27 April 2009

Green Winemaking Tour: Preston

When I got back from Sonoma, lots of people asked me about my experiences out there, and I'd give a quick rundown followed by a cryptic sentence: "At one vineyard, I was ready to renounce all worldly possessions, throw on some work boots, and become a farmer." That place was Preston of Dry Creek.

It's a bit off the beaten path. Were it not for the reassuring chirps of the GPS I might have given up after the tiny bridges and one lane roads, but eventually I found myself in heaven. Growing up in the city and suburbs, you see these fairytale images of farms, with cows and goats and dozens of different vegetables growing all on the same couple of acres. Then you visit a real farm, and it's just cotton as far as the eye can see, or corn, or wheat... Now, that's the way that modern farming works, and I've got a lot of family growing those crops that keep this nation clothed and fed. But that pastoral image gets shattered, and you forget about it until visiting a place like Preston. There were sheep grazing between the vines, chickens here and there, lots of vegetables, cherry trees, apple trees, peach trees... they even grow a little wheat, and grind it on site where it's blended into some of the whole-wheat breads made at the main house which, of course, features an old stone hearth oven.

Preston is not only Certified Organic for the grapes; it also extends to the olives, fruits, and vegetables grown on the property. Some of their organic products are available online, but others are just available for sale to visitors. And even though I'm more of a dog person, I took a moment to hang out in the courtyard with the vineyard cats, who really didn't give a damn about my 1800-mile journey from Memphis. The staff at the winery, on the other hand, were some of the warmest and friendliest that I met while I was out in Sonoma.

Preston was a real eye-opener in terms of all the different crops that could be grown organically on the same small patch of earth, but it's also notable in being a company that intentionally lowered its production to focus on a higher quality, more sustainable product. Preston has been in operation since the mid 70s, but ten years ago they went from making 25,000 cases a year to only 8,000, and distribution scaled back as well. (For the record, I don't think their wines are currently available in the Memphis market.) This move coincided with a renewed focus on organic winemaking, and the approach spread to all aspects of the farm. Right before my visit, the local newspaper had just published a story about Preston. Fortunately the article is available at The Press-Democrat site, and yes, it features video of the sheep grazing among the vines.

If you're in the area, Preston is certainly worth a visit. Bring a picnic lunch, give yourself time to take the tour and then relax for a bit. And follow the instructions on the door: don't let the cats into the tasting room.

Wines Sampled at the Vineyard

Further details and ordering information for these wines can be found at the Preston website.

2007 Madame Preston. A Rhône-style white blend of Rousanne, Viognier, and Marsanne. Lovely floral and peach aromas on this wine, and I'm really kicking myself for not bringing any back home with me.

2007 Barbera. Black cherry, black pepper, earthy and mild. Not quite the Italian expression of the grape, but great in its own unique way.

2007 Zinfandel, made with a touch of Petite Sirah. Wild and fruit forward, fascinating.

2006 L. Preston Red Blend. Another interesting Rhône-style blend, this one made from Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane, and Cinsault. This was a beautifully complex wine, full of earth and minerals and spice, with background elements of black cherries and plums. This was my favorite of the tasting, and is highly recommended.


Samantha Dugan said...

Talk about a blast from the past, I have not seen Preston in years! I always liked those wines and found that they were not over done...kinda pretty really. Is the Madame Preston still in that cool, curvy bottle with the simple label? That was one of my favorites although I thought they charged just a tad too much for it, not like people in the retail market, (so different than being at the winery) are falling over themselves for funky little white Rhone blends.

Sounds like you had a lovely visit, I love it when a place and the people can steal your heart...you ever think about going out to work a harvest for a week or two? Seems like something "Benito" would do.

Benito said...


You're right about the Madam Preston, it is a lovely bottle and when I saw the library card catalog-style label I thought it was some under-the-counter offering.

you ever think about going out to work a harvest for a week or two?I've got to be honest, I'm the first generation of my family that hasn't had to farm, and that's going back to shortly after man discovered stone tools. If I were to go out as a tourist to pick grapes for a couple of weeks I'd probably never be able to show my face at a family reunion again.

That's not to say that I'm opposed to a good day's work or toiling in the soil; I loved growing my tomatoes in seasons past. And if I were in the area and were invited to help out I'd gladly do so and take the sunburn and blisters with pride. But I don't know if I'd make a trip specifically to experience life on the vineyard. Farming is serious work and I'd probably get in the way.

Samantha Dugan said...

I was thinking more along the lines of a "cellar rat" working in the winery, but I see what you mean, I would not want your family poking fun at ya!