our initial house in Baltimore
was right across the street from a very good wine shop, a gourmet
market with a great wine shop. I'd go in there, and buy an
interesting wine, and take it home, and I actually started
collecting labels. I'd keep a little notebook and take the labels
off the bottles and paste them in the notebook and then write some
comments on them.
Hicke: Would these have been French wines?
Stare: Well, yes, some French wines. One of the ones I particularly
enjoyed at that time was Almaden Mountain Grenache Rose. I'm not
even sure if it's made anymore. I don't think Almaden is in
business anymore, but it's a wine I thoroughly enjoyed, and yet,
it's a wine, if someone offered it to me today, I'd probably stick
up my nose and scoff at it. But, I still have that book around the
house somewhere, and it's kind of fun to see a half bottle of
Chateau Lynch-Bages, which I might have paid two-fifty for back in
the early sixties, a half bottle of that wine today is probably
twenty bucks a bottle for the current vintage.
But, another kind of early influence on my life was a man by
the name of Phillip Wagner. Phillip Wagner used to be the editor
of the Baltimore Sun newspaper, but more importantly, for him and
myself, he was the owner, winemaker, viticulturist of a small
winery called Boordy Vineyards. Boordy used to be located in
suburban Baltimore, and I would occasionally go over to his house
and taste the wine and taste things out of barrels. I was just
kind of fascinated with the whole idea, and actually decided to
plant, in my backyard, forty grapevines. I think I bought forty
grapevines, four different French-American hybrids, ten vines each,
and I put them in my back yard.
Hicke: Do you happen to recall what they were?
Stare: No, I don't. One was a Rivat, I think 244, I think one was a
SV13053, and there was a 5276, and the fourth variety, I forget.
At that time French-American hybrids were called by their French
name or they had their French name, plus a number added; 5276 was a
well-known one. Since then, they've been given varietal names. I
farmed these vineyards for two years, I also made home wine in my
basement for two years. As a matter of fact-- [tape interruption].
[points to photograph] That is me, that is Kathy and Peter
Harrington. Kathy was my first wife's roommate in college, and
that ' s the only picture that exists of our first vintage of wine
Hicke: Oh, you've got a barrel stand- -
Stare: It's a barrel with an end knocked off, a hand crank crusher, and we
are dumping in a load of some red grape. I'm cranking the thing,
and Kathy is laughing, and Peter is laughing.
Hicke: Looks like it was great fun! [chuckles] You must have bought the
Stare: Yes. We bought the grapes. There were, at that time, probably a
half a dozen commercial grape growers, growing French-American
hybrids for Boordy Vineyards , and I bought a hundred pounds of each
of them, or something, and made for two years what turned to be red
wine vinegar. It was horrible stuff; it tasted terrible. I think
the problem was I didn't have the right equipment, and I think to
make good home wine, you've got to spend a few hundred bucks and
make sure you have some decent equipment and know how to do a
couple of elementary lab tests, and I had none of that.
Hicke: You had fun though.
Stare: A lot of fun, yes. And then, I began to lose interest in my job.
I wanted to get into the marketing department, and I was promoted
into the marketing department, and my new boss was a fellow, Earl
Swanson, who, maybe I shouldn't say this--I didn't think very much
of him, and I don't think he thought very much of me.
Living and Working in Germany
Stare: In the marketing department I began to become bored with my job and
was kind of looking around for something to do, and one of the
things I had always wanted to do, something that all parents should
make their kids do, is spend a year abroad- -take advantage of the
high school junior year abroad program. I never did, and I had
always wanted to live overseas. My first wife's grandfather was
Hicke: Can you tell me her name?
Stare: Her name was Gail, her maiden name was Hugenberger.
Hicke: And her father was German-Swiss?
Stare: Her grandfather was German-Swiss. Her dad is a professor at
Harvard too, of orthopedic surgery. When we were both living in
Baltimore we kind of had this goal to ultimately live overseas, or
at least, travel overseas for a while, and we took two years of
night school German at Johns Hopkins [University] .
Hicke: In preparation?
Stare: In preparation. And then my father, for a while, for a number of
years, was the director of the Continental Can Company, and through
my dad--I remember one time asking dad, "I want to get a job
overseas for a couple years, how do I go about it?" And, he said,
"Write this guy, he's the director of Continental Can, European
operation." I wrote him, and this fellow passed my letter on to
one of his German associates. To make a long story short, I
ultimately was offered a job as a marketing research analyst for a
German steel firm that was at that time the world's largest tin
plate rolling mill.
Hicke: What company is it?
Stare: Rasselstein. They offered me a job as assistant marketing analyst,
and I jumped at the chance, and left my job with the railroad, and
moved to Germany for two years, with my family. We lived in the
town of Neuwied.
Neuwied is a Rhine River town about an hour's drive south of
Cologne, Germany. The large component of the town was this tin
plate rolling mill. I worked for two years as a marketing research
analyst, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and at one time spoke fluent
German. Again, living in Germany kind of influenced my decision to
get into the wine business. My boss was a German fellow, Herr
Miiller, and he was an avid wine aficionado and was always talking
about good wine. We'd occasionally go on business trips together,
and he'd always buy the best wines, and show them to me, and let me
taste them, and I became fascinated with German wines.
Hicke: The Rhine wines, the Mosels?
Stare: The Rhines and the Mosels. Neuwied is about a ten-minute drive
north of where the Rhine and the Mosel flow together, and so it's a
great place to visit vineyards in Germany. We were only about a
three-and-a-half -hour drive from the Champagne district of France,
and probably about a five-hour drive from Burgundy.
One of my closest friends from my railroads days is a fellow,
Peter Weber. Peter and his brother-in-law came over in about April
or May of '68.
Stare: Peter and his brother-in-law came over in about April and May of
'68. We spent a week, Peter and his brother-in-law, my first wife
and I, and my younger daughter- -we spent a week with them in
Burgundy and Champagne, had a wonderful time visiting vineyards and
wineries, then took one vacation down to Italy, spent a couple of
days in Tuscany, and visited a couple of wineries there.
Stare: No, basically in Tuscany, where we were.
Developing a Serious Interest in Wine and the Wine Industry
Stare: But, you know, it just became more and more fascinatingthe whole
romance of winemaking, whatever that is. My job was a two-year
job, and in spring of '69, I decided not to renew my contract with
the German company, and moved back to Boston. I resettled in the
Boston area, and made the mistake, the fatal mistake, of taking a
course in wine appreciation [chuckle].
The man who taught the course became a good friend of mine,
Fred Ek. Fred is now one of the partners in our wholesale business
in Massachusetts, which is one of the best markets for Dry Creek.
Through Fred I developed some friends in the wine business, in the
retail, in the wholesale, end of the business.
In June of 1970, I spent two weeks in France on vacation in
Burgundy and Bordeaux, visiting wineries. While having lunch in
the town of Pauillac near Bordeaux, with a couple of retailers from
Boston, and an Irish fellow who worked for a big Bordeaux shipper,
I asked the Irish man, "Do vineyards and wineries ever come up for
sale?" and the guy says, "Yes, as a matter of fact they do, and
right now there are two fairly well-known properties that are on
the market . "
Hicke: In France?
Stare: Yes, in Bordeaux. A place called Chateau Raussan Segla, and a
Chateau Coutet, which is a Barsac wine. I came back from that trip
and talked to a couple of friends who were in the business and
ended up writing a letter to both of the chateaus, essentially
saying, I represent a group of American investors, and we're
interested in buying a vineyard in Europe, and I understand that
your place is for sale, and what's going on?
Hicke: Did you have a group of investors?
Stare: No. Actually, I had a couple of friends who were kind of
interested, but had no investors and no money. But from both of
these chateaus I got a letter back saying, We were up for sale,
we've taken ourselves off the market, here's our information kit,
and if you are serious, we would entertain a serious offer. In
both of them, I had a lot of fun looking through the inventory of
the chateau and the vineyards and the winery, and decided I didn't
want to move to France .
About that same time, there was an article in the Wall Street
Journal talking about California's grape growing and wine making,
what a great future it had. As a result of that article, I called
a fellow who had been a fellow classmate of mine in prep school at
Andover, who was an attorney in San Francisco, a fellow by the name
of Steve Adams. I called Steve up and said, "What do you know
about the wine business?" and he said, "Not very much, but I've got
a good friend who is very heavily involved in it." And he put me
in touch with Lou Gomberg. I'm sure you've met Lou, or interviewed
Lou. Unfortunately, Lou passed away a couple of years ago.
Hicke: We do have a good oral history with him.
Stare: Yes. Steve was interested in wine, and they were both lawyers, and
Lou had founded some group called Lawyer Friends of Wine. Anyway,
I called up Lou Gomberg. This occurred in August, September, and
October of 1970, and I realized that I really wanted to get in the
wine business. My wife was expecting our second child. Also, the
company that I worked for, when I went to France, went bankrupt
about a month after this trip. So I was essentially unemployed,
and flirting with the idea of getting in the wine business. I got
a job as a clerk in one of the better wine shops. I figured if I
wanted to get in the wine business, it was not a bad beginning job
to learn how to sell wine.
Wine and Cheese Cask
Hicke: Where was this?
Stare: I got a job in a company called the Wine and Cheese Cask.
Hicke: In San Francisco?
Stare: No, it was in Boston.
Hicke: Oh, okay, Wine and Cheese Cask.
Stare: Wine and Cheese Cask was and still is one of the half dozen leading
retail wine shops in greater Boston. Boston, fortunately, is an
area today which is not characterized by chain stores, because one
person cannot own more than one license. So, a company like
Safeway could only haveif Safeway were a wine company, they could
only have one grocery store that would have a liquor license, and
all the other 200 Safeways couldn't have on. So, there are a few
chains with liquor licenses, but one store is owned by Mr. Smith,
one store is owned by Mrs. Smith, one store is owned by Mrs.
Smith's brother-in-law, and that's how you get around the law, but
you're effectively not a chain.
Boston is one of the few areas of the country where there are
still a lot of good independent wine shops. In California, people
like Safeway and Albertson's and Beverages and More have driven the
independent stores, a lot of them, out of business. But I got a
job working for the Wine and Cheese Cask in Somerville as a stock
boy, learning about selling wine in the retail business, and
thoroughly enjoyed that.
Hicke: Good experience.
Stare: Oh, yes.
Hicke: Can you give me an example of some of the things that you learned
there that were really helpful?
Stare: Oh, that the customer is usually right, even when he's wrong
[Laugh] . You know, that you've got to give the customers good
value, and be polite to them, and just normal good business sense.
Hicke: So, dealing with customers rather than learning so much about wine.
Stare: Yes, Yes.
Hicke: But that's necessary!
Stare: Oh, I think so, very definitely.
III DRY CREEK VINEYARD, FOUNDED 1972
Moving to California
Stare: In November of 1970, right after my second daughter was born, I
took off and spent two weeks in California. I met Lou Gomberg for
the first time, went to the Wine Institute, talked with their
people, went up to [the University of California at] Davis for a
day, and talked to the people up there, probably went to Fresno
State [University] , and spent a fair amount of time in Sonoma and
Napa, driving up and down the roads, stopping and talking at the
real estate office. I met a couple of bankers, met a fellow from
Bank of America, and I think the Exchange Bank, and Wells Fargo,
and essentially kind of made up in my own mind that what I really
wanted to do--I was having my mid-life crisis earlywas come to
California and get in the wine business.
I went back home from that trip just before Thanksgiving of
1970, told my family that we were moving to California. We put our
house up for sale that we had bought a few months earlier, and I
made several other trips to California, in the winter and spring of
'71, out here.
Stare: One of the trips was to Davis, to take a short course in winemaking
and grape growing.
Hicke: Could you say what kinds of things you learned?
Stare: Well, as a result of taking that course, I realized that winemaking
is a lot more complicated and a lot more scientific than what you
had learned in a three-day course. I wanted to enroll at Davis, so
I spent some time and talked with Professor [Vernon L.] Singleton,
who at that time was the graduate advisor of the Viticulture School
in Davis. He agreed to admit me as a special graduate student
taking course work only; I wasn't a degree candidate. But I had to
take a summer course in organic chemistry. The only college level
course in chemistry I'd had was freshman chemistry at M.I.T., which
was required for all freshman, and I took it in '58- '59, and here I
was, you know '72, fifteen years later, and I had forgotten most of
So in the summer of '71, the last summer I lived back in
Boston, I enrolled in Boston University and took a course in
organic chemistry. It was the hardest course I've ever taken in my
Hicke: After coming from M.I.T. and Northwestern?
Stare: Yes, it was the hardest course; class met Monday through Friday,
8:30 to 12; labs, Monday through Thursday, 1:00 to 4:30.
Hicke: Good heavens!
Stare: BU [Boston University], at that time, was non-air conditioned; the
East, back in the summers, as you well know, can be pretty hot and
humid. It was a miserable summer. I ended up getting a "B" in the
course, working very hard. After finishing that course, we finally
sold our house, I packed my family, and we got in to our car, and
we drove out to California. We spent two weeks on the way camping
out, and we had a nice case of good Bordeaux wine to drink around
the camp fires.
Hicke: Beats those Conestoga wagons.
Stare: You bet. You bet. I arrived out here sometime in August of '71,
in time to start in the fall at Davis, rented a house in Davis, and
I spent my first year there as a graduate student doing course work
only in viticulture and enology.
Hicke: And who did you take your courses with?
Stare: Let's see. Maynard Amerine taught the sensory evaluation course,
that was 125. Professor [Harold] Berg taught 126, which was wine
stabilization, and Professor [A. Dinsmoor] Webb taught the basic
introductory course in winemaking, 124. I think he and Professor
[Cornelius] Ough co-taught that course. I also took Viticulture
116A, and 116B, which are the two basic viticultural courses, which
at that time were taught by JimProfessor Cook--and took the
varietal identification course taught by Doctor Lider. I took all
the basic required winemaking courses, plus organic chemistry, plus
biochemistry and bacteriology.
I had a pretty full schedule, and did well; as Jim Cook, who
was one of the viticulture professors said, "How could a kid from
M.I.T., who's an engineer, do well in ag[riculture] courses?"
[chuckles] I was a straight "A" student, and he was amazed that a
guy from Boston could do that well. But I thoroughly enjoyed the
courses and found them challenging and demanding; I think that when
you like something and you enjoy it, it becomes easy. It's the
courses that you hate that you do poorly in, and the reason you do
poorly in them is because you hate them and don't study.
Hicke: Yes, you're not interested.
Stare: The point is, you hate them. You don't study them. You go home,
"I'm going to study this," you end up doing something else.
Hicke: What do you think, in general, you got out of them? Of course,
it's pretty obvious that you got a lot of specific information out
Stare: Well, you know, I got out of them a good, thorough understanding of
winemaking. The fall of '72, when we actually made our first
wines, we had nothing here, but I actually bought some equipment,
and set it up over at Cuvaison [winery] , and made our first wines
in the fall at Cuvaison.
Cuvaison used to be owned by two fellows, Tom [Thomas H.E.]
Cottrell and Tom [Thomas] Parkhill, who were partners. They had
started Cuvaison, I think, in '69 or '70. I literally was standing
on the wine tank, reading the book on the basic fundamentals of
table wine production and doing what it was saying [chuckles].
Fortunately, Tom Cottrell knew what he was talking about. Bernard
Portet, from Clos du Val, also had set up some tanks there, and
Chuck [Charles] Ortman, who was winemaker at Spring Mountain at the
time, had his tanks there. So, there were four wineries operating
under Cuvaison 's license, doing their fermenting there, and,
obviously, Bernard taught me a lot, and Chuck taught me a lot. But
my first year was pretty much, you know, either friends helping me,
or reading of the text book.
Looking for Property in Northern Sonoma County
Hicke: We're getting a bit ahead here.
Stare: Yes. Okay.
Hicke: While you were in California, and you were looking around for a--
Stare: Right, okay, we are getting ahead. Prior to enrolling at Davis, I
probably made four or five trips out here. One of them was when I
enrolled in that short course in the spring. On these trips, I
would spend a week or two in Sonoma and Napa, and I made one down
to Monterey, I think I made one to Livennore, and one up to
Mendocino, looking at property and talking with the real estate
people, and the folks at Davis. In the early seventies, it
appeared to me that northern Sonoma County was the place to be.
Hicke: Yes, why did you think that?
Stare: In 1971, in northern Sonoma County, you only had about half a dozen
wineries. In Dry Creek you had Pedroncelli [Winery], Frei Bros.,
Chris Fredson. Then you had Simi Winery, you had Foppiano
[Vineyards], you had Italian Swiss [Colony] up in the northern
Alexander Valley, that was about it. And yet, this is an area
where, prior to Prohibition, there had been dozens and dozens and
dozens of wineries. It just seemed that Prohibition killed them
off, then the Depression came along after Prohibition, then World
War II came but nothing brought prosperity back to northern Sonoma
County. Yet there was a potential here. There had at one time
been dozens, if not a hundred, wineries in northern Sonoma County.
The first grapes were planted back here in the 1840s. People said,
you know, that prior to Prohibition, Sonoma County wines were
better known nationally than Napa Valley wines. It just had a
reputation and history going back a long time, and it just seemed
to me that there was a lot of potential here.
Land, at least in the last thirty years, had traditionally
sold for less per acre here than in Napa. I think when I came on
the scene in '71 or "72, the going rate for undeveloped vineyard
landpotentially good, undeveloped vineyard landwas in the two
to three thousand dollars per acre range. Napa Valley, probably at
that time was four to five. And when it became four to five here,
it was six to eight there, and now that it's fifteen to twenty-five
here, it thirty- five to fifty there. And so, the land in Sonoma
County always sold at somewhat of a discount from Napa Valley
Also, land was fairly readily available here. I think this
area was settled possibly a little bit sooner than Napa, so you
have more smaller parcels. And a lot of the first and second
generation farming families that first started growing grapes here
in the 1880s were interested in retiring; their sons had gone off
to college and become doctors and lawyers and engineers, and there
was a fair amount of property for sale back in the late sixties and
early seventies at more affordable prices than in Napa.
The area was only an hour-and-f ifteen-minute drive north of
San Francisco--that was before the days of the big traffic jams,
howeverand northern Sonoma County had the climate, had the
geography, had the history, and was fairly close to the city.
Sometimes I enjoy the citythe symphony, that kind of thing. This
just seemed like the place to start a winery.
Hicke: Did you study or evaluate the land and the climate?
Stare: Oh yes, I spent a lot of time looking at the regions system
developed at U.C. Davis, and I talked to the farm advisor, Bob
Session a number of times. 1 remember meeting Dave Goode. Dave is
one of the leading viticultural experts in northern Sonoma County,
and actually, he came out four or five times, and dug holes with a
back-hoe in various parts to check the soil profiles.
But it just seemed that northern Sonoma County was the place
to locate. I made offers on four or five ranches. The real estate
agent that I was working with, I won't mention his name, but he
turned out to be--he was basically crooked. What he would do is, I
would spend a half a day with him, we'd drive around Dry Creek
Valley and Alexander Valley, and I'd say, "Gee, that's an
interesting looking place," [and he'd say,] "Yeah, that belongs to
Old Man Smith. I heard rumors he's thinking about selling out and
retiring. Let me go talk to him, and let's see what we can come up
with." Well, he would go to Old Farmer Smith and say, "I've got
this city slicker from Boston with tons of money," you know, "I bet
you I could sell your ranch at two thousand bucks more than anybody
else has ever gotten."
It took me about a year to catch on to this, that that's what
his technique was. But I spent a lot of time with him, and I made
offers on probably about half a dozen parcels. I once had a loaded
shotgun pointed at me. We had an appointment to see a ranch, and I
showed up with the real estate agent and knocked on the door, and
the guy came to the door, and the realtor said, "I'm George Jones,
from ABC Realty, we have an appointment, I'm going to show the
ranch to Mr. Stare here." The occupant disappeared and came back a
minute later with a shotgun over his arm, and said, "You know, I'd
kind of appreciate it if you left the property now." "No problem,
sir, we'll call and come back later, no problem."
Hicke: What was that all about?
Stare: For all I know, the guy had a big marijuana patch in the backyard,
or something. That never happened to me before or since.
Hicke: That would be rather startling.
Purchasing Dry Creek Vineyard Property
Stare: But, to make a long story short, as they say, I found this
property. After about a year of working with this agent, I began
to get tired of him and stopped using him.
One day, I was driving up Dry Creek Road, it was spring, about
the latter part of February or March of "72, and there used to be a
farmer named Paul Le Baron, a very well-respected, old-time grape
grower. Paul was on his tractor, cultivating and disking, the
first disking of the spring, and I stopped my car and watched the
tractor come down to the end of the road. When he got about twenty
feet from where I was standing, he stopped the tractor, got off,
and came over, and started talking to me, and we chatted for about
five minutes .
I introduced myself, and I said, "I'm from Boston. I'm
possibly moving out here. I'm a student at Davis. I'd like to buy
seventy- five to a hundred acres of property, and I want to build a
winery and make a great wine from Sonoma County grapes." And he
said, "You know, I've got just the place for you. Mrs. Howe is a
good friend, my wife and I had dinner with her a couple of weeks
ago, and she was saying, "I'm thinking about selling my property,'
Mrs. Howe's husband had passed away a couple years earlier, she was
tired of living in the country." He said, "Let me get in your car.
Let me go down and introduce you to her." He got in my car, we
drove down, and he introduced me to Mrs. Howe, and she said, "Yes,
I am thinking about selling." I gave Paul a ride back to the
tractor, and came back, and we concluded the deal in five minutes.
She was asking a reasonable price. I didn't get a bargain, but I
wasn't robbed either; it was basically the going price, and we
concluded it in about five minutes.
Hicke: How much did you pay, can I ask?
Stare: We paid $2,700 an acre.
Hicke: And how many acres?
Stare: Bought from her: fifty- five. At the same time, I bought another
twenty-two from Mr. Honig, which is where my house is.
Hicke: Oh, okay. So you bought seventy- seven acres.
Stare: We bought seventy-seven acres initially, and paid for the house
site, I think, $74,000 for twenty-two acres on a hillside lot,
stretching up into the hills, with about eight of plantable land
and about twelve acres of second-growth redwood trees in the back
of my house, kind of a 1950s style house. It was actually built as
a summer home. That's how I came to get this place.
Hicke: What was here?
Stare: What was here was a run-down prune orchard. Most of Dry Creek in
the early seventies had been prunes and pears. There were probably
800 to 1,000 acres of grapes, and probably 5,000 to 6,000 acres of
prunes and pears, in what is now the Dry Creek Valley appellation.
Hicke: I understand that grape growers took over the prune orchards
because it was more lucrative.
Stare: During Prohibition the grapes died out, along with a number of row
crops; there was corn grown here, and beans, and tomatoes for a
Stare: Hops were a fairly big commodity for a while. That's why there's
the old Hop Kiln Winery, and old Hop Barn, and there's still four
or five others [hop kilns]. Chateau Souverain, when it was built
twenty years ago, was built in the style of the classic Sonoma
County hop barn.
So anyway, hops were planted fairly heavily in the thirties, I
think. I think what killed hops is that it is a very labor-
intensive crop, and as people went off to war in the Second World
War, there weren't people left here to farm the hops. So farmers,
at that time, switched to prunes and pears; Healdsburg used to be
the center of the California prune industry.
The largest single building in town is the old Sunsweet prune
dehydrator; I'm not sure what's in there now. It was for a while a
wine warehouse, but it's a very large, strong building at the south
end of town. There were four or five other independently owned and
operated prune dehydrators and co-ops, and I think there is only
one left operating in town.
So this area was all prunes and pears, and now the only prune
trees left are the few here and there. The same thing in Alexander
Valley, the same thing in Russian River, and to a lesser extent,
the Napa Valley too.
Hicke: And Santa Clara Valley, and so on. What was here on this property?
Stare: This was a fifty-acre, run-down prune orchard with an old prune
dehydrator--they used to do their own drying here- -and a little
house where Zita Eastman lives; that was Mrs. Howe's house. If we
had been sitting where we are now in the spring of '72, we would
have been in a run-down prune orchard. I took possession of the
property, I think it closed on April 4, 1972.
Building the Winery and Making Wine
Hicke: And what was the first thing you did?
Stare: I -originally wanted to build the winery up at my house.
Hicke: Did building the winery come before planting?
Stare: Yes. My original idea was to plant fifty acres of vineyards.
That's going to give you, roughly, 200 tons of grapes, which is
roughly 12,000 cases of wine. My original plan was to be producing
about 10,000 cases of wine when our own vineyards came into
production, and then, as they came into production, it would give
us the ability to double to 20,000 cases.
In 1972, I originally wanted to build the winery up at my
house. We had a use permit hearing on the field there. The board
of planning [the zoning board] approved the use permit, five to
zero. Then the neighbors started passing a petition and created a
hell of a stink- -mainly led by Jerry Lambert, who used to own
Lambert Bridge Winerythat West Dry Creek Road is not the place to
build a winery: too small a road, it was too narrow, too windy,
you'd have major problems with sewer water disposal because of the
low percolation of the ground, it was very heavy clay soils up on
the hillsidejust not the place to build a winery. And, of
course, I'd go around and get other neighbors to sign that they
were in favor of the winery. I collected 200 signatures and the
opponents had collected 200, and it was obvious that the winery
plans were going to be delayed for a while. That's when I began to
look around for a place to build the winery to actually make wine
that fall, and that's when I went over and asked my friends at
Cuvaison, Could I set up four tanks? and they said, Sure.
Hicke: You bought those grapes?
Stare: Yes, I bought those grapes. I had four tanks of my own, I had my
own wine press, I had a couple other pieces of equipment, and the
rest of the equipment I used, I borrowed from Cuvaison. In that
fall, we made dry Chenin Blanc, Fume Blanc, which is Sauvignon
Blanc, and Chardonnay. The reason we made those three white wines
is those are my favorite wines to drink in France, in Europe,
Hicke: Why did you call the Sauvignon Blanc Fume Blanc?
Stare: It sold better. I can recall having luncheon with Barney Fetzer
sometime about that time and talking about Fume Blanc versus
Sauvignon Blanc, and he had told me that the reason he calls it
Fume Blanc is that it sells better. He told me the story that when
he first started the Fetzer Vineyards a few years earlier, they
test marketed; they bottled the same wine, but in the morning it
was labeled Fume Blanc, and if it was bottled after lunch it was
labeled Sauvignon Blanc. They put the wines on a shop shelf, and
the Fume out-sold the Sauvignon Blanc, three to one.
Hicke: That's pretty impressive.
Stare: And then they did some taste-testing with their taste panel, and if
you're given glass A, and told that glass A is the Sauvignon Blanc,
and glass B is the Fume Blanc, they liked Fume Blanc three to one.
If you told them to tell them apart, people couldn't tell them
apart. So, the name Fume Blanc tends to sell better than Sauvignon
Blanc, and since, I guess, I'm basically a wine salesman, I wanted
to sell wine, so I called it a Fume. Most of the leading Fume
Blancs are called Fume Blanc: Mondavi, Beringer, Chateau St. Jean,
Dry Creek. I think the only exception to that, really, is probably
Kenwood, and possibly Murphy Goode, I don't whether they call his a
Fume or a Sauvignon wine, but those are all well-recognized, high-
quality brands, and I think Fume does sell better than Sauvignon
Hicke: So you chose those wines because you liked them.
Stare: Yes. That's basically why.
Hicke: And how did you find the grapes?
Stare: For the Sauvignon Blanc: Rich Thomas, who was from the Santa Rosa
Junior College viticultural program, was a good friend, and he was
a student at Davis when I was there, and I think I called Rich. I
said, "Rich, who is a top-quality Sauvignon Blanc grower?" He
said, "Joe Rochioli, best one around." I called Joe up and talked
him out of ten tons of Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Hicke: We were just talking about Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Stare: Yes. Like I said, I called up Rich Thomas, who runs the
viticultural program here at Santa Rosa, and he suggested Joe
[Joseph] Rochioli for Sauvignon Blanc, Bob [Robert] Young for
Chardonnay, and for Chenin Blanc, he couldn't think of anybody. I
wanted a try at Chenin Blanc. Cuvaison always made Chenin Blanc,
and I talked Tom Cottrell into buying an extra ten tons of Chenin
Blanc from his supplier and selling us the grapes. In actuality,
our '72 Chenin Blanc is the exact same wine as theirs: it was made
in the same tank as the Cuvaison Chenin Blanc was made in. They
made ten tons worth of Chenin Blanc for us.
Hicke: Sounds like people are fairly cooperative around there.
Stare: They were very cooperative. I think that's changed, somewhat. But
Tom Cottrell is still one of my best friends; he lives back East,
and I haven't seen him in a couple of years, but Tom's a good
friend. So, anyway, that's how we bought the roughly thirty tons
of grapes we crushed that year.
The Chenin Blanc, as I said, was fermented and bottled at
Cuvaison and trucked back here. In order to get a winery license,
I had to have a barn winery permit. I had to bond the small
farmhouse where Mrs. Howe had lived. The garage was our barrel
storage area, we had about thirty barrels in there--Sauvignon Blanc
and Chardonnay. We actually used the living room as the case
storage area. I bragged that we had the only case storage area in
California with wall-to-wall carpeting in it. That was our first
winery. Then in the spring of '73 we began to build the first
building here, which was the building you see when you drive up the
highway, the one with the sign that says Dry Creek Winery, 1973.
Even though we made our first wines in '72, that sign says '73.
Stare: That first buildingwe broke ground for that in about May of '73,
finished it in August of '73, and that year also bought, I think,
ten more fermenting tanks, another 150 barrels or something, and
beginning with the fall of '73, made all the wines here. Made the
same three whites, the Chenin, the Fume, and the Chardonnay, but
also added red winesCabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and
also made a Rose of Cabernet, a pink rose wine.
Hicke: Well, I have two ways to go: I want to find out about the
vineyards and all those grapes, and I want to find out more about
your winery and the kinds of equipment, and where you got it.
Stare: Okay, we can talk about both. The other thing that had been done
on this location is when I bought the property, as I said--I think
we closed in April of '72--I made sure that Mrs. Howe and her son
could continue to live in the house through the harvest of '72, and
continue to farm, and keep the income from the prunes that were
harvested in "72. They did that, and the prune harvest was
finished here by about the end of August, and as soon as they
harvested, we came in with bulldozers and bulldozed out all the
trees, and ripped and fumigated the soil, and got it ready for
planting. Then we made the wines over at Cuvaison, and built the
first building here in 1973, which is a ninety-six-by-thirty-six-
foot-square, concrete block building.
I had hired an architect-engineer, Richard Keith and
Associates. Dick Keith designed a lot of wineries; he was kind of
the hot winery designer back in the early to mid-seventies. I told
Dick I wanted something that looked like a French winery that might
have been here for a hundred years, or an early stone California
winery. His initial drawing was for a very modern structure, and I
said, "No, no, that's not what I had in mind." Actually, I found a
book on French wine and pointed out: This is what I wanted it to
look like, and that's what he came up with. Although the design
has never won any architectural awards, it looks like it's a
building which has been here for a hundred years, with the ivy
plant around it; I think it's very attractive and much better than
something that is really ultramodern.
Hicke: How much input did you have into the design, when you told him what
you wanted, and then you approved the plans, and so forth?
Stare: The actual winemaking layout, since I didn't know much about that,
was pretty much his design, and I'm sure I got Tom Cottrell's input
into it, and other friends' input into it. We moved in here when
it was completed in August of '73, and the first official act done
in the new winery was to bottle our '92 Chardonnay, which was
barrel-aged over in the garage at the house here.
Hicke: Tell me about the equipment.
Stare: It was very, very antiquated bottling equipment. I think I
borrowed from Cuvaison, and then we had bought a little, six-
siphon, inexpensive, Italian filler. Our corking machine was an
old, rebuilt, hand-corker, which you'd stand up, and you'd put the
bottle in, and you'd drop a cork in the top, and ooooooooh! --you" d
Hicke: You'd push it down by hand!
Stare: We would do about three hundred cases a day, and it was back-
breaking work, physically hard work. We had a homemade sparger,
which we made out of truck air brake parts, where you put the
bottles on a tube, and you push down, and you press a little lever,
and you squirt nitrogen into the bottle to replace the air--
Hicke: Somebody jury-rigged that?
Stare: Yes, it was a jury-rigged thing, it was the same kind of thing that
Cuvaison had used, and that was our bottling equipment. Labeling
was all done by hand with a little hand labeler- -you'd run one
label through, you'd pick it up as it comes out, and put the bottle
in a cradle, and put it on by handvery slow, very antiquated.
When we opened for business that fall, we opened with kind of
a small tasting area. We had a woman here who used to tend the
area on the weekends, and when there were no customers, during the
weekend or the weekday, she would have to label bottles of wine.
That's the way it was for the first couple of years.
A Distinctive Label Design
Hicke: Since you mentioned labels, this would be a good time to talk about
Stare: Yes. Our initial label was designed by the wife of one of our
first grape growers, Rosinda Holmes, who was a well-known local
artist here in Sonoma County. She lives about four doors from my
house, and her husband is a printer, and he happens to have a small
print shop in his garage; I think he's retired now. Rosinda was an
artist, and she designed the first label that had a pen and ink
drawing of the winery.
If you look above, up on the beam, you'll see there is a
progression of labels of every vintage of Fume Blanc, from '72 to
the current one, which shows how the labels have progressed. It's
very interesting. We had that label in '72 and '73, and then in
'74, we redesigned it to eliminate the back label, and put the so-
called back side, or b.s. information, on the front, and that was a
description of the wine. We had that for one year, it was uglier
than hell, and then we redesigned the label in '75, and went to a
one-piece, wrap-around label, so that the mandatory information is
on the front part, and the side would contain a little history of
the winery, a story about the wine. We had the so-called wrap
around label from about '75 to about '84 or '85, in one form or
another. Then again, we had a pen-and-ink drawing of the winery, I
think done by Rosinda Holmes.
Back in about "84 or "85, we hired our first full-time sales
representative) , and put her down in Los Angeles to help our Los
Angeles distributor sell. Mary Jo got tired of hearing, "The wines
taste great, but the labels are terrible; you've got to get rid of
that ugly- looking building. It's a hideous label." That's when we
began to realize we needed to make a change in the label. We had
kind of nicknamed that label the Fort Apache label. One night,
after several bottles or glasses of wine, someone said, "That looks
like Fort Apache." It had a pen-and-ink drawing of the winery and
a flagpole with the American flag flying from it, and grapevines
kind of sprinkled around the field, around the winery, in artistic
fashion. I guess to someone in a slightly inebriated state, the
grapevines began to look like Indians on ponies [laughter] circling
the western fort, hence, Fort Apache.
Hicke: Strong stuff!
Stare: Yes. So anyway, I hired a graphic artist, an illustrator, who came
up with some designs, and he made, oh, six or seven or eight dozen
different mock-ups, featuring, again, drawings of the building.
There was a drawing of Lambert Bridge and Dry Creek here, a couple
of drawings of Dry Creek Valley, and a couple of drawings of
grapevines, but they all began to look like everybody else's
I said to Steve, "You know, my hobby all my life has been
sailing." I haven't mentioned it before, but I started sailing
when I was kid. "I have a sailboat on San Francisco Bay; when I'm
not at the winery I try and take off and go sailing on the
weekends. Let's try something with a sailing theme. I know
sailing has got nothing to do with wine, other than the fact that
in this case, the owner of the winery is also an avid sailor."
So I gave him probably several boxes of back issues of
Yachting, and Cruising World, and he took them back to his studio
and played around them and made some sketches and drawings. We got
together a couple of weeks later, and I said, "Hey, that's what we
want; they're dramatic, they're bold." That's how the sailing
theme evolved. I can recall, just before we launched the first
label, that we ran a few little classified ads in the Wine
Spectator. "What's a sailboat doing on a 'Dry Creek?' For further
information call 707-433-1000. "
Hicke: Oh, that's all you put in?
Stare: Yes. We got a few inquiries. But when it came out, it was very
successful. I remember getting a call from Bob Hoffman, who was
the sales manager of Classic Wine Imports, our Boston wholesaler,
and they were actually our largest single market. And Bob said,
"Dave, the sailing label is going to account for about a 20-percent
increase in the sale of your wine without any further effort on our
behalf. People just love it, they pick it up, and they take the
Hicke: That is spectacular.
Stare: So we have kept to that label since about '85. My daughter, Kim
[Stare Wallace], came to work for me probably about '87 or '88.
Her background: she studied fashion design and home economics at
San Francisco State [University] . She worked for about three years
as a frustrated dress designer and accessory designer, and
production manager for a couple of ladies' apparel manufacturing
companies in San Francisco, and then got fed up with a business
where all they were doing was copying other stuff. She came to
work for me, and she evolved our current set of labels in the last
four or five years. But that's what happens when you get a
frustrated dress designer who knows something about color.
Hicke: Every winery should have one. Every business should have one.
Stare: She began to develop; as we were saying at lunch, she now has her
own business: Kim Wallace, consulting. She still does our
marketing, but she's also doing some packaging consulting for other
wineries. She's helping them redesign their label, redesign their
image and logo. She's very good at that kind of thing. And that's
the history of the labeling.
Marketing and Distribution
Stare: I used to do everything myself here. I not only made the wine, but
I would bottle it, put it in back of the car, peddle it. For one
of my initial sale trips to Southern California, Mike Richmond, who
was at that time the sales manager of Freemark Abbey gave me a list
of good retail accounts. I used this for my initial sales
contacts. Chuck Carpy, Freemark 's general partner, was also very
helpful to me as he helped me with some financial plans for the
bank. I spent some time with Chuck, and he showed me Freemark
Abbey's financial plans and financial statement; he was very openly
sharing this information, and very, very helpful. 1
Anyway, Mike gave me a list of all the top retailers --who was
all right, who doesn't payand I used that as my initial selling
tool. I can recall being down in Southern California once, and
there used to be a chain of independent retail stores called King's
Cellars. It was based out of Hermosa Beach; there were eight of
them. They were owned by Stan Weller and his wife.
They were one of the leading retailers of fine wine in
Southern California. I remember having an 8:30 appointment with
Stan. At that time we had a Camay Beaujolais, a dry Chenin Blanc,
a Fume Blanc, and a Chardonnay for sale: three whites and a red. I
showed them all to Stan, and he said, "Those are the ugliest labels
in the world. I couldn't possibly sell those wines in my store.
Don't waste my time."
Hicke: Which labels were these?
Stare: They were the initial ones, designed by Rosinda Holmes. I replied,
"Well, sir, the wines are very good. Let me leave them here for
you to taste and I will call you next week." Then I made a hasty
retreat, shaken; what do you do when a guy tells you your labels
look like hell?
That evening I had been asked to speak to Nate Chroman's
class. Nate used to be the wine writer for the L.A. Times. He
taught a class in wine appreciation in Beverly Hills, and I was to
be a guest lecturer. After the class, about ten o'clock at night
I had not had supper yet, and I asked him, "Where is a place to get
a sandwich, or something to eat here?" He said there was a very
famous, all-night, Jewish delicatessen a half mile away. I went
down there and ordered, and then went to the men's room, and by
God, in the men's room was Stan Weller that I had tried to show the
wines to that morning and who had told me what lousy labels I had.
We were standing at adjoining urinals, "Hey," you know, "those
wines actually tasted pretty damn good. Would you please send me
ten cases of each." [laughter]. I was so pleased. This guy
became a good friend. He passed away, unfortunately, a few years
ago. But that was one of my initial sales successes in southern
'See Charles A. Carpy, "Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey," an
oral history conducted in 1993 by Carole Hicke, Regional Oral History
Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1994.
Another one was Darrel Corti. Corti Brothers was a very
famous wine shop and gourmet grocery store in Sacramento. And he
was, for a long time, the only game in town for fine wine in
Sacramento. I got to know Darrel when 1 was student at Davis. I
helped organize a student wine- tasting society, and Darrel came
over one night to address the group; Darrel is an expert in
sherries and ports. He came over and did a lecture on sherries and
ports and tasted some with us. When I introduced Darrel, I said,
"This is Darrel Corti, one of the owners of Corti Brothers grocery
store, a marvelous gourmet grocery store in Sacramento, which
happens to have a very fine wine department, which Darrel has
developed." He was almost upset that I called it a "grocery
store," rather than wine shop, but it's primarily a grocery store,
or was at that time.
Anyway, he never bought our wine, and I can recall going over
to see him one day to show him our first releases. He said, "Dave,
I can't expect my customers to pay three and a quarter for Chenin
Blanc. Chenin Blanc is a two-dollar-and-f ifty-cent bottle of wine;
why are they going to pay you three and a quarter for it?" I said,
"Darrel, I noticed you are selling frankfurters out there for $1.49
a pound. Those are only supposed to be worth $.79 a pound. Wake
up! There's inflation out there. You want to sell your hot dogs
at a profit; I want to sell my wine at a profit!"
He still didn't buy that evening. Darrel used to teach some
wine appreciation classes down at Lake Arrowhead with the U.C.
Extension service. One day he called me and said, "Dave, I want to
get a case of your Fume Blanc,"--! forget the vintage. I said,
"Great, great! How do you want to get it?" And he said, "Well,
I'll be over in the Napa Valley. Leave it off at such-and-such a
winery and I'll pick it up." What I should have said--see, he
still wouldn't carry the wine. I should have said, "Darrel, why
don't you go over to Joe's Liquors? They're the only retail outlet
in Sacramento who buys the wine." [Chuckles] But I didn't. That
was an example of some of the funny things about first marketing
Oh, something else I wanted to mention: I mentioned earlier
that our dry Chenin Blanc was the exact same tank, the exact same
blend as Cuvaison's; it was bottled the same day, it was bottled in
the morning and we bottled Cuvaison in the afternoon. At that time
there was a wine writer, Robert Finnegan--this is a story I've
never publicly told. Anyway, Robert Finnegan, who published
Finnegan's Private Guide to Wine. He was the leading wine writer
on the West Coast at the time. He was the Robert Parker of the
West Coast, he was well known in the wine country. In about May of
'72, he came out with some reviews about Chenin Blancs, with raves
about ours as being the best ones in the '72 vintage, a marvelous
wine, rich, complex, blah, blah, blah, just wonderful balance. I
don't believe the Cuvaison was reviewed by him at that time.
Well, we sold out of that wine pretty quickly after that
review, and then we released the Fume in May of '72. In the July
or August issue, he came out with a glowing report: "The "72 Fume
Blanc, Dry Creek, best wine in California." Those two incidents
put us on the wine map from an early start. I would much rather,
as a new vintner, have a couple of roaring reviews than a couple of
terrible reviews. I used to teach Basic Wine Marketing at Santa
Rosa J.C. [Junior College]. I used to always tell my students: The
most important thing, if you're a new winery, is make sure your
first wine is dynamite and get some very good press on it. We were
lucky, in both cases, to have great reviews on the wine. It got us
off and running.
Hicke: He didn't even mind the label, I guess.
Stare: He didn't mind the label, no.
Planting the Vines; Vineyard Management
Hicke: Nobody did after they tasted the wine! Well, do you have any more
stories, or shall we go back, because I still don't know about your
Stare: Okay, yes. I mentioned that we tore up the trees in the fall of
'72 and fumigated all the property around here. In 1973, I planted
what we now call DCV number 3, which is across the creek; it's a
twenty-acre block across the creek. That was planted ten acres to
Sauvignon Blanc and ten acres to Chenin Blanc. The varieties, I
chose; those were the ones I wanted to plant. I had Bob Session,
who was the Sonoma County Farm Advisor, come out, right after I
bought my property, and we inspected the soil and we had dug some
holes. I said, "Bob, what should I plant here?" He said, "Well, I
would put in Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, White Riesling, and
Gewiirtztraminer . " Those were the hot, recommended wines.
I said, "What about Sauvignon Blanc?" "Nobody plants that
now. You don't want to put Sauvignon Blanc in, it's a bad wine."
"What about Chenin Blanc?" "Oh, nobody's planting Chenin Blanc,
it's a bad wine." So, I put in Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc,
Chardonnay, and Cabernet. I took two of his suggestions, and the
other two I didn't take.
My basic plan was to make a California version of what I liked
to drink from France: Chenin Blanc, Fume Blancs (both from the
Loire Valley), Chardonnay (Burgundy) and Cabernet /Her lot wines
(Bordeaux). As it turned out, we had a hit with Sauvignon Blanc,
as it has been our most successful variety. The initial plants of
DCV3 was ten acres Sauvignon Blanc and ten acres Chenin Blanc.
By about 1980, it was clear that Chenin Blanc couldn't be
grown profitably on Sonoma County property, because the land was
worth too much to afford to plant a grape that sold for four
hundred bucks a ton. Fortunately, for people who wanted to make
Chenin Blanc wine, the Delta area of Clarksburg, in Yolo County,
over near Sacramento, has a wonderful microclimate and grows great
Chenin Blanc, and farmers there can sell it for $300 to $350 a ton
and make money and stay in business, and I can still make
profitable Chenin Blanc, sothat's where all of our Chenin Blanc
has come from, and where the vast majority, most of the better
Chenin Blanc, grown in California, now comes from.
The other vineyard we planted, in about the fall of '73, is
what we now call DCV 4, which is a thirteen-acre block; it's a
seventeen-acre parcel of land, and it has thirteen acres of
Chardonnay, about a mile south of here on West Dry Creek Road- -2990
is the legal address for the property. That was planted with
Chardonnay in '73. Both of those vineyards came under production
in '75. We began to use that fruit. The winery parcel here is
known as DCV 2 now, and that was originally planted with seven
acres of Cabernet and two acres of Merlot. That was planted in
'74, started producing in '76, and by '78 or '79 it was very clear
that the Cabernet that was produced on the property was superb
Cabernet. Unfortunately, Cabernet was in great supply, and fairly
low priced in '79, '80.
Chardonnay was the hot variety, so 1 budded over five and a
half acres in front of the winery to Chardonnay from Cabernet.
This proved to be a mistake as the quality is only okay. It grew
great Cabernet, but now we had five and a half acres of mediocre
Hicke: What did you do about spacing and trellising?
Stare: The spacing was a standard Davis eight-by-twelve, and the
trellising was a standard California, two or three wire, vertical
trellising, no exotic trellising. You know, everybody put in
eight-by-twelve spacing, DCV 3 and A have solid set, permanent
frost protection, and with overhead sprinklers. There's not enough
water on this site for that, so here we have drip irrigation.
Hicke: Tell me about your vineyard manager.
Stare: Our vineyard manager, for the first year, was a fellow, Mike Rugge.
Mike had been a student at Davis when I was there, kind of a part-
time student. He worked for me for probably a year and a half. He
eventually disappeared, and in about '75 the highly regarded Duff
Bevill became our vineyard manager.
Duff has since gone on; he is still our vineyard manager, but
he has a pretty successful vineyard management company called
Bevill Vineyard Management. He operates out of our facility; his
office is down in our barn. He probably farms about four hundred
acres of grapes now, of which Dry Creek is about a hundred and
twenty- five. He's on our payroll, but he only works part time for
us. Duff is very conscientious and very quality oriented, and as I
say, he probably farms about four hundred acres, and we are
probably a third of his total business. I think we are by far his
largest single customer, and he's been with us since "75 or '76.
Pioneering in Dry Creek Valley
Hicke: You know, what we haven't gotten on the record yet is that there
were no other wineries in Dry Creek before yours.
Stare: Yes. When I came on scene in '72, there were three operating
wineries: J. Pedroncelli up the street on Canyon Road. They were
bought by the Pedroncelli family, I think, in 1927. There was Frei
Brothers, which was actually right across the street; you can't
really see it from this angle, but you can see when you go out in
the valley. Frei Brothers is now the Gallo crushing facility here.
They crush in one day of a week what it takes us a year for us to
do. And the third one at that time was Chris Fredson, which, as
you drive back into town tonight, is that dull, red, rusty, old,
tin building off to the right, about a mile south of herevery
picturesque, old, rusty, red, tin barn.
I think that was originally built as the Healdsburg Wine
Company, back about the turn of the century, and the Fredson family
had a winery over in Geyserville, but when they built the 101
freeway up here, back in the mid-sixties, they condemned their
winery; the winery was unfortunate enough to be in the path of the
freeway, so it was torn down, and they moved here, and they bought
the old Healdsburg Wine Company. That operated as a winery until
about five years ago, until it closed down. It's a very
antiquated, old-fashioned winery. I think virtually all of their
production was sold to Charles Krug over in the Napa Valley.
Hicke: But all of these were here long ago.
Stare: Yes. They were all here. I think I mentioned once that I looked
briefly at Fredson Winery to buy it, to make it into a red wine
barrel storage facility, but there were some problems with the
disposal of industrial water. It was using an illegal cesspool;
there was a big open pit in back, which you can dump water into,
and it's grandf athered in as being legal, but if it ever has some
major problems, they would condemn it, and there's no place on that
property to build. I hired a civil engineer to look at it, and he
said, "Dave, I wouldn't touch this place with a ten-foot pole,
unless you can buy a couple of acres from your neighbors and put an
actual, legal leach field in," which would require approaching the
neighbors and asking them to sell me a couple of acres, or lease me
land, so I walked away from the deal. It started being used about
a year ago. I have no idea what the new people are going to do
with it if their waste water system should fail.
Hicke: Anyway, you built the first new winery in Dry Creek; that's what I
really want to make clear.
Stare: This is the first new winery built here, really since Prohibition.
We started in 1972. Since then you have Preston [Vineyards] built
in '74 or five, Rafanelli [Winery], who came along sometime in the
late seventies, Mill Creek [Vineyards], Lytton Springs [Winery] ,
Mazzocco [Vineyards], Quivara [Vineyards], Domaine Schlumberger,
Chateau Diana, but it's not really a winery, Farrari-Carano, whose
showplace is up in the northern end of the valley. I think there
are twenty or twenty-one operating wineries today.
Hicke: Yes, the signpost pointing to the wineries is covered from top to
Stare: 1 think prior to Prohibition there were about thirty. I always
say, when I give a talk, that prior to Prohibition, there were
thirty wineries in Dry Creek. I'm not sure if that's an exact
number, but there were a lot of wineries here then, and in '72,
there were only three. We were the fourth, and now there are about
twenty. Again, all the prune trees have been torn up, and there
are only grapes here.
Hicke: No prunes left?
Stare: No prunes left. There may be one or two, but virtually none left.
Hicke: Well, you started something.
Stare: Yes. And, you know, we went against what the farm advisor said and
planted Sauvignon Blanc; the one white variety that Dry Creek was
always known for, head and shoulders above everything else, was
Sauvignon Blanc. I think most wineries would probably tell you
that Dry Creek appellation Sauvignon Blanc- -that and Zinfandel, for
red wine--are probably the two best varieties produced here.
Sauvignon Blanc: The Dry Creek Flagship Wine
Hicke: What are your goals for your Sauvignon Blanc?
Stare: We want to make a Sauvignon Blanc that tastes like a Sauvignon
Blanc. A lot of Sauvignon producers try to tame that grassy, wild
character, and try to over-oak it and make it more like a
Chardonnay than a Sauvignon Blanc. We want our Sauvignon Blanc to
definitely taste like Sauvignon Blanc. Yet at the same time, we
don't want to be overpoweringly aggressive, or over-aggressive; I
think over-aggressive Sauvignon Blancs are not terribly appealing.
There is kind of a fine edge there between making it taste like a
Sauvignon Blanc, having a hint of that grassy, herbaceous, quality,
and being overly soft. We wanted to have definite hints of that,
without being overly aggressive.
Hicke: I understand you are doing some experimenting. Can you tell me
Stare: We used to do no barrel fermentations here. I would say beginning
in the late eighties, we began playing around with barrel
fermentation, and now our regular production, our regular bottling
of Sauvignon Blanc typically is zero to 10 percent barrel fermented
with the remainder being stainless steel fermented. Our reserve is
typically 100 percent barrel fermented. And again, our typical,
regular Sauvignon Blanc was stainless-steel-tank-fermented and some
barrel aging, but not a lot; we don't want the wine to have a woody
characteristic. Our reserve Fume Blanc is barrel aged, barrel
fermented, and very definitely woody; some would say it's over-
oaked, I might even say that. I've never been a fan of over-oaked
wine. On the other hand, I think when someone is buying a
reserve- style Sauvignon Blanc, they want a lot of oak. But as long
as people are willing to buy it, I'm willing to make it.
Hicke: That makes sense. I believe there is a special wine, maybe
experimental, offered to your wine club.
Stare: Oh, that's the Wollcott Chardonnay, I think.
Hicke: Well, I know that Fume Blanc is your most well-known wine.
Stare: It's kind of a hallmark or benchmark wine. This year, just due to
the fact that Sauvignon Blanc grapes were scarce, we actually made
more Chardonnay for the first time, in '95, than Sauvignon Blanc.
We've got, oh, about 450 tons of Chardonnay, and about 370 tons of
Sauvignon Blanc because of the lack of grapes this year.
Winemakers at Dry Creek
Hicke: Well, let's go back and talk about your winemaking and about your
Stare: Okay. Our first winemaker was myself. I made the wines, as I told
you earlier, by reading the textbook and trying to follow what it
said, with the help of Bernard Portet, Chuck Ortman, and Tom
Cottrell. In '73, I was the winemaker, but I was assisted by a
friend of mine, Tom Dehlenger. Tom, I think, had worked somewhere
for a year or two as an apprentice. And he worked here for a year
as my assistant, and he had a lot of input. He went on and started
Dehlenger Winery, down in Forestville. In '74, I had a friend,
Fred Brander, who worked here. Fred had worked for a couple of
years at some other winery. Fred is an Argentinean-American. He
was born in Argentina but was raised in this country. Fred, since
then, has gone on to build Brander Winery down near Santa Barbara,
in Los Olivos.
Hicke: You trained and promoted a lot of other winemakers.
Stare: Yes. In '75, I hired John Jaffrey as my assistant, and John, in a
sense, took over the winemaking operation in the mid- to late
seventies. I would say by about '78 or '79, he was the winemaker,
and I became the winemaster. I think when you're on the road,
giving a winemaker dinner or lecturing to a sales force, you're
better off to be the winemaker or winemaster rather than the
president of the company. So John made the wines, pretty much
exclusively, from about '77 on. In '81, I hired a young kid out of
Davis, Larry Levin, as John's assistant. In the spring of 1982,
John Jaffrey left us and went to work for Zellerbach, and that
opened up the winemaking position to Larry, who is our winemaker
now and has been our winemaker since '82. He just finished his
Hicke: Tell me about his goals and working with him; obviously you've been
Stare: Yes. One of the things I learned fairly soon in dealing with Larry
is--and I used to do this with Johnto always kind of hover over
him and make sure he does things my way. It was always very
frustrating to John, and I tried to do the same thing with Larry,
but sometime, I don't know, in '82, '83, or '84 Larry and I had a
big fight, and he said, "Dave, if you don't leave me alone, I'm
going to quit." I decided, Well, if I'm going to have a good
winemaker on the staff, I've got to let him do his thing. I can't
be telling him what to do all the time and rushing out there and
saying, "Hey, you're doing it the wrong way; I want it done this
way." So for pretty much the last fifteen years, I've pretty much
totally withdrawn with the actual winemaking decisions, techniques,
I still determine the style of the wine: whether we're going
to make an over-oaked Chardonnay or an under-oaked Chardonnay,
whether we're going to add a new varietal, or whether we're going
to make a Cabernet that's a lighter, more user-friendly style, or a
more tannic, blockbuster style. Those are the things that I still
determine, but I leave it up to Larry to do it.
And, he's very
Hicke: It seems you've established a well-balanced way of working
Stare: Yes. It's worked very well, yet I had to learn this lesson, that
if I didn't do that, I was going to lose him.
Other Dry Creek Vineyard Wines
Hicke: I've got a list of different wines that you've made. Can you talk
about the Cabernet Sauvignon a little bit? Are you going back to
making that again?
Stare: Five years ago I would have said that we are 80 percent white wine,
20 percent red wine. Whether it's due to the French Paradox [60
Minutes program], or what, now red wines are much more in demand
than white wines. Our production this past year was about 60
percent white and 40 percent red; so we're shifting gradually, and
I wouldn't be surprised if by the year 2000 we're 55 percent white
and 45 percent red. Maybe in another five, maybe in about ten
years from now, it will be maybe 50/50.
Hicke: Cabernet Franc?
Stare: Cabernet Franc. We crush in a given year thirty to forty tons; we
used to have about four acres of Cabernet Franc up by the house,
which we've been replanting, starting in the latter part of the
eighties. Some people never really liked Cabernet Franc. I kind of
like it, it has kind of an herbaceous, stemmy quality. Larry
doesn't like it, and the rest of our staff doesn't like it, and we
gradually cut back on our Cabernet Franc. I budded over the
Cabernet Franc that was at my house two years ago to Merlot, which
we like very much.
We still have one contract grower we buy Cabernet Franc from,
and I think the reason we buy it from him is we want to get his
Zinfandel. I feel that whoever buys his Cabernet Franc is going to
get the Zinfandel. His Zinfandel is classic, eighty-year-old,
hillside, old-vine Zinfandel. That's the backbone of our Zinfandel
program. Cabernet Franc is an okay wine, but nothing exciting. I
happen to like Cabernet Franc, but most people don't.
Hicke: Let's talk about Zinfandel.
Stare: Zinfandel is a hot variety now, and when you consider that fact
that there are probably, oh, not more than fifty thousand cases of
really top-quality, red Zinfandel made in California, you can see
there is room for a lot of growth there. The problem is, most of
the really good Zinfandels are made from old, hillside, head-
pruned, low-yielding vines planted prior to Prohibition, and yet
these vineyards, by their very nature, are endangered species. In
fact, our main Zinfandel supplier from the mid-seventies to the
mid-eighties used to be a fellow, Jim Richwagon. Jim sold his
vineyard about six or seven years ago to a fellow, Ron Martin, from
Ron moved up here and realized he could not afford to own the
property for what he paid for it by only growing twenty-five tons a
year Zinfandel. So in about '90, he bulldozed out all the old
vines, spent a lot of money trellising and terracing and replanting
the property to Cabernet, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. He did put
in a little bit of Zinfandel, but we had a contract to buy the
fruit, and two years ago--it was last yearwe kept saying, "Ron,
you're overcropping, it's not going to ripen up. By the time the
sugar gets up to acceptable level, the acid will drop way out, and
the ph will be way high." He said, "If you don't want the grapes,
I can sell them to someone else." And I said, "Fine, sell them to
someone else; let's try it again next year." Well, that winter,
since we broke a contract, he went elsewhere; so we lost that
vineyard entirely now.
One of the things that Duff has done for us is he's spent a
fair amount of time researching clones of Zinfandel. We've come up
with a clone, which is called the Heritage clone. It's a clone
that he's traced back to Italian Swiss Colony days, and we know it
has been around for well over a hundred years. One of our contract
growers is Richard Rued- -we buy Chardonnay from Richard- -and
Richard had this variety planted for about fifteen years; we know
it's a pretty good yielder, in terms of yield per acre, and it also
has a lot of the same fruit and wine characteristics of classic
Zinfandel, a raspberry, blackberry quality to it.
We have seven acres that we planted last year next door, and
we're going to put in another eight acres, down in Windsor on our
new property. So we hope that by the year 2000, we'll have fifteen
acres of our own Zinfandel, and that should give us probably
seventy-five tons. When that comes into production, and if we
continue on with the other Zinfandel vineyards that we have, we'll
be processing probably two hundred tons a year of Zinfandel (12,000
cases). Right now we are producing about a hundred tons (6,000
cases). We can sell every bottle of Zinfandel we make.
Hicke: Too bad there isn't some way to age the vines like you age the wine
[laughs]. How long will it be before those new vines produce?
Stare: Those rootstocks were put in eighteen months ago, and they were
budded this past spring (twelve months ago). We'll get a small
crop in '97 (ten tons). I'm looking for our five-year projection.
In 1997 we'll get probably ten tons, and by the year 2000, we'll be
getting, we figure, forty-eight tons. And we'll be growing about
eighty tons of Zinfandel here ourselves in about five years.
Hicke: Are you still buying from growers?
Stare: Oh, we buy virtually all of our Zinfandel. As a general rule of
thumb, we grow about half our Sauvignon Blanc, about half our
Chardonnay, and about a quarter of our Cabernet. This year we grew
about four hundred tons and bought about a thousand.
IV DRY CREEK VINEYARD OPERATIONS
[Interview 2: January 12, 1996 ]f#
Expansion in the 1970s
Hicke: Maybe we should just go back to the 1970s.
Hicke: We actually got the winery built and the first vineyard planted,
but maybe you could tell me about how the business expanded
throughout the seventies.
Stare: Okay, yes. For the first building we finished, we broke ground in
May of '73, and finished in August of '73, and, as I think I said
yesterday, the actual first act that we ever did here was we
bottled our 1972 Chardonnay, and I think I described the very
antiquated equipment we had. That winter, the building had twenty
to thirty barrels in it; it was very, very empty. We actually, at
one time, tied a clothes line across the building and played tennis
in there one day, making it an indoor tennis court.
Hicke: That's terrific. It's called "multiple-use."
Stare: Yes, "multiple-use" building, yes. We added red wine production in
the fall of '73, which was Cabernet, Zinfandel, Merlot, and I think
we also made a Camay Beaujolais that year. We made a Camay for
about four or five years, strictly as a cash-flow wine. And in
'74, we increased our production still more.
Now '74 was a particularly difficult year financially for the
winery, because when I started the business, I prepared a five-year
forecast, a cash- flow forecast, and we really didn't expect to have
a positive cash flow until '76, or '77. We had a very hard time
buying grapes. Grapes were at an all-time record high price in
'74, and I really wanted to increase our Cabernet production, and
buy some good Cabernet, and couldn't afford to buy it.
So, I struck a deal with Frank Woods, who, at that time, had
just started Clos du Blois Winery, to buy ten or fifteen tons of
his Cabernet- -not pay him for the grapes, but to make the wine and
bottle it and sell back to him; I think it was 25 percent or 20
percent of the finished wine, and then he could put his own label
on it and sell it. Well, as it turned out, the wine turned out to
be superb wine, and the last thing I wanted to do was to sell back
to Frank. I think in the last moment we came up with some cash and
paid him in cash, but the wine happened to be a superb wine, still
probably the best Cabernet we've ever made here.
Hicke: This is in '74?
Stare: Yes, '74. It came from his vineyard down on West Dry Creek Road.
It just had a wonderful, rich complexity and nice character, and
still, as I say, we probably have two or three cases in our
library. And I still think it's even today, even though it's
beginning to get over the hill, probably the best overall Cabernet
In '75, we expanded a little. Each year we added another tank
or two or three and increased our production. In '72 we made about
thirteen hundred cases, in '73, about six thousand, in '74,
probably about nine thousand, in '75, about twelve thousand, and it
now developed that we needed another building.
A friend of mine, Dan Dehlinger, who's Tom Dehlinger's, the
vintner's, brotherDan had gone to school at U.C. Berkeley and was
interested in architecture and construction. He had had a business
in Berkeley, buying old homes and renovating and fixing them up and
selling them. He moved up to Sonoma County and built Tom's winery,
Dehlinger Winery, [and] he built Tom's house.
I approached him with the idea: why doesn't he build a new
building for us as a contractor, even though he wasn't a licensed
contractor? So we had the building designed by an architect, Dan
Delia, who had worked on the original project with Dick Keith, and
in the summer and fall of '77, spring of '78, we built the second
building, which is the one that we're now sitting in.
Hicke: That was the other building back there?
Stare: The first building was there, and then the second building is the
one where we are now. After this building was built, the complex
was shaped like a "T." I kind of figured if we keep in the shape
of a cross, if we could never make it as a winery, we could sell it
to a church, and it would be a nice stone-looking cathedral.
Hicke: Another "multi-use."
Stare: Yes. We, actually, at one time, thought about putting a racquet
ball court in here too [chuckles]. But we built this building
we're now sitting in, beginning sometime summer or early fall of
'77. Finished up in the spring of "78, and that became our white
wine barrel cellar, bottling area, and our offices. Again, we
continued to expand, and probably by "78 or '79, we were up to
fifty, forty, fifty, sixty thousand cases.
Every year we would add one or two or three tanks , and our
production increased, still sticking with the same varietieswe
didn't do too much experimentation with varieties. The Beaujolais
we made in, I think, '73, '74, '75, and '76; because it's a red
wine, we could have it on the market by about February or March
following harvest, and it was strictly a cash- flow wine. In '76 we
dropped that, and stuck with the same three whitesthe Chenin, the
Fume, and Chardonnay--and the redsCabernet, Merlot, and
Zinfandel, and a little of Petite Sirah, which we usually blend in
with the Zinfandel.
Continued Expansion in the Eighties
Stare: But in about "81 or '82, it became apparent we needed a third
building, and by this time, the winery had begun to make some money
and we were reasonably profitable. We built our third building
essentially in the winter of '84 and the spring of '85. That's now
where we store white wine barrels in the basement, and the ground
floor is where we have our bottled wine, our shop, and what case
storage we do here on the facility. When we bottle we ship wine
immediately to the Sonoma County Vintner's Co-op in Windsor, and
right now, that's where we store virtually all of our finished case
goods . What we keep here at the winery is only what we sell here
in the tasting room. We probably have here, oh, five, six hundred
cases, but down at the co-op we probably have seventy-five to
eighty thousand cases now.
Hicke: The ones you keep here are for sale here?
Stare: Strictly for sale in the tasting room and a wine library we keep
In October of '84, I spent two weeks in France with a wine
writer friend of mine, in Burgundy, observing the harvest. She was
doing a series of articles for, I think, Harpers Bazaar magazine.
And one of the things that impressed me about Burgundy was that
virtually all of the cellars in Burgundy were underground. I came
back wanting to put in an underground wine cellar.
So, we re-designed the building, and our bottling building now
has a basement which is twenty feet wide and eighty feet long. We
store some barrels down there, and have a wine library down there,
too. I kind of wish I had made it the full basement. Our
winemaker, Larry Levin, thinks it's a real nuisance because it's
hard to get barrels up and down. We've got a trap door system,
where we use a fork lift to raise barrels up and down. It's kind
of pain, but it's also kind of nice, in a way.
That building was built and finished in the spring of "85.
And we continued to expand. And then, our tasting roomwhen I
first started, our tasting room was just a couple of barrels by the
front entrance, by the lab.
Hicke: You had a tasting room right away?
Stare: Yes. We started off with a tasting room right away, although it
wasn't a room, it was just a corner of a cellar where we had a
couple of barrels and a couple of bottles. It was very informal;
we had nobody really working here as a tasting room person,
although whoever was in the cellar, if someone showed up, would
stop and pour the wine.
I'd say by the mid-seventies, we added someone. We used to do
all of our labeling by hand, and that person also put the labels on
the bottles when they weren't waiting on a customer.
But again, in the late eighties it became evident that we
needed a more formal tasting room. So we built the current tasting
room; that was built in the spring and summer of '89 and was
actually inaugurated by my fiftieth birthday party, which happened
to coincide with the annual dinner put on by the Sonoma County
Wineries Association for the Sonoma County Harvest Fair judges. We
probably had 120 people here in the courtyard for dinner. It
happened to be my birthday, a lot of fun.
In the wine business, you build a building, and then you
immediately out-grow it, and I wish our tasting room was 50 percent
larger than it is. It's adequate on winter weekdays, but during
the summer and on the weekends, it's too crowded, too small.
Hicke: The bar is beautiful, the way you've used the case ends from
Stare: Yes. That's very nice. A lot of those case ends--I mentioned
earlier, when I first got seriously interested in business, I
worked for a wine shop back in Boston. Most of those case ends I
got when I was a stock clerk at this wine shop. Most Bordeaux
wines are shipped in wooden cases, and we unpacked the bottles and
put them on the shelf, and we'd have all this kindling left over,
and I used to save wooden case ends, because I figured someday I
could use them, and there in the bar there, we've still got some.
Hicke: I've got a few I picked up too, some from Bordeaux.
Stare: One of reasons that it's kind of fun to look at those is that quite
often you'll see either my handwriting or someone else's
handwriting on it. It'll say 12 times $3.99--$3.99 was the value
of wine, retail value, and there were twelve bottles in a case. A
Bordeaux you could buy, back in '69, '70, and '71, for four to
eight dollars a bottle. Today, those wines are thirty to sixty
dollars a bottle.
Hicke: Or forty to eighty [chuckles].
Stare: We kind of got off here.
Hicke: We were building the tasting room, the new tasting room.
Stare: Yes, anyway, we finished that in the fall of '89, and again
continued to expand, and by the early nineties, by '92, or '93, we
were beginning to lease space elsewhere. We needed to have more
barrel storage, so we leased a warehouse in Healdsburg. It used to
be part of the old J.W. Morris Winery, which had gone bankrupt or
closed sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s. There were
several large buildings which were fairly ideal for wine storage,
and we leased one of those, and, for a while, stored all our red
wine barrels in Healdsburg. It was a real nuisance in that we had
to truck the barrels in; we'd fill the barrels here, load them into
a trailer truck, truck them down there, and they have a fork lift
down there. It became evident we needed to build another building
here, but we had no place to put the thing.
Along came my friendly neighbor, Dan Pedroni, who is a guy
that, I guess, we had never gotten along with. I don't really know
the source of our friction; I think probably it came back in the
late seventies. Dan had bought or inherited this piece of property
from his uncle, Alfonso. And when I bought the original ranch here
from Mrs. Howe, she had told me that Alfonso Pedroni was interested
in selling the neighboring parcel, the neighboring fourteen acres.
I went and introduced myself to Alfonso, and he said he'd be
happy to sell it to me for the same price that I bought Mrs . Howe ' s
property for. I went back and had my attorney friend, Steve Adams,
draw up a purchase and sale agreement, and I took it up the next
week day to Alfonso. At that point he decided he wanted another
thousand bucks per acre for it. I think I chased him once; I added
a thousand bucks per acre, resubmitted the purchase and sale
agreement, and he decided he wanted fifteen hundred dollars more
per acre. I finally said, The hell with you. Anyway, Dan
ultimately got the property from his uncle. I don't know whether he
had inherited it or he had bought it, but at that time it was a
prune orchard, and Dan put in grapes in the late seventies.
He also wanted to build a house down by the creek, and he came
to me and said, "Dave, I want permission to string power wires over
your property." I said, "No, I'd be very happy to grant you
permission to put them underground if you'd pay for the under-
grounding, but I don't want wires running across our property." He
got kind of upset, and I guess had to pay P.G.&E. to bring
electricity in from the road, which is a lot longer run from Dry
Creek Road to his house than from across our area. That's probably
the original source of our friction.
He built a very nice house down there, and was continually a
pain, you might say. We'd have our Spring Open House, and I'm not
sure whether he planned it or not, but he decided he'd be sulfuring
the same day we had our Spring Open House, and clouds of sulfur
would drift over onto our property; or he'd be disking, and clouds
of dust came over. It seemed that he was out to annoy us.
It culminated in about 1990 with the fact that we decided to
expand our tank farm and put in some more tanks. At that time, our
tank farm was twenty feet from the back property line. We
expanded to within about six feet of our back property line, and
built a wall and tank pad. I didn't really get the right use
permits from the county. And Dan protested.
We had it finished before the county could stop us, and we
used it. We then entered a fairly protracted, long period of
haggling with the county planning people and with Dan Pedroni. We
were fortunate in that the zoning ordinance for here requires a
twenty-foot setback in the front and backyard but only a five-foot
setback in the side yard.
We argued with the county that as far we're concerned, the
front of this property fronts on Dry Creek Road, not on Lambert
Bridge Road. If you agree that the property fronts on Dry Creek
Road, then that becomes a side setback and the wall was legal. If
you define the front of the property as being at Lambert Bridge
Road, then the wall was illegal. Anyway, we eventually got the
county to agree to allow it to stay put, and we were severely
reprimanded for not doing things according to the way they're
supposed to be done.
Continuing the Dan saga, I'd say probably about '91, or '92, I
got a call from an attorney friend of mine in town saying that Dan
Pedroni wanted to sell his property, was I interested. And I said,
"Yes." And he said, "Well, he wants $950,000." I thought, Well
that's probably $150,000 more than it's worth, but I think it's
worth it for me to buy it just to get rid of him.
So we bought the property, in '91 or '92, I think, and
proceeded to do a lot line adjustment. We annexed onto the
original winery parcel about two and a half acres from Dan's
parcel. We have right now, here in Dry Creek Valley, a twenty-acre
minimum per dwelling unit to try to prevent mass development and to
prevent suburbia from coming here. The winery parcel was eleven
and a half acres, and the Pedroni parcel was fourteen and a half
acres, and I wanted originally to join the two, and they wouldn't
let us do that. But they did allow me to make the winery parcel
the size of the Pedroni parcel and reduce the Pedroni parcel by
that same amount .
So we annexed a strip of land about 150 feet wide and about
700 feet long onto the existing parcel, and then began planning to
build two more buildings. We finished one this past summer, which
is a 5,000 square-foot, pre-fab metal building, where we now store
most of our red wine barrels. Either this year or next year,
depending on how much wine we can sell, how much money we can make,
we'll build another 5,000-square-foot building. These two
buildings will then be connected with a 3,000-square-foot
breezeway. So that will give us 13,000 square feet of barrel
storage area. We moved most of our red wine barrels back to the
location here. We still have a few hundred in town, and now we'll
get everything on site here, which is one of our goals.
Hicke: Okay, so that's the property expansion.
Stare: Our file at the planning department has always been kind of screwed
up, as far as I'm concerned. They used to have a planner by the
name of Lloyd Johnson. Lloyd was a very nice fellow, he loved good
wine, but he seemed to always have a personal vendetta in for Dry
Creek, because he wanted us to pave everything. He wanted the
parking lot to be paved, the driveway to be paved.
I said, "Lloyd, people don't want to come to the wine country
and see paved roads. They want gravel road, they want dirt roads,
they want to get their feet dirty."
And then he would say, "Well, what about the people stepping
in puddles of water during the winter, and getting their feet wet?"
And I said, "Well, that should be my decision as a businessman; if
I want them to get their feet wet, that's my prerogative.
Obviously, I don't want to spend the money to pave."
"Well, what about the dust?" I'd say, "Fine, who's
complaining about the dust? The grapevines certainly don't
complain. When you have some neighbors who are legitimately
complaining about dust, then it should become an issue, but as long
as nobody is complaining about it, it's not an issue."
Anyway, Lloyd passed away in the late seventies, and I think
he had probably taken our file home from the County Planning
Department to study it. It was home when he passed away. Anyway,
when we went back to build our bottling area in '83, they had no
record of Dry Creek ever having had a file. They couldn't find it,
and we had to make photocopies of some of the department documents
in our file of our original use permits and the subsequent
Eventually when we built our last building, the tasting room,
they slapped a maximum size of 120,000 cases a year being able to
be made in this facility, and actually in '91 we produced a little
bit over that. But we've been averaging 110,000 to 115,000 cases
of wine at this facility since about 1991. Our plan for the future
is probably stay at that level [for a while], but gradually to grow
up to 150,000.
We would have to get the use permit amended if we wanted to do
it legally. The planning process is so much hocus-pocus, it's
ridiculous. They make it so hard. I know that half the wineries
in Sonoma County don't go through the Wine Department when they do
something, they just go ahead and do it.
Hicke: How do you arrive at the number of cases to produce? Is that a
financial decision, or quality-control decision, or a grape-
Stare: All of the above. I can recall the Thanksgiving of 1974, I got a
call from Maynard Amerine at homewe had just finished
Thanksgiving dinner- -say ing he wanted to come visit the winery
Friday morning and bringit was either Ernest or Julio Gallo, one
of the Gallos. They wanted to see the winery, and I said, "Okay,
I'll see you tomorrow morning at 8:30." So I left my house, drove
back down here, and spent an hour or so sweeping the winery out and
making sure the bathroom was clean, making sure we had clean
glasses, and generally straightening up.
I was down here bright and early Friday morning, and sure
enough, Mr. Gallo drives up in what looked like a mile- long,
hearty-burgundy-colored Cadillac limousine. The chauffeur steps
out and opens the door, and Maynard gets out, and Mr. and Mrs.
Gallo, and again, I'm not sure whether it was Julio or Ernest. I
showed them around the winery, and we tasted a few wines. They
were here for probably forty-five minutes. And then Mr. Gallo
says, "Dave, what's your current production, and what are your
plans?" I said, "Well, our current production is 8,000 cases, and
our plan is to grow to twenty." He said, "You're not going to want
to stop at twenty; believe me, we've been through it." [Chuckles]
So, to answer your question, how did we arrive at 120,000
cases, I don't really know. That's what the county has slapped
upon us, and we've been at that production level for the last four
or five years. I think part of the reason we've been staying at
that level is our principle banker is Pacific Coast Farm Credit,
and they have been harping for the last three or four years, "Dave,
you've got to stop growing in cases. Raise your prices, but don't
grow in the number of cases." Our increased revenue, in the last
few years, has been generated by selling more cases at the same
price. They say, You've got to raise your prices. We've been on a
concerted effort in the last couple of years to increase our
margins, and when you increase your prices, that tends to slow down
your increase in sales.
But I think for the next year or two, we'll stay at roughly
our current size. I wouldn't be surprised if by the year 2000, or
shortly into the next decade, we'll be up to 140, 150,000.
Certainly the demand is there. I've been going over allocations of
our reserve Merlot and Zinfandel the last couple of days with Gary,
and we could easily sell double or triple the amounts of those
Hicke: Okay, so the demand-
Stare: Demand. Demand is definitely there, and it's funny, since being in
business in '72, every year we've had an increase in sales, even in
the years when the wine industry had a downturn. Our 199A results
were about 27 percent above '93 in terms of total sales and
revenue. I figured when I did our sales projections a year ago for
'95, I thought we'd be down about 7 percent, just because of lack
of inventory. And we were up another 6 percent. For '96, I think
we'll be up a little bit, say 5-10 percent; in '97, we may have to
fall back just because of not having the wine to sell, that depends
upon the 1996 harvest. The demand is definitely there now.
Hicke: Have you ever thought of going public, or being bought out?
Stare: Yes, yes, but not really. 1 would say six times a year I get a
telephone call or a letter from a real estate agent. I used to get
it from Lou Gomberg before he passed away. Lou used to represent
the big buyers if someone wanted to get into the wine business
with lots of money, they'd hire Lou to find them a property. I
would say six times a year I would get what I would call a serious
sales solicitation for someone wanting to buy the winery. "Dave,
I've got a European investor who wants to buy a winery in, roughly,
the 100,000 case range. Dry Creek is on the list of properties
he's interested in. Are you interested in selling?" Usually, I
say, "No, not really." Occasionally, I say, "How much has he got
Hicke: Depending on what the day looks like!
Stare: Yes, I mean, everything's for sale at a price. But to answer your
question, no, we're not seriously for sale. Obviously, if someone
came along and offered double what I think the place is worth, then
I'd be a fool not to sell. On the other hand, I'm very happy, it's
a fun business, I still enjoy it. I feel fortunate that my oldest
daughter is active in the business and is very good, and I think
she will ultimately have the ability to take over and run the
property, run the winery. I suppose if she were not interested in
it, I mean, I'm fifty-six, and I'm approaching the time that, I
guess, a lot of successful businessmen think about slowing down and
Hicke: Or sailing.
Stare: Or sailing. Yes, well, I've also been bitten by the golf bug, and
I wouldn't mind living in Florida a few months of the year and
being able to golf and sail down there. But as I said, we're not
really for sale.
Growth of Vineyards
Hicke: Let's go back and review the vineyards, just to put it all
Stare: The initial seventy-seven acres of property that I bought, I
planted out to Just a shade less than fifty acres of vineyard. In
'73, we planted DCV 3 and DCV 4, which was a twenty-acre block and
a fifteen-acre block. DCV 3 was originally planted to half
Sauvignon Blanc and half Chenin Blanc, the two varieties that the
local farm advisor didn't want planted out here. And in DCV 4, we
put in about thirteen acres of Chardonnay. And then, in '74, this
property, the winery parcel, was plantedthat "s called DCV 2--it
was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. That was all the
planted acreage. In 1984 or '85, Dan Pedroni, my neighbor whom I
never got along with, owned a thirty-five-acre parcel in the
Alexander Valley, and it came up for sale, and I bought it. Even
though Dan and I couldn't get along, I bought everything Dan's ever
owned out here.
Hicke: Yes! [Laughter]
Stare: We bought that in I think '84, or '85, and when we bought it, it
was planted to twenty acres Chenin Blanc, and ten acres of
Chardonnay. By this time it was apparent that with Chenin Blanc,
you just couldn't make the profit as well here. You can't afford
to keep land that's worth 20,000 bucks an acre tied up in growing a
grape which is worth 400 dollars a ton, certainly when you can buy
the grape from the Sacramento area at that price and make good wine
So we bought it and converted that vineyard to fifteen acres
of Chardonnay, and fifteen acres of Sauvignon Blanc. That got our
total vineyard acres up to about eighty acres. We had started with
fifty, and we bought thirty over there, which makes it up to
I had up by my house, which is a mile south of here on West
Dry Creek Road, a twenty- two-acre parcel, of which there was about
seven or eight acres of open meadow in the front of the house which
I had never bothered to plant. Sometime in late "84, '85, we
decided to go ahead and plant that. We planted that originally to
two acres of Merlot and about five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and
about an acre and a half of Cabernet Franc.
Stare: That was planted sometime in '84 or '85. Then we bought Pedroni's
property in about '91. That had about eleven acres of vineyard on
it. When we bought it, it came with about three acres of
Chardonnay and about eight acres of Zinfandel, although most of the
Zinfandel was the Davis clone, which was developed by Davis fifteen
years ago; it has very big bunches, more suitable for white
Zinfandel than red Zinfandel- -we had no desire to make white
Zinfandel. And when we bought it, we knew that it had phylloxera,
so we had to replant it. Two years ago, we tore out the old Davis
clone of Zinfandel, fumigated the soil, and replanted it last year
to the so-called Heritage clone of Zinfandel; I think I talked
about it yesterday. That will come into production, hopefully,
next year. That got our vineyard acreage up to just about a
hundred acres, with the addition of that piece.
This past summer we bought a thirty-seven-acre dairy ranch in
Windsor, and I'm in the process of planting. When that's fully
productive, we'll have probably 135 acres of vineyard. That will
be planted the spring of '96 to about twenty acres of Sauvignon
Blanc and about five acres of Merlot. And then there's about nine
acres on that ranch, which because it was dairy ranch, the actual
pen, where the cows are kept penned up, the levels of cow shit
Stare: Fertilizer, yes! Too rich, too fertile, and we have to let that
land lie fallow for two or three years before we can plant it.
It's too rich for grapes, and we'll hold off planting that for a
couple of years, and hopefully the levels of uric acid and other
stuff in there will drop to a level where it won't be harmful to
I think one of the mistakes that I made in this business was
when we became profitable during the early to mid-eighties, I was
not terribly aggressive in buying additional vineyard property. I
remember looking at one absolutely gorgeous, forty-acre parcel on
hillside property on Dry Creek Road, about two miles north of here.
That came up for sale, and I think they were asking $14,000 an acre
for it. I thought, I'm not going to pay that, that's too damn
much; I'm not going to pay fourteen grand. Now it's worth twenty-
five grand. There have been two or three incidents like that,
where I thought property was just overpriced, and I wasn't willing
to pay the price, but now I kick myself for not having done it
because it's worth twice as much.
Hicke: So you buy a lot of grapes, as you've said.
Stare: Yes. I think one of our, let's say, potential weaknesses is that
we are dependent for about two-thirds of our grapes on outside
Hicke: How much is that?
Stare: We grow, right now- -well probably not right now because we've got
some land out of production due to phylloxera replanting--we
normally grow about a third of our grapes. I think when the
Windsor parcel is in production, we'll probably grow, oh, I'll have
130 acres of vineyard, so we'll probably grow close to 40 percent
of our own grapes, if we stay at the 120,000 case level. If good
vineyard parcels become available at a price that's at all
justifiable economically, we'll be interested in buying them.
One of the main changes that has occurred in the wine industry
over the last twenty-five years is that when I started, the people
who were getting involved were the people that were interested in
wine and had a little bit of money to play with. I started the
winery with money that I had inherited from my mother when she
died. I did not have vast sums to work with. I went into the wine
business to make money. There's a joke that's told amongst
vintners: the way to make a little bit of money in the wine
business is you start off with a lot of money, and get into the
business, and then make a little bit of money. That, to a large
extent, is true.
When you look at a lot of the wineries that have been built
over the last ten to fifteen years, they have been started by
people who have made a ton of money doing something else.
For my way of thinking, I want to make money in this wine
business, and I'm competing with people who have a lot more
resources, which makes it harder for us. I think a lot of vintners
who started up in the early-to mid-seventies were people like
myself, who enjoy wine, who had a little bit of money to play with,
as opposed to people today who are getting in the business like
Joe Montana just bought a 500-acre ranch up in the Knight's Valley.
He supposedly wants to ultimately plant a Merlot vineyard and have
a Montana Merlot, and I'm sure Joe has got tons of money to play
Hicke: To lose.
Stare: Yes, to lose, and I don't have tons of money to lose.
Hicke: There's a difference in making a living and having a hobby.
Stare: Yes. A lot of the more recent wineries are more hobbies than
making a living.
Working With Growers
Hicke: Let me ask you a little bit about your relationship with growers.
As you expanded your vineyards, you had to expand your numbers of
Stare: Most of our growers we have been buying from for a long time. We
have about twenty, twenty-five outside contract growers, most of
them under what we call a three-year, evergreen contract, which
means that unless either side notifies the other side of a desire
to terminate the contract, it automatically extends for one more
year. And if either side wants to terminate the contract, they've
got to give written notice sent by registered mail before the end
of the year, and upon notification, the winery is obligated to buy,
and the grower is obligated to sell the grapes for two more years.
We just were notified that one of our contract growers that we've
buying from since the mid-seventies did desire to terminate the
contract. But he's obligated to sell us grapes in '96 and '97,
according to the terms of the agreement.
One of the other things that's kind of unique about our
contractmaybe not--is the contract contains a formula for setting
the price of grapes. It is based upon the annual grape crush price
report. We just finished a report that shows that we bought 5.7
tons of Cabernet at 1,500 bucks a ton, 28.4 tons of Cabernet at
1,450. These are all summed by the State Department of
Agriculture, and they publish a final grape price report, which
lists the Sonoma County average for Cabernet and gives how many
tons were sold at what price. You have a whole range of prices.
It doesn't say who paid it- -that information is confidential- -but
you see a whole price spectrum, you know, .2 percent of the
Cabernet in Sonoma County sold for 2,000 bucks a ton. And 1.2
percent was sold at 1,900 dollars a ton.
Our grape pricing is based upon the average Sonoma County
price for that grape. In other words, I paid, in 1995, for most of
our Sauvignon Blanc, a price based upon the 1994 average price.
That is known in March- -the report comes out in March of the
following year. So when the 1995 report comes out in March '96,
our growers will know what they're going to get paid for the
grapes. They can't come to me and say, "Dave, I think they are
worth a hundred bucks more per ton." And I can't go them and say,
"George, I think they are worth a hundred bucks less per ton." It
takes the haggling out of it which is good; I don't like to haggle.
Hicke: If all the contracts are based on this sort of thing, how does it
Stare: Well, right now there is a shortage of grapes because of
phylloxera, and the price of Sauvignon Blanc probably may go up a
hundred bucks a ton this year.
Hicke: But how could it if it's based on last year's average?
Stare: As the average moves, so does our price but with a one year delay.
Over the life of the contract it averages out to be fair.
Hicke: Oh, okay, I thought this was general.
Stare: No, no. I'm sure this one grower notified us because he feels that
in '96 and '97, the price per ton is going to be higher than what
we've been paying for it. But I still think the system works.
When grape prices are going down, and '91, '92, '93 grape prices
gradually drifted downward, we tended to overpay for the grapes.
The price one year was 750, the next year was 725; we paid 750.
I think, over a ten- or fifteen-year period, it'll average
out. But I think growers tend to be a little bit short-sighted
when they hear that their neighbor is getting a hundred bucks more
per ton- -they want that. They're willing to forget the fact that
when everybody else was depressed, they got paid more. We've got
to get together with this grower, and we'll probably end up
renegotiating the price upwards somewhat.
You always hear horror stories. Back in the early seventies,
I think this was one of the reasons why Windsor Vineyards, Rodney
Strong, went out of business, and went bankruptthey got locked
into some very high, long-term, grape purchase contracts, and
agreed to pay 1,000 bucks a ton for Chardonnay and Cabernet, when,
in fact, the average price was 500 bucks a ton. 1 They just couldn't
live with that. I want to avoid that kind of pitfall.
But a lot of our contract growers are friends, a couple of
them are reasonably close friends: Dr. Zielger, Dave Olson, Charles
Green. They come to dinner at my house, I go for dinner at their
'See "Rodney Strong Vineyards: Creative Winemaking and Winery
Management in Sonoma County," an oral history conducted in 1993 by Carole
Hicke, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of
California, Berkeley, 1994.
house, we're good friends. Some of them are more strictly a
business transaction, but all of them, I think, are very good
people, they're quality-oriented growers, and they do a good job.
There used to be a wine writer, Alexis Lichine, a French-
American who was very influential- -one of the first people who
really started writing about wines back in the fifties, and one of
the first wine books I ever bought was his Wines of France. It is
a wonderful book. He talks a lot in there about estate bottling,
saying that estate-grown grapes are far superior to non-estate-
grown grapes. I don't believe that. I think that there are good
growers out there, and there are not-so-good growers, and a good
grower can do just as well. Maybe the estate-bottled wine you can
sell for a dollar or two more a bottle, but it doesn't necessarily
mean that it ' s a better wine than something that's not estate-
As you know, there are wineries that own all their own
vineyards. One that comes to mind--I won't mention the name--a
friend of mine used to be the winemaker there, and his boss was
always complaining, "How come we don't win a gold medal at the
Sonoma County Harvest Fair? Why don't we win a gold medal at the
L.A. County Fair?" And my friend answered back, "Well, the reason
is you make me use all these grapes, and frankly, out of the 400
tons of Chardonnay grapes we grow, we've got 100 tons of very good
Chardonnay grapes, 200 tons of good Chardonnay grapes, and 100 tons
of terrible Chardonnay grapes, but you make me use it all!" So
being estate-bottled doesn't necessarily mean good.
Hicke: Yes. Good point.
Stare: Have I talked enough about growers?
Hicke: Yes. There's only one further question, which maybe has more to do
with winemaking; I understand that you like a diversity of
vineyards for blending.
Stare: Yes. One of the things that we do is we buy grapes from Grower
George, Grower Pete, Grower Dan, Grower Phyllis, and they're all
fermented and barrel-aged separately. So we have at any one time
twenty- five different lots of Chardonnay, twenty- five different
lots of Sauvignon Blanc, fifteen different lots of Cabernet, and
they're all held separately, and you begin to pick up the
individual characteristics of those vineyards.
If there is a vineyard that is continually weak, we try to get
our vineyard manager involved, and help the grower. Maybe we
should try a different fertilizer program, or maybe more leaf
thinning, or more of this, or more of that. Our policy is to work
with the grower, have him improve his quality, and if we ultimately
can't do it, then we will stop buying from him.
We had one grower, whom I will not mention by name, who owned
what should have been, at least on paper it looked that way, a
superb Cabernet vineyard. On a hillside, it was one of the oldest
plantings in Dry Creek Valley. The vineyard came up for sale ten
or twelve, maybe fifteen years ago; we looked at it, actually made
an offer on it, which was rejected as being too low. It was bought
by someone else, and I figured Hey, if they're going to buy the
vineyard, we'll buy the grapes. We'll get what we want without
having to have our money tied up in the vineyard.
As it turned out, the vineyard was a terrible vineyard. They
were the worst grapes of that variety, and for a while, they were a
fairly significant part of our production of that varietal.
Probably the quality of that varietal suffered because we used
those grapes. We worked with it for four or five years, and got
people over from Davis to try and improve it, but couldn't do
anything, couldn't change, and so we stopped buying from them a few
Hicke: Was it the soil or the grapes?
Stare: Nobody knows, nobody knows. In the grapes, when they reached the
desired level sugar maturity, the acid was very low, the ph was
very high, and it just made a very flat, insipid wine; nobody
really knows why, but we tried many things to improve the quality.
Hicke: Well, you were lucky on that one!
Stare: And that's why I say though, owning your vineyard doesn't
necessarily mean it's better.
Hicke: That's right. Well, I know that Don Wallace is your ranch manager.
Stare: Don is my son-in-law. He has the title of ranch manager.
Hicke: Yes, I wondered, is that the same as vineyard manager? What is
Stare: No, no. It's a titleDon wanted to come to work for me, and
virtually all Don's adult life had been spent as a heavy equipment
operator and a construction foreman. His dad was a construction
foreman, he'd do various jobs for Bechtel all over the world, and
Don, as a kid, lived in Venezuela and other places. He had done
that work since about the age of seventeen. He wanted to get out
of it and come to work for me, so I said, "Fine. Go work for some
other winery first." He did work for Tim Murphy at Murphy-Goode
for a year, helped out in the vineyards and did mechanical farm
machinery repair, helped lay out vineyards, and did a lot of
Then when he came to work for me three years ago, he had the
title of ranch manager. Unfortunately, it really didn't work out;
he kind of stepped on people's toes. Duff Bevill, our vineyard
manager, didn't want him monkeying in his territory. Larry Levin,
our winemaker, didn't want him monkeying in his area. For a while,
Don had a job but really didn't have a job.
He has, over the last year and a half, gotten a lot more
involved in sales, and has done very well; he basically has the
wrong title now. He's become involved in sales, and I gave him,
about a year ago, about four or five problem markets where we had
not been growing, and he started making some sales calls and going
to the markets and working the markets. The three principal states
were Louisiana, Texas, and Coloradoall three areas where our
sales have been drifting downward. I must admit he has turned our
sales dramatically up in all three states. He's done a very good
job at that.
Don is a very personable guy, and people get along with him
very well. All these salesmen, these distributors would become Kim
and Don's personal friendsthey are always calling him at home
and it's worked out. Don is being steered much more in the
direction of sales, and I think we'll eventually drop the term
ranch manager. Duff does our vineyards. Don is heading for our
sales manager position.
Anything dealing with the property that's not vineyards falls
under Don's territory. If we have a road that needs to be rebuilt,
that's Don's territory. The winery actually owns two rental houses
now. We own the original house where Zita [Eastman] lives, and one
that came with the Windsor Dairy Ranch, and Don is responsible for
fixing those up and making sure that anything wrong gets fixed; the
one in Windsor had a fair amount of work to do on it before we
could rent it out. He's in charge of the ranch, but not the
vineyards, if you see what I mean.
Hicke: That's an interesting idea. In a winery, it seems like a lot of
people's jobs would intersect.
Stare: They do, and I think one of the characteristics of the most
successful winemakers and vineyard managers is that they probably
have fairly big egos. They don't want people coming into their
territory and telling them what to do. Don, for a while, was
trying to help out in grape buying, and that really ruffled Larry's
feathers. I think our winemaker should be the primary person who
determines what grapes we buy. They make the styles of wine that I
tell them we want to make. Don ruffled Larry's feathers, but he
has found a niche, and it appears he does very, very well in sales,
and that's where he's going to be going.
Okay, let's go back a bit to the wines, and I'd like to ask you
about developing a Heritage wine, which you started very early on.
We [pause] started developing a line of reserve wines; I think our
first reserve wine was a reserve Cab, which we came out with in '77
or "78. And then we had an estate reserve Merlot of 1980, and
maybe a reserve Chardonnay, but began our current reserve program
in '82, with a reserve Chardonnay and a reserve red wine, which was
roughly a fifty-fifty blend of Cabernet and Merlot.
What did reserve start out to mean?
Well, oh, five bucks more per bottle. [Laughter] Other than that,
to me, the term reserve means something that is the best effort in
that variety for a given year, something that's head and shoulders
above regular quality for that wine. Our reserve Cabernet is
richer, more fully flavored than the regular Cabernet. In the
reserve Chardonnay, you see more barrel aging, it has a higher
percentage of malolactic, and is a richer, fuller style of wine,
more buttery. Typically a reserve sells at, oh, 40 to 60 percent
higher than the regular bottling. Our current Cabernet I think
retails at an un-discounted price for about fourteen [dollars], our
reserve Cabernet is twenty- two, reserve Chardonnay is about
seventeen, our regular Chardonnay, about thirteen. But the
reserves are richer, more concentrated, typically oakies, a bigger
style of wine.
But you started out answering my question about Heritage and we got
into reserve wine.
Our first red wine, in the current program, was a 1982 Dry Creek
Hicke: That was the first blending?
Stare: Yes, the Heritage concept had not been developed at that time. We
had that wine, we had an '83 reserve red, an '84 reserve red, and
we had an '85 reserve red, but we were going to release the '88.
The Heritage concept came along in about '88. These were blends
made from traditional Bordeaux varieties, and they were the best
lots of the best wines of the winery from that year. Since we
didn't have a proprietary reserve name like Opus One or Insignia or
Cardinal, we just called our wines "Heritage," and put it on the
front label in fairly large letters. Our '85 reserve red was
actually bottled, labeled, and foiled, and we went to the expense
of soaking off the labels, tearing off the foils, and re-foiling it
and re-labeling it with the first of our diagonal reserve labels.
Hicke: The diagonal labelswe didn't talk about that, that's Heritage
Stare: The diagonal label is on all of our reserve wines. That was Kim's
idea. It's been a great idea.
Hicke: But how did the Heritage concept start?
Stare: Dan Burger, who was a wine writer for the L.A. Times, wrote an
article back in '86, '87, essentially stating that there was a need
for a name for a class of wine style made in the traditional
Bordeaux blend, really traditional Bordeaux wines. By this time,
the varietal requirement had been raised to 75 percent. In order
to call a wine a Cabernet, it's got to be 75 percent Cabernet. I
believe, right now, that there's a movement to try to raise that to
85 percent. But there was a need for having a name for a blended
red wine from Bordeaux.
Berger's original suggestion was to call these wines "elevage"
wines. "Elevage" is a French term, meaning that the blend is
better than any one of the parts. The blend elevates the wine to a
higher plane. I think Hurphy-Goode actually bottled some wine with
the "elevage" name on it. The name was rapidly and completely
dropped when someone realized that "elevage" had another meaning in
French, having something to do with sheep breeding.
Hicke: Oh, great.
Stare: The name was dropped, and then a contest was held by the Heritage
Association to come up with a name: What do we call this class of
wines, made in the vision of Bordeaux? They had to be blends,
generally less than 75 percent of any variety, so you couldn't call
it a Cabernet, or a Herlot.
Hicke: But very fine wine.
Stare: Yes, but top-notch wine, and someone suggested "Heritage," wines of
merit made from the heritage of Bordeaux. Kind of a bastardized
word made up of "heritage," and "merit." That term was adopted,
and at that time, we were looking for a proprietary name for our
reserve red wine, and we jumped on the Heritage bandwagon whole
heartedly, and put the term "Heritage" in large letters on the
It took the Heritage concept a fair amount time to get off the
ground. Some of the more important wine writers always thought it
was ridiculous, and other writers liked it, and it sputtered, and
at Dry Creek it sputtered. We had a hard time selling the wines
until two years ago. I think the name has finally caught on, and
people know what it is, and we came out with our Heritage, and
within a month we sold out of it. I think the term is a
significant one; it has taken on a special meaning as quality
wines, and we're going to start increasing our production of
Heritage quite a bit while still maintaining our high quality.
Hicke: When you first started the reserve reds called red table wine,
which you would think would not be a fine wine, did you find
resistance to that not being a true varietal?
Stare: Yes, there was, and part of the initial program in '82, '83, and
'84, was we came out with David S. Stare- -you looked at the label
and the thing that stood out was David S. Stare, not Dry Creek
Vineyards. That was a mistake. We should have made Dry Creek
Vineyards stand out, and my name much less prominent. The current
reserve packaging emphasizes Dry Creek more than anything else.
Hicke: But maybe part of the acceptance is the acceptance that a blended
wine can be better than a varietal.
Stare: Oh, yes, I think so. The Heritage Association probably has forty
members in it today. There are a few wineries that make Heritage-
style wines that are not members--Hondavi would be the perfect
example- -but I think the concept has come of age. It is definitely
one which we'll see a lot more of in the future.
Hicke: Okay, let's talk about a couple of your other wines--the Herlot, to
start with and I read that your 1991 won Le Grand Prix d'Honneur.
Stare: Yes. We have made Merlot here since '74. We marketed, I think, in
'74, '75, and '76, just a few hundred cases of Merlot each year.
Then we dropped the Merlot for '77, '78, and '79, just used it to
blend in with the Cabernet, and brought it back out in 1980. From
about '80 to "87, we would make about a thousand cases a year of
Merlot, a pretty small part of our production, but it always sold
very quickly. We're selling out in a month, so let's make more of
it. Thus we began to increase our production.
When we were talking about vineyards a while back, I think I
forgot to mention that in 1988 we bought a twelve-and-a-half-acre
vineyard from Lambert Bridge winery, which is right across Lambert
Bridge Road from the winery here. When we bought that vineyard it
was planted to Johannesburg Riesling.
Johannesburg Riesling is a varietal which is definitely going
out of favor, even though it made a very nice wine. We bought the
vineyard with a contract to sell the grapes to Gallo, although, we
did make, that year, ten tons here. It made a very nice Riesling,
but it didn't sell well. We 'decided to T-bud it over in '89 to
Our Merlot, in back of the winery, the vineyard that I put in
in '74, had always been just a wonderful, rich Merlot, the best
Merlot. We propagated the bud wood and used that bud wood over in
our new vineyard. It was T-budded in '87, and we got a small crop
off it in '90. In '91, it came on strong, and that has
traditionally been our best Merlot. We get between fifty and sixty
tons off that vineyard. The '91 reserve, which won the Grand Prix
d'Honneur at the Expo wine tasting last year, was 100 percent from
that vineyard. Our 1993 Merlot is 100 percent from that vineyard.
The 1994 will probably be 100 percent from that vineyard.
Sonoma County Soleil
Hicke: Well, the next one I want to mention is the Sonoma County Soleil.
Stare: Soleil is the French word for sun. One of my favorite wine types
has always been a good Sauternes or Barsac from France, or a
Coteaux du Layon from the Loire Valley, or a Beerenauslese, or a
Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany. These are wines which are
infected with Botrytls cinerea, noble rot, and it causes the grapes
to shrivel up and lose water, with the remaining sugar being
concentrated. That's how you make these sweet wines. I've always
liked that style of wines.
In 1983, we were presented with climatic conditions which
encouraged the growth of Botrytis cinerea, and we made I'd say
about two or three hundred cases, a very small batch. The wine
tasted very nice, but it developed a horrible orange color, a very
dark, burnt orange color. Even though the wine tasted great, it
did not have a very good color in it. Fortunately, we didn't have
very much of it.
In '85, there was a surplus of grapes, and one of our contract
Sauvignon Blanc growers had thirty or forty tons for which he had
no home. I told the guy, "We'd like to buy them possibly to make a
late harvest-style reserve wine." He let them stay in the vineyard
for a couple of weeks un-picked, and they really began to develop a
nice noble rot. We picked the crop and made about a thousand cases
of this very sweet, 16 percent sugar, 12 and 1/2 percent alcohol
wine. We made it again in '86. I think the best one we ever made
was probably the '86. We tried to make it once during the late
eighties or early nineties, unsuccessfully.
Then in '92, we had a grower who had some unsold Sauvignon
Blanc, and again we made the deal with him that we would pay for
the pickers, but we wouldn't pay for the actual farming of the
grapes until we sold the wine, and we gave him a percentage of the
deal, a share of the revenue. It turned out to be another very
The problem with these wines is that in California, at least
this part of California, the Dry Creek area, the climate is really
not conducive to the Botrytis cinerea. I think what you need is
some rain during harvest, some dampness and rain, followed by a few
days of cool, dry weather. Unfortunately, when we have rain here
in the fall, before the harvest is completed, it often gets very
muggy afterwards. The humidity causes the Botrytis cinerea mold to
grow in a different way and become Brown Rot, and it can ruin the
whole vineyard within about two days. And of course the rain
during harvest is bad for the rest of the grapes.
So it's kind of a crap shoot, and it's hard to expect your
growers to leave twenty or thirty tons unpicked with the chance
that it might develop Botrytis cinerea in a positive way, because
if it doesn't, you've lost a crop, and you can't do anything with
And so what we've started doing now with our own Sauvignon
Blanc vineyard is to leave twenty tons unpicked. We did not do it
last year just because of the shortage of grapes, but the last time
we did it here, I think it was '93 or '94, we left about twenty-
five tons unpicked to try to get the Botrytis cinerea mold growing,
and after about ten days, it was obvious we were not having much
success. So we went ahead and picked the crop, because I didn't
want to lose it, and even though the grapes weren't probably quite
as nice for a regular Sauvignon Blanc, had they been picked two
weeks earlier, they nevertheless became a valuable component and
didn't detract from that wine.
I love that style of wine, but again, we don't have the
conditions here to really do it, and it's kind of a hit or miss.
Chateau St. Jean, Phelps, and Freemark Abbey are three of the
wineries that have been more successful with it. They have a
slightly different climatic condition there, more conducive to
Botrytis cinerea, and so far, we can get it growing about every
fourth or fifth year.
Dry Creek Valley Appellation Recognized in 1983
Hicke: Now I'm just going to skip around here with a few things that I
want to be sure to get. Appellations, I know you were
instrumental in getting- -
Stare: Yes. Obviously, Dry Creek is in Sonoma County. We actually
labeled a couple of our Zins back in the mid-seventies with Dry
Creek Valley as an appellation. The BATF approved it, and then
they eventually came back and said, "No, we can't approve that name
any more . "
Stare: It's not a recognized appellation area. But in the early eighties,
there was a move afoot all over to try to get more tightly defined
appellation areas. I was one of the people responsible for doing
that . Most of the actual paperwork and legwork was done by Charles
Richard of Bellerose Vineyard, but I certainly was very
instrumental in getting it going.
Hicke: What was your goal here, I mean, what were your reasons?
Stare: I think to get more recognition for Dry Creek Valley as a grape
growing area. When I came on the scene in 1971, Dry Creek had a
long history of grape growing and winemaking, but it was basically
unknown; nobody knew of it outside of northern California. Just
trying to promote the area and get more recognition was our goal.
And I would say over the last four or five years, Dry Creek has
finally begun to come into its own and is getting more and more
recognition as a growing area, and certainly having it recognized
as an official appellation was important.
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley
Stare: Another thing that I think has been very important in Dry Creek
Valley is a group of people called Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley,
which is a group of all the wineries and probably about a third of
the growers here; we contribute dues in terms of dollars per acre a
vineyard or dollars per thousand cases of wine produced.
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley sponsored a very, very
successful event, the "Passport to the Dry Creek Valley," which is
always the last weekend in April; all the wineries have an open
house and do something special- -have some food and entertainment,
and you have vineyard tours, and lectures on T-budding and so
forth. It's a valley-wide open house which has become very, very
successful. We sell 2,000 passports a year, and they were sold at
fifty bucks a piece. It's become a major fund raiser for wine
growers of Dry Creek Valley. The net profits of this eventforty,
fifty, sixty thousand dollars are used to promote the Valley.
One of our main ways of promoting it is that we have Press Day
every spring, where we'll fly out to the valley half a dozen to a
dozen wine press from all over the country, and they'll usually
arrive the Thursday night, and stay Friday, Saturday, and go home
on Sunday. During that time, they're exposed to the wineries,
they're exposed to the vineyards, and it's really gotten the name
of Dry Creek Valley out there.
Hicke: You were a founding member?
Stare: I was the second president. Lou Preston was the original
president. I will claim that the Passport was my idea. One of the
groups that I'm involved in is the Nautical Heritage Society, which
owns and operates the tall ship, the California, which is a replica
of an 1850s revenue cutter. I've been on the board of directors of
that group for the last seven or eight years .
They started a passport program right after I went on the
board of directors where they had a small book they printed to look
like a passport, and if you ever went on the boat, and you had a
passport, you'd get your passport stamped. If you went on in
Monterey, you'd get the Monterey page stamped; if you went on at
Dana Point, you'd get the Dana Point page stamped. We adopted this
for our [Dry Creek Valley] program, and it's been very, very
successful. It really is a lot a fun.
Bug Creek Wine Label; Rose of Cabernet
Hicke: As I said, I'm skipping around here, but I want to hear about the
1992 Bug Creek label.
Stare: Okay. One of our contract growers for Cabernet Sauvignon was a
lawyer. This is a vineyard, again, that is one of those that came
up for sale fifteen years ago. I thought it was too expensive; I
didn't buy it. It's right next to my house. It's eleven acres of
Cabernet, and probably the oldest or second oldest planting of
Cabernet in Dry Creek Valley--it was planted back in the sixties.
It was bought, as I said, by this attorney, and for a number of
years the grapes went to another winery, and it was supposedly
their best Cabernet. He got tired of hauling the grapes quite a
distance to this other winery. I don't know whether he approached
us or we approached him, but to deliver the grapes to Dry Creek is
a half-mile drive, as opposed to a twenty-mile drive to the other
winery; so we started buying the grapes sometime back in the early
It was our best single source of Cabernet for a number of
years. Unfortunately, the vineyard began to show phylloxera, it
was one of the first vineyards around here to show signs of
phylloxera, and the quality of the grapes was beginning to go
downhill. In 1992, I looked at the contract, and it specified
nothing about minimum of sugar levels; normally we will specify a
minimum of sugar level in our contract- -it was a flaw in the
contract. He said, "Well, there's nothing [in the contract] about
the quality of the grapes. As far as I'm concerned, you've got to
buy the grapes even if they are only 15 percent sugar."
I realized we had a problem there, so we sent him our
notification, but we still had to buy the grapes for two more
years. I told Larry, I said, "Larry, let's make two wines. Let's
make the first pickingon the first pass, let's pick the fruit
from the sick vines, the low sugar fruit, and let's pick the better
quality fruit on the second picking." So we made two wines from
that vineyard. We made the Rose from the first picking and we made
Cabernet from the second picking.
The actual Bug Creek label I think I came up with the idea.
So we designed this label, and we had this kind of stylized, real
mean, vicious-looking bug, which bears no resemblance to a
phylloxera. The side label talks about this dreaded beast, it's
getting rampant in the vineyard of California, and on the purchase
of this wine, the winery will donate 10 percent of the proceeds to
the American Vineyard Foundation for vineyard research to solve the
I think the first year we gave seven or eight thousand bucks
to AVF or to Davis, and the second year we gave some money, and
then we dropped it. After two years, the Bug Creek had kind of run
its course. We made one more year of it and just bottled it as Dry
Creek Rose of Cabernet with a regular Dry Creek label. But that
Bug Creek got us a lot of publicity.
Hicke: Yes, I was going to ask about that.
Stare: Stories in the [Wine] Spectator and all the other trade magazines;
public television, PBS, actually sent a film crew out here, and
they were probably here for a half a day, and ultimately showed
about a three-minute segment. They did a little blurb on the
phylloxera problem in California, and about half of it that was
shown on TV was shot here at Dry Creek, including a conversation
between myself and our vineyard manager and our winemaker, Larry
Levin, talking about phylloxera, what it does, and this kind of
thing. It was kind of a neat little PR coup.
Hicke: Phylloxera should come along more often? [laughs]
Stare: No, I hope it stays away, it's expensive. We're spending,
probably, oh, $200,000 to $250,000 a year in replanting due to
phylloxera. It will have cost us over a million dollars by the
time we are finished.
Hicke: What rootstocks are you replanting on?
Stare: We're going to about four: 110 A, and 5 C, 420 Athose are the
ones that come to mind.
Hicke: Would you tell me about the celebrities' labels?
Stare: What celebrity labels?
Hicke: The labels of people who have come to visit you--
Stare: Oh, oh, you mean the ones that are autographed?
Stare: Okay, there's one there from Andy Warhol. There is a big wine
tasting every year in New York in March, "A View From the Vineyard"
at the Pierre Hotel. We haven't gone for the last four or five
years, because it's kind of developed into a mass public drunken
event. Unfortunately, when you pay a hundred bucks to go to a wine
tasting, you want to drink lots of wine. The guy comes up to your
table, and says, "I'll take a taste of your Cabernet," and you pour
him a taste. "Wait a minute, I want a glass of Cabernet; I don't
want to [just] taste."
Hicke: No spitting [laughter].
Stare: No spitting allowed. You don't spit at the Pierre, the rugs are
too deep. Anyways one year, Andy Warhol was there. I was pouring
next to my friend, Jim Pedroncelli, and Jim ran over and got Andy's
autograph on a bottle of his wine. I decide to get an autographed
bottle of Dry Creek. By this time, Andy was kind of walking up the
stairs to another part of the ballroom. I ran after him, and ran
up the stairs, and tripped and fell. I felt like a complete idiot.
But I eventually got up, and went up to Warhol and said, "Andy,
will you please sign a bottle of Dry Creek?" He did, and that's
what that is. I think that's the only autographed bottle there.
Hicke: Is it?
Stare: Once when I was in San Jose, a few years ago, I bumped into Joe Di
Maggio, the famous baseball player at a restaurant in San Jose. I
asked Joe if he would autograph a label, and he said no, he would
not endorse alcoholic beverages. He did agree to autograph the
menu of the restaurant. We have that. I think those are the only
two celebrity labels that we have.
Winery Associates Formed 1982
Hicke: And then we have here two other little things. The Winery
Stare: Yes. We do our marketing in a somewhat unusual way in that
[thoughtful pause] our out-of-state marketing is actually done by a
separate company called Winery Associates. This is a company that
I helped found in 1982.
One of my best friends, probably my best friend now, is fellow
named Dave Ready. Dave was one of our first distributors back in
the early seventies. He had a little company called Vintage One
Wines, from Bloomington, Minnesota. He was one of the early people
in Minnesota to introduce Minnesotans to better California wines.
Dave sold our wines from '73 to '78, at which time he sold out to
the Ed Phillips Company and became their fine wine manager.
Phillips is a large rectifier, a bottler of private label
spirits, and seller of spirits and mass-produced wines in
Minnesota, and they wanted to get into the fine wine business.
They bought Dave's company, and they became the fine wine division.
This lasted for about five years. Dave was kind of a happy-
go-lucky, easy-going guy, unused to kind of a rigid corporate
structure. Dave was let go in summer of "82 by Phillips. He had
been wanting to move to California, and I said, "Dave, why don't
you come out here , and let ' s figure our what we ' re going to do with
He moved out here, and we decided to set up a wine marketing
company. The original five partners were Dry Creek, Alexander
Valley Vineyards, J. Pedroncelli, Preston Vineyards and Winery, and
William Wheeler Winery. Dave became our only employee. Initially
we had total sales of five million dollarscombined, out-of-state
sales of the various wineries. We gradually grew, and we
eventually added some other people.
Today two of the original partners have dropped: William
Wheeler is out of business. Bill sold his winery to a French
company a few years ago, and then, they in turn sold to another
French company, and now it's basically out of business. And Lou
Preston decided three or four years ago that he wanted to do his
own thing, so he dropped out of the marketing company.
We have, since then, added Murphy Goode, who's become a
partner member, and Flora Springs from Napa has been a client for
the last two years and will become a partner next year. Then we
just recently added Quivira Vineyards here in Dry Creek as a
Winery Associates has a top-notch salesman on the East Coast,
a top-notch guy in the Midwest, Dave in California, and Dave's wife
does Hawaii and national accounts. We've got two office people
here. We hired a new guy in Texas last year, and we're in the
process of hiring a guy to do Colorado, Arizona, and the mountain
states. It's been beneficial for all the wineries concerned as it
is an economical way to market wines.
Dry Creekif we didn't have Winery Associates, we would
probably have about six or seven more employees. To have a
salesman in a territory costs about a hundred grand per person.
You've got, probably, a salary of fifty to sixty thousand bucks,
and when you consider his miscellaneous payroll expenses, car
allowance, entertainment, and travel, you're talking about a
hundred grand per person. At our size, we'd have to have a guy in
the Northeast, probably a guy in the Southeast, a guy in the
Midwest, a guy in the Southwest, and probably a guy in the
Northwest. We'd have to have five sales people plus probably
another secretary or two here, and probably a national sales
manager. Our overall salary expenses would be a lot higher.
Winery Associates offers us a way to share those expenses.
The other nice thing about it is when one of the Winery
Associates people goes into the distributing company, where we're
all in the same house, you know, you command a lot more respect.
For example, we are all with the same distributor in Connecticut;
so it's not just the twenty-five hundred cases of Dry Creek they
sell. We become then, collectively, for the distributor, a twelve-
thousand-case-a-year supplier, which is a lot more important, and
they are much more willing to pay attention to us.
As a result, it's been, I think, quite successful. This year
we decided to add one more person. We've had a dozen different
wineries that want to join our group, and we added one.
I'm surprised more wineries haven't done this type of thing.
You have to control your own ego a little, because when one of the
salesmen goes in and talks about Murphy Goode wine, why isn't he
talking about Dry Creek? But collectively it's worked, I think, by
and large, very successfully.
Hicke: How do they differentiate among the wines they represent?
Stare: That's a good question. I don't know. Fortunately, I don't have
to answer that. But by and large it has gone along pretty
Hicke: Yes. That's what counts.
Society of Blancs. 1990
Hicke: What about the Society of Blancs?
Stare: That was a group that was started, again, by myself, probably about
five years ago to promote Sauvignon Blanc as a wine. We just felt
that Sauvignon Blanc needed more publicity, and more and more wine
writers needed to write about it and recommend it; we were hoping
we would increase the sales. We, initially, had about thirty-six
wineries that joined and had dues ranging from 500 bucks to 4,000
dollars a year.
We hired a high-powered PR type from the city--I forget his
last namewho promptly spent 48,000 bucks a year and offended
everybody. We eventually dropped him and decided to do it much
more in-house and scale back the dues.
I was the original president of this group and I am now the
new president for 1996, but with wine sales booming and the current
shortage of S.B. grapes, there is less of an interest in this
The group promotes Sauvignon Blanc wine, as I said. We have a
person who works part time for the group who hands out press
releases to wine writers. It's up to the individual winery to get
their wines out. An example of what we do is that we have been
called upon by the Wine Institute to do S.B. tastings for foreign
buyers. And we've gotten some people to pay a little bit more
attention to Sauvignon Blanc, but the organization is fairly
Hicke: I wondered if you could tell me about your wife's role here.
Stare: Unfortunately, we're separated.
Hicke: Oh, okay.
Stare: So, that's the end of that. I will admit, one of the problems with
the wine business is that if you're going to be successful, you've
got to travel a lot.
My first wifewe got divorced in 1977, and I raised both my
girls by myself. I had a very good au pair helping me, a live-in
I got remarried four years ago, and Andrea didn't like the
idea of me traveling, so I started to take her with me on trips,
and then she didn't like the idea of getting up and catching the
seven o'clock plane. "Why do we have to do that?" I said, "Well,
dear, this is a business trip, that's what I have to do. You want
to come with me, fine, but don't complain about it. If you don't
want to come, fine." Things just didn't go very well; we separated
six months ago.
Hicke: Well, one of the things you said you would tell me a little bit
about is the Wine Institute, and your part in that.
Stare: Yes. I think the Wine Institute [pensive pause], by and large, is
a good organization. A lot of the small-to-medium size wineries
feel that it is controlled by Modesto, California, the Gallo
company. I have no proof whether it is or not, but I'm sure when
one of the Gallos calls, John De Luca, the president, will drop
everything and take his calls. When I call to ask John a question,
the secretary will say, "Well, he's in a meeting, he'll call you
back." He may or may not call me back.
As I mentioned at lunch yesterday, Dry Creek was one of the
wineries that brought about the downfall of the California Wine
Commission a few years ago. The Wine Commission was a marketing
order that developed in the mid-eighties to promote California
wines. People had to pay into it dues assessment, based upon
gallons shipped or tons shipped or something. I think it was based
upon gallons shipped.
Hicke: We were just talking about the demise of the California Wine
Stare: Yes. Anyway, the California Wine Commission would then hire
contractors to do their job, andI'm a little bit fuzzy on the
details nowthe Wine Commission would contract with the Wine
Institute to do something. What it essentially resulted in was
mandatory membership in the Wine Institute, because most of the
California Wine Commission's funds were being funneled into the
Wine Institute to support the Wine Institute's programs.
A lot of us rebelled, and the last time there was a vote on
whether to re-install the Wine Commission, it was voted down.
Nobody thought it would be voted down, but it meant the demise of
the Wine Commission, and it meant that the Wine Institute was going
to lose the vast majority of their funding mechanism.
They did some fairly serious soul searching, and I was one of
a group of about twenty vintners who was on this soul-searching
committee. We met, I think, once a month for six months, usually
down at Wente in Livermore, and came up with the current structure
and dues rates, which has solved some of the problems. But I still
think that when the interests of big wineries and small wineries
diverge, the Wine Institute will always side with the big wineries.
Hicke: Is there any kind of solution to this problem?
Stare: Yes. I think the solution is one vote per winery. Now, from that
standpoint, Dry Creek has a vote, Gallo has a vote. I'm sure from
Gallo's standpoint, because they're a hundred times larger than we
are, they want a hundred votes. So I think the ultimate solution
might be to have almost kind of a House and a Senate. The Senate,
essentially, is one vote per winery, regardless of whether you're a
big or a little winery; in the House the voting is based upon size.
And what the Wine Institute has done is they have twenty at-large
directorstwenty directors that are voted in by one vote per
wineryand twenty directors that are voted in by the size of the
winery. But it's still stacked, so that probably two- thirds of the
directors are from bigger wineries. I don't know if there is a
In the meantime, a lot of the smaller wineries have started a
group called Family Winemakers of California. You have to be a
f amily-owned-and-operated winery, although Clos Du Bois is owned by
Hiram Walker. I think they are members, but I'm not sure how they
get into it, if it is "family-owned wineries."
Family Winemakers of California operates on the state level
and is a very effective lobbying organization on the state level.
We make no attempt to do anything in Washington. There is a group
called the American Vintners Association, AVA, which represents
wineries from thirty-seven out of the fifty states, which does have
a Washington office and does some fairly effective work on the
AVA and the Wine Institute tend to work together on a lot of
things. I'm sure there are times when they have different
opinions. On the state level, the Family Winemakers of California
and the Wine Institute have been known to work together; they've
been known to be against each other on various bills and positions.
One of the areas where, I think, Family Winemakers and the
Wine Institute had different opinions was a proposal to increase
the taxing on fortified wines. Family Winemakers supported this
tax increase but we wanted an amendment saying that fortified wines
that are bottles with corks and aged for at least two years would
be exempt. The reason is, you know, that if you're talking about
nice aged port, it's different than some White Lightning or
Thunderbird or other wino-type wine.
Gallo and the other large wineries make a fairly significant
amount of wine destined strictly for the wino trade, and the idea
was to, really, raise the taxes on that, and use that money to fund
alcohol research and rehabilitation for the people who have chronic
drinking problems. Gallo, of course, was very much against that,
because it would hurt them personally, and yet our position was,
"That part of the business should be taxed heavily because of all
the damage it causes."
I can recall once when I was visiting with our New Mexican
distributor, I said, "What regally sells here?" Well, he said, "We
sell an awful lot of white port to Indians." But they're making a
ton of money living on people's miseries, and that just shouldn't
Changes in Sonoma County and Dry Creek Valley Wine Industry
Hicke: Let's take just a couple of minutes to talk about the changes in
the Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma County wine industry.
Stare: Yes. I think one of the things that I mentioned earlier today, or
maybe yesterday, one of the big changes that has occurred is that
the people who got into the business in the early seventies had a
little bit of money and wanted to make money at the wine business,
and a lot of people who are getting into it now are much wealthier
--the retired business executives, the retired lawyers, doctors--
and to them it's more of a life- style change, and they're not so
much interested in making money.
I think another big change, which really is going to affect us
all, is the threat of urbanization and how it's going to affect
farming. Fortunately, most of the zoning in Dry Creek and
Alexander Valley and in the better grape growing areas requires a
twenty-acre minimum per dwelling unit. This means that if a
twenty-acre parcel comes up for sale, let's say it's vacant, you've
got twenty acres of vineyard land, let's say, at 20,000 bucks.
Unfortunately, you also have the right to build a house on that
property, if no house exists, and that building site is worth a
quarter of a million dollars. So it tends to over-inflate the
property and make it difficult for someone like myself; I'm not
interested in buying a house, I want to buy vineyard property, but
that makes the land much more expensive.
Fortunately, Sonoma County does have an open space fund,
funded when the voters passed a half-cent increase in the sales
tax. This money goes into buying open space. There have been
several wineries--De Loach is one that has taken advantage of this
fund- -they bought a piece of property and then sold the development
rights to the county. The vineyard can never be developed.
Hicke: It remains open space?
Stare: Yes. It must remain an open space. I bought this thirty- seven-
acre dairy ranch in Windsor, and it is right in the path of
development of Windsor. I'm very seriously thinking, once we get
it developed, and if it does prove to be a really good vineyard
with high-quality grapes, I'm going to consider trying to sell the
development rights to the county, so that would be potentially
required to be an open space and prevent development around then.
If you looked at Windsor, driving up on the freeway yesterday,
ten years ago, none of those houses there existed. That's all the
old Landmark Winery property. Fortunately, it's not in Dry Creek
yet, not in Alexander Valley, but there's pressure to do it.
Whenever you have a house built next to a vineyard, the home owner
gets upset if the farmer gets out at five o'clock in the morning
and sulfur dusts, or is disking his vineyard on a Saturday and the
dust drifts over onto his property. So there is an inevitable
conflict, I think, between the residential dwellers and farmers.
That is, I think, a potential long-term problem.
I think another problem that affects the entire California
wine industry is phylloxera and the effect that it's having on the
lessening of the supply of grapes, which means higher grape prices.
There are tons and tons of good wines from Chile, Argentina,
Australia, and South Africa which would love to come into this
country and take our market away from us; so I think that's another
Sonoma County Technical Tasting Group
Stare: One of the things that we started, fairly early in the early
seventies, was a Sonoma County Technical Tasting Group, where we
get together on a once-a-month basis and taste wine and talk about
an aspect of winemaking. One thing, I want to tell you one funny
Stare: The group is still operating, and it's gotten much more technical
now. Besides just tasting wines, we might have someone come and
give a lecture on new developments. But, in the early beginning,
Lou Foppiano was responsible for putting on a tasting, and he
selected the wines, and I was there.
Hicke: Lou Senior?
Stare: Lou Junior. We tasted ten or twelve different Chardonnays. This
was in about 1975 or '6. One of them, I thought, was just awful.
I didn't recognize it, I didn't know whose it was, and finally, he
said, "Dave, why don't you talk about Wine F." I said, "Wine F:
this is a badly oxidized wine, possibly there was a major problem
at the winery, but the wine is terrible; it should never have been
released. It's just awful, and it's oxidized, and it's an
unsalable product." Well, it turned out to be our Chardonnay, 1974
Chardonnay, which was a wonderful wine. I was very embarrassed; I
said, "Lou, these bottles are not characteristic of the way the
Hicke: It was corked or something?
Stare: No, just oxidized. "Where did you buy these bottles, Lau?" I
asked. "Coddentown Wine Cellar," he answered. That explained it.
There used to be a wine shop called Coddingtown Liquors, which at
one time was the best wine shop in Sonoma County; but it was
notorious for bad storage. The wine had been in his inventory for
well over a year. I was so upset, I raced back to the winery,
drove back here, went to the library, got three bottles out, and
opened all three of them. They were wonderful.
Hicke: [chuckle] Oh, dear.
Stare: There was another tasting that I went to that that same store put
on, one of Charles Krug vintage select, reserve Cabernets. Charles
Krug used to make some wonderful Cabernets. Actually, the store
put the tasting on. I went to it, and the older the wines got, the
worse they got. And, again, I'm sure those wines had all been
stored at that store. The current vintage was lovely. The next
years, the next older vintage, was pretty nice; the second oldest
vintage was okay; the older the wines got, the worse they got, and
I'm sure that that store just had terrible storage conditions.
They store their wines next to the furnace or something.
Hicke: [chuckle] Well, I don't know if that's a good note to end on or
not, but I think that's most of what I wanted to ask you about.
Hicke: I thank you so much for devoting all this time to thinking about
the past. I know your ideas tend more toward the future.
Stare: Oh, you're very welcome.
Hicke: There we are, unless there is anything more that you would like to
Stare: I can't think of anything.
Hicke: Okay. Again, I thank you very much, it was a very excellent
Stare: Oh, thank you, and you'll be sending me a transcript of it at some
Transcriber: Eric Schwimmer
Final Typist: Shana Chen
TAPE GUIDE- -David S. Stare
January 1 1 ,
tape 2, side 8
Interview 2: January 12, 1996
tape 3, side A
tape 3, side B
tape 4, side A
tape 4, side B
APPENDICES- -David S. Stare
A Wine Label Samples 80
B Winery Logbook Facts & Figures 84
VO 'AiNnOG VINONOS '9HnaS01V3H 'Sd\m30 VdlSXMV HHd A8 0311109 "8 Q30nOOdd
Produced by Dry Creek
Facts & Figures
Dry Creek Vineyard is located in the heart of Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley. The ivy-covered
stone winery is reminiscent of country chateau-style French architecture.
Wines from our first vintage in 1972 were crushed at a bonded winery in Calistoga. Dry Creek
Vineyard's original 3,500-square-foot winemaking facility was constructed in 1973. All subsequent
vintages have been produced at our winemaking estate.
Six vintage dated varietab:
Fume Blanc, Dry Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Old Vines Zinfandel, Merlot
Vintage dated "Reserve" wines:
Reserve Chardonnay, Meritage, Reserve Fume" Blanc. Produced only according to the finest vintages.
Seven estate vineyards, a total of 100 acres, supply approximately 1/3 of our grapes:
Drv Ctrek Vallcv
Sauvignon Blanc - 20 acres
Chardonnay - 20 acres
Cabernet Sauvignon - 9 acres
Merlot- 19 acres
Zinfandel- 10 acres
Sauvignon Blanc- 15 acres
Chardonnay - 15 acres
Fermentation and Storage Capacities
Approximately 260,000 gallons
Over 3,500 55-60 gallon oak barrels:
60% French (Nevers, Vosges, Limousin);
Cooperage is to 5 years;
Average of 20% new barrels each year.
2 Bucher tank presses (membrane): 10- and 20-ton capacity
White wines: diatomaceous earth and membrane
Red wines: diatomaceous earth
3,000-4,000 cases per day capacity
1 10,000 cases annually
A total of 20 employees, both full- and part-time, work at Dry Creek Vineyard. President/ Winemaster
is David S. Stare. Vice President/ Director of Marketing is Kim Stare Wallace. Winemaker is Larry
Levin. Vineyard Manager is DufTBcvill. Ranch Manager is Don Wallace. Gary Emmerich is Director of
Sales Administration. Linda Honeysett is Office Manager.
Open daily, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. Tours for trade by appointment only. Closed on major holidays.
Adams, Steve, 14
Alexander Valley Vineyards, 69
Amerine, Maynard, 17, 49
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 9
Berg, Harold, 17
Bevill, Duff, 34, 39-40
Boordy Vineyards, 10-11
Brander, Fred, 37
California Wine Commission, 72
Carpy, Charles, 29-30
Charles Krug Winery, 76
Chateau St. Jean winery, 64
Chris Fredson winery, 34-35
Continental Can Co., 12
Cook, Jim, 17-18
Corti, Darrel, 31
Cottrell, Thomas, 18, 25, 26
Cuvaison Winery, 18, 23, 25, 27, 31
De Loach Vineyards, 74
Dehlinger, Tom, 37-42
Dehlinger, Dan, 42
Di Maggio, Joe, 68
Dickson, W.J. , 9
Dry Creek Valley wineries, 34-36
Ek, Fred, 13
equipment, 26-27, 41, 43
Fetzer, Barney, 24
Finnegan, Robert, 31-32
Flora Springs winery, 69
Foppiano, Louis M. , 75-76
Freemark Abbey Winery, 64
Frei Bros. , 34
Gallo [E&J] Winery, 73-74
Gomberg, Louis, 14,16
Goode , Dave , 20
Healdsburg Wine Co., 34
Holmes, Rosinda, 27-28, 30
Hugenberger, Gail, 10, 12, 14
J. Pedroncelli winery, 34
Jaffrey, John, 37
Johnson, Lloyd, 48
Keith, Richard, 26
label design, 27-29
Le Baron, Paul, 21
Levin, Larry, 37-39
Lichine, Alexis, 56
Martin, Ron, 39
Matson Steamship Co., 7
Heritage Association, 60-61
Montana, Joe, 53
Murphy Goode Estate Winery, 69
Ortman, Charles, 18
Ough, Cornelius, 17
Pacific Coast Farm Credit, 49
Parkhill, Thomas, 18
Pedroncelli, Jim, 68
Pedroni, Dan, 46-47, 51
Phelps [Joseph] Vineyards, 64
phylloxera, 66-67, 75
Portet, Bernard, 18
Preston, Lou, 65
Preston Vineyards and Winery, 69
prune crop, 22-23
Quivira Vineyards, 69
railroads, interest in, 7
Rasselstein [steel co.], 12
Ready, Dave, 68-69
Rochioli, Joe, 24-25
Rodney Strong Vineyards, 55
Rued, Richard, 40
Rugge, Mike, 34
Session, Bob, 20
Singleton, Vernon L., 17
Society of Blancs, 70-71
Sonoma County, land prices, 19-20
open space, 74
Sonoma County Technical Tasting
Sonoma County Vintners' Co-op, 43
Stare, Andrea, 71
Stare, Fredrick [Sr.], 1-5, 12
Stare, Fredrick [Jr.], 3-4
Stare, Joyce Allen, 1-2
Stare, Mary Sue, 3
Thomas, Rich, 24-25
University of California, Davis, 16-
vineyard management, 32-34
Wagner, Phillip, 10
Wallace, Don, 57-59
Wallace, Kim Stare, 29
Warhol, Andy, 68
Webb, A. Dinsmoor, 17
Weber, Peter, 13
Weller, Stan, 30
William Wheeler Winery, 69
Wine and Cheese Cask [wine shop],
wine club, 36
Wine Institute, 71-74
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley
Winery Associates, 68-70
winery buildings, 23, 25-26, 41-49
Woods, Frank, 42
Young, Robert, 25
Bug Creek Label, 66-67
Cabernet Franc, 38-39
Cabernet Sauvignon, 25, 33, 38, 41-
Chardonnay, 24, 25, 30, 33, 36, 41,
43, 59, 76
Chenin Blanc, 23, 25, 32, 33, 43
Fume Blanc [Sauvignon Blanc], 23-24,
30, 32-33, 36-37, 43, 70-71
Camay Beaujeaulais, 30, 41
Grenache Rose, 10
Johannesburg Riesling, 62
Merlot, 25, 41, 43, 49, 61-62
Heritage wines, 59-61
Petite Sirah, 43
Rose of Cabernet, 25, 6-67
Sauvignon Blanc [see Fume Blanc]
Sonoma County Soleil, 62-64
Wollcott Chardonnay, 3
Zinfandel, 25, 41, 43, 49
Cabernet Franc, 39, 51
Cabernet Sauvignon, 32, 33, 40, 42,
Chardonnay, 32, 33, 37, 40, 51-52
Chenin Blanc, 32-33, 51
Johannesburg Riesling, 2
Merlot, 33, 51-52
Sauvignon Blanc, 24-25, 32, 36-37,
40, 51-52, 55, 63
Zinfandel, 39-40, 52
Carole E. Hicke
B.A., University of Iowa; economics
M.A. , San Francisco State University; U.S. history
with emphasis on the American West; thesis: "James
Rolph, Mayor of San Francisco."
Interviewer /editor /writer, 1978-present, for
business and law firm histories, specializing in
oral history techniques. Independently employed.
Interviewer-editor, Regional Oral History Office,
University of California, Berkeley, 1985 to
present, specializing in California legal,
political, and business histories.
Author: Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe: A
Century of Service to Clients and Community, 1991;
history of Farella, Braun & Martel; history of the
Federal Judges Association.
Editor (1980-1985) newsletters of two professional
historical associations: Western Association of
Women Historians and Coordinating Committee for
Women in the Historical Profession.
Visiting lecturer, San Francisco State University
in U.S. history, history of California, history of
Hawaii, legal oral history.
U. C. BERKELEY LIBRARIES