For Kerry Damskey, winemaker at Dutcher Crossing in the Dry Creek Valley of California, a key element of making wine is the ability to be very honest with yourself. “I had one of my own wines the other day, and after trying it again, I thought, I don’t think this is as good as it could have been.” It’s that type of mindset which has allowed Kerry to make great strides in his role at Dutcher Crossing. He continually seeks out ways to make his wines better, and that means working with each one until he and the rest of his team are happy.
Putting together a wine can be much like a chef in the kitchen trying to find the perfect balance of flavor and texture in his dish. It’s a proccess of adding a bit more of one ingredient or another, tasting it, comparing the new dish to the prior one, and then testing if the additions have made the expected improvements. While each bottle of Dutcher Crossing denotes a single varietal, most of them are blended with smaller percentages of other grapes. “The process [of blending] takes forever,” Kerry laughs. But it really adds character and balance to the wines. With their Sauvignon Blanc, Kerry likes to start with good, defined Dry Creek Valley fruit. Once that Sauvignon Blanc is ready, he’ll add Viognier to bump up the flavors a bit. Then a bit of Roussanne and Semillon to give it a bit more body and texture. Kerry never wants the blended varietals to overwhelm the main grape, only compliment and enhance to the overall wine.
Dutcher Crossing’s flagship wine, their Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, has some Syrah added to it. In the case of Dry Creek, the Cabernet grown in the region can be a bit weedy and a bit sharp. Adding Syrah, which has a lot of berry character, to the wine makes the greener notes turn towards cedar and fills the structure out more. “We’ll often go through eight different renditions before we settle on one,” Kerry says. “Luckily, Debra (the winery’s proprietor) and I have very similar palates. So we can look at each other, go ‘nah that’s not it,’ and continue on.” Then even when the wine seems to be right, they’ll often leave it and come back the next day just make sure what they think is correct is actually what they want.
In the next few years, Kerry is looking to expand Dutcher’s line up of wines to include a Rhone Style blend. It’s likely to include Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, but it depends on how their recently planted vines show. “I’ve already started experimenting with other sources. I want to have a good idea of what works before I start using our estate fruit,” Kerry explains.
After over thirty years of making wine, the most gratifying part of the job for Kerry is still “getting it right.” Of course, styles change and evolve and they’ll be various market trends, but in Kerry’s mind, at some point, good wine is simply good wine. “I think you just kind of know when it’s right. It’s balance. It’s depth. It’s layers. It’s yummy,” he says.
All of Kerry’s experience making wine hasn’t changed is mind set about the process. He still approaches each wine with a certain zeal. Carefully selecting fruit and taking the time to figure out the best components to add are all part of his drive to achieve balance and find just the right blend for everything. That approach is a big reason why Dutcher Crossing wines will have such great promise for many years to come.