Grower Spotlight: Dane Petersen of Fall Creek Vineyard
Dane Petersen (L) and his son Brad Petersen – Photo courtesy of George Rose
Dane Petersen, owner of Fall Creek Vineyard, sits on the tailgate of his pickup truck, looking out at his field of mustard. “It’s solid yellow,” he says. “In Autumn, we try to coat the ground with a cover crop to prevent erosion. I quit buying commercial seed two years ago, because the wild mustard does a better job of it! The bees just love it.”
Fall Creek Vineyard, located at the northernmost end of West Dry Creek Road, sits on a long, narrow piece of land that borders both Dry Creek and its namesake, Fall Creek. Just half a mile from Lake Sonoma, “It’s just a hair warmer than the rest of Dry Creek Valley, so frost is not really an issue,” says Dane. Of the 37 acres of land; 30 acres are planted with zinfandel, 5 acres are merlot, and 2 acres are cabernet sauvignon. The oldest vines in the vineyard are about 50 years old, and were planted by Dane’s father, Hereward Petersen. The soil in the vineyard is red and rocky alluvial soil that has come down from the hills above over millenia. Seghesio Vineyards purchases Fall Creek Vineyard’s oldest vines.
Farming is in Petersen’s blood. His grandfather came to the Mendocino Coast in 1906 and purchased land. During Prohibition, his father bought grapes from his cousin’s vineyard and hauled them to Fortuna and Scotia, selling them to people for home winemaking.
In the 1940s, Petersen’s father and uncle farmed adjacent plots on opposite sides of Dry Creek. His father farmed prunes and pears until 1967, when he converted his orchards to vineyards. After college, Dane began working for a vineyard management company in Alexander Valley and in Napa Valley. For more than 30 years, he oversaw vineyard operations for Silver Oak, though he is recently semi-retired, and only has his own vineyard to look after today.
Continuing the family tradition, Dane’s son Ryan owns a land management company based in Geyserville, and his son Brad is Chairman of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission – the organization spearheading an effort to make all of Sonoma County’s grape growing sustainable by 2019.
In 2014, Petersen began the process of making his vineyard sustainable. He has completed a self-analysis and is applying this Spring for certification. Dane has worked with various agencies to help rehabilitate the wildlife and vegetation alongside Dry Creek. The bushes and shrubs that they have planted replaced the sand and gravel bar that had long ago been made by digging for the dam. Today, he sees wild turkeys, deer, and owls on his property. Lake Sonoma supplies his vineyard with ample water for growing grapes.
At home, Petersen and his wife Margaret enjoy drinking the fruits of their labor. Of his taste, Dane is loyal to Dry Creek Valley zinfandel. “If it’s a long meal, I’ll also enjoy a cabernet, having spent so many years working with the grape at Silver Oak. My wife enjoys sauvignon blanc.” His love for Dry Creek Valley stems from the region’s neighborly warmth. “A lot of properties in Dry Creek Valley are still family-owned. I know at least 15 farmers I grew up with.”