A Look Into Dutcher Crossing Winery
Debra Mathy journeyed far and long to find a vineyard and winery to call her own, scouting out opportunities in Europe, the Pacific Northwest, and throughout California for years before she realized her dream in Sonoma County: Dutcher Crossing Winery. Now, she’s only got to walk a few minutes from her house to the winery—on most days of the year. But some days, that’s a journey too far.
Mathy hates to see grapes dropped on the ground.
“Now, I get the email,” Mathy says. “We’re dropping fruit in the vineyard,” the vineyard crew warns her. Of course, she knows that it’s all for the best, really, because sometimes a smaller crop makes for better quality wine. This year marks Mathy’s tenth year as proprietor of Dutcher Crossing, a small Dry Creek Valley winery that successfully sells small-lot premium wines direct to their customers. So, she just keeps on walking.
The Road to Dutcher Crossing Winery
And cycling. An avid cyclist, Mathy has been known to lead monthly cycling tours through Dry Creek Valley, during our fine weather months, and she chose as the mark of her winery a penny-farthing bicycle, the antique velocipede with one large and one small wheel.
Mathy’s late father, with whom she searched for that perfect winery years ago, gifted her an antique big-wheel cycle on his last Christmas. Today, it symbolizes the winery’s founding journey and the road ahead.
Styled like a practical farm country barn, Dutcher Crossing’s modestly scaled cellar is connected to the even smaller tasting room by a breezeway that frames a view of the estate vineyard. It was originally founded in 2005 by the beverage titans who had brought Perrier sparkling water to the US, and who toted a mock-up of the building’s design around wine country to get the right “vignette,” if you will, before they settled on a property. Mathy says that the founders actually enjoy coming back to help out at winery events now and then.
On previous visits to Dutcher Crossing, I found the tasting room staff to be well-informed about the wines and ready with an anecdote about Mathy or consulting winemaking Kerry Damskey. On a recent visit, I sat down with Mathy, Damskey, and associate winemaker Nick Briggs to discuss the wines over a sumptuous cheese and charcuterie platter, which Dutchess, Mathy’s golden lab (a rescue dog from Taiwan), respectfully declined to even look at.
“We’re still known as a Zinfandel house—we’re in Dry Creek!” Damskey says in response to a question about their inclusive selection of varietals. Indeed, while eight wines were made when Mathy took the reins, Dutcher Crossing bottles nearly 30 wines today. Many of their recently released Zinfandels, like the classic Dry Creek Valley 2014 Maple Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($45), rich and warm with brambleberry and — or is it just the name? — maple syrup-tinged fruit, are sold out already.
But they’re “not afraid to go over to the Russian River Valley” for some Chardonnay, adds associate winemaker Briggs. Once again, they’ve secured a prime source: the Bacigalupi Vineyard, made famous after the “Paris Tasting” of 1976, yet still so family owned and operated that the second generation, well on in years, personally delivers grapes.
“I like the creamy character of it,” Damskey says of the 2015 Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay ($40). It’s fermented with natural, not lab-produced malolactic (often termed ML) bacteria, and “that’s OK with us,” says Damskey. “We’re looking for ML without butter.”
The 2015 Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir ($46) prompts a detour into the cellar, where Briggs climbs a few barrels high in the stacks to swipe samples of two different clonal combinations from the most recent vintage. Clones are particularly important in Pinot Noir, as these two tastes from the same vineyard certainly demonstrate: one already entices the nose with perfumed red berry fruit, while the other sullenly rebuffs immediate pleasure, but with the sense that something big and flavorful is slowly building inside the barrel.
Even globe-trotting winemaker Damskey, who has consulted for wineries from India to Bulgaria, was surprised by their Zinfandel grown in the Rockpile AVA. Not too awesomely tannic and intense, the 2015 Pritchett Peaks Vineyard Zinfandel ($49) rolls over the palate like blueberries rolling under the smoky haze of a boysenberry barbecue, finishing with food-friendly, mild tannins.
The 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) is among the winery’s biggest releases, but has only jumped $3 in price since the 2006 vintage, making it a sleeper of a Cabernet, sporting hints of herbal, cigar wrapper, and anise aromas over a rich and fruity Cabernet frame that feels solid, but is ready to enjoy any time.
Get Hip to the GSM
Dutcher Crossing’s 2014 Kupferschmid Red Blend ($39) is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre — GSM, the worldwide abbreviation for such Châteauneuf-du-Pape styled blends that are not made in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While proprietor Debra Mathy says that varietal (labeled by a single grape variety) Syrah is still a “hand sell” in the tasting room, because “people don’t know what they’re going to get,” Syrah and Grenache-based blends have become increasingly popular.
Toasty, with graham biscuit notes underlying a sprinkle of licorice, lavender, and dried bay leaf notes, it’s a playful and lightly fruity “bistro wine” indeed. But don’t shy from tasting Dutcher Crossing’s varietal Syrahs—they’ve still got those, too.
Back on the Road
When you’re journeyed this far up Dry Creek Valley outside of Healdsburg, you’re pretty close to the main street town of Cloverdale—via Dutcher Creek Road. Or continue on Dry Creek Valley Road to the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery at Lake Sonoma, which has informative wildlife displays at the visitor center and tours of the coho salmon and steelhead trout hatchery. Intrepid cyclist alert: climb the hill above the dam for views of Lake Sonoma, and continue on Rockpile Road, which has little automobile traffic, for many miles of moderate-to-challenging cycling and excellent vistas—a fine “out and back,” as a round trip is not possible on this particular journey.
Details: 8533 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville; open daily, 11am–5pm; 866-431-2711