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That's what you can do

duke & duchess of dutcher Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Kerry DamskeyKD: Let me give you the big picture, how we started with the founding partners.  Deb has evolved that.  We originally looked at doing two things.  First — because I'd been in Sonoma county for a number of years, made wine for a number of people, and have a very good handle on a different vineyards throughout the county — the founding partners asked me to find a handful of very special vineyard sites to do single-vineyard wines with.  From that, a couple of Chardonnays, a couple of Zinfandels, a couple of Sauvignon Blancs — we're wanting to be true to what we are in Dry Creek, but also looking for unique sites and making them unique in the bottle.  I'm about transforming site into flavor; I think I have a knack for doing that.  So, we do all that with single-vineyard sites in Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, and then a little bit further with a mountain Cabernet vineyard in Sonoma Valley up at 1800 feet, called Mount Terraces.  Secondly, our Proprietor's Reserve is a concept where we utilize more of our estate vineyards, where the sum of the individual varieties is more interesting than any single one.  These tend to be blended wines, and that's, for the most part, where we're looking to use our estate fruit.

NM: What do you find most rewarding about the Dry Creek region and its terroir, and what are some of the challenges you face?

KD: Great question!  Historically, if you look Dry Creek and what it has been known for, you'll find that it's Zinfandel.  And great Sauvignon Blanc.  Added to that, of course, are Rhone varieties in the last 10-15 years.  Dry Creek was known to produce a lot of mixed [field] blends.  And that gets to the root of how Sonoma has been different from Napa: Sonoma County was built by farmers, whereas Napa, generally, has been built by people, entrepreneurs, who have been successful in other walks of life.  So, it's a very different approach — both good — but different.  Now, one of the challenges for me was to come to Dry Creek and make great Cabernet.  I, personally, did not love Cabernet from Dry Creek; I'm making a broad generalization, but I tend to find it a little bit lean, a little bit weedy.  So, we created a unique blend of Cabernet with Syrah.  We've been getting very good scores on it.  We call it Cabernet, but we're very honest about the fact that we blend Syrah into it.  And we make two of them, one of which is the Taylor Reserve, a hillside Cabernet where[in] we add varying amounts of Syrah.  Without losing the signature of Cabernet, it adds voluptuousness, it adds darkness, and it adds interest.  It's still Cabernet — it's still legally Cabernet — but Syrah, I think, makes it a better Cabernet.  So that's been a personal challenge for me.  Now, I'm not suggesting that people should agree with me, but [that blend] has worked for us here.  And then our Proprietor's Reserve Cabernet is a blend, too, but priced a little bit lower.

NM: You mentioned that some of the wines have gotten particularly good scores.  What is your take on that entire facet of the wine industry — not only scoring and reviewing of wines in the media, but corollary to that, the making of wine so as to earn high accolades?

KD: Well, I don't do the latter.  I mean, not intentionally.  I'm being very honest when I say that I think I have ability to make wine that tastes good and that people will enjoy.  Though there's probably a correlation there also, with scores.  But we don't make wines for scores; we make wines that generally taste good and have broad appeal.  Yet the purpose itself is not to have that broad appeal.  The purpose is that they be reflective of the site on the label or that they're unique… and taste good!  We spend a lot of time making sure wines taste good!

DM: Yeah, that's our top priority, to make the best-tasting wines that we can.  Rarely do we submit a wine to be scored.

KD:  Now, if we happen to get a good score, that's great!  Plus, I think scoring is valuable.  We Americans look to secondary and tertiary guidance for what's good.  So, it's clearly valuable.

Consulting and Collaborating

NM: Focusing on the two of you, how would you describe your working relationship?  How do you two work together in sourcing the grapes and overseeing the vineyards, and then ultimately making the in cellar that which you envision for Dutcher Crossing?

DM: Kerry controls most, if not all, of it.  We put our heads together when a site is found, in order to figure out if it works into our business plan.  We come together with the final blending and polishing.  I have my input because I'm on the front line and hear what the consumers enjoy and get feedback of what's liked and disliked, and that's helpful for Kerry.  But Kerry's here for a reason: he can do the job and we have 100% faith in him; he makes all the calls.  I mean, there are a few times when we come together, but he controls the wine.



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