Winery Spotlight: Preston of Dry Creek

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While studying at UC Davis in the ‘60s, Lou Preston was “bitten by the grape bug.” What began as a casual curiosity blossomed into a passion. Heeding the advice of instructor James Cook, and his friend/mentor, David Stare, Lou planted nearly 50% of his vineyards with sauvignon blanc in Dry Creek Valley. He was the second person in the region to commit himself to what was, at the time, an unappreciated grape mostly used in California for bulk sweet wines.

In the early days, Lou describes that he made some wines he felt best represented his personal taste, and others that he felt were most marketable. He did much of his own marketing, touring the country to sell his wines to stores and restaurants. More than 40 years later, he doesn’t need to travel. Preston wines are renowned for their distinctive varietal character. Now, Lou only makes what he loves to drink, without compromise.

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Lou Preston and VEDGY

What makes Preston of Dry Creek so unique is that Lou has explored every other crop and agricultural venture to pique his interest in recent years. As much as Preston is a winery, it is also an extensive farm for many other crops, from persimmons to kale to olives to herbs. Chickens provide eggs, lambs are raised for meat, and there’s also a bakery. When you buy Preston’s artisanal bread, he’ll offer you olive oil from the property and vinegar he’s made, too. It is a self-sustaining Eden. Preston Farm champions sustainability. Lou even drives a vintage Diesel Mercedes that’s powered by vegetable oil.  The custom license plate reads VEDGY.

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Matthew Norelli, winemaker

Matthew Norelli joined Preston in 1987 as a harvest intern when he was seeking a change of pace from the restaurant industry. A temporary job quickly turned into a passion, so Norelli took viticulture and chemistry classes at community college and some short courses at UC Davis. He chose to work at Preston because he was excited about their syrah, which was much less common in California than it is today.

Norelli has been a winemaker at Preston since 2000. He says he loves working at Preston because of the winery’s emphasis on each grape’s integrity. He explains, “I don’t really like to use the word terroir, but I think it may be the easiest way to describe why we make the wines the way we do. By using wild ambient yeasts and letting the wines ferment without the addition of cultured yeasts you have a better chance of sensing what makes the grapes from your appellation or property differ from your neighbors. It also gives the particular varietal it’s uniqueness. For instance, a sauvignon blanc will have sauvignon blanc-like characters rather than the aromas or mouth feel that a certain added yeast can give to wine.”

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Preston of Dry Creek is well-known as a fantastic place to taste wine, buy produce, learn about agriculture, and picnic with family. Visitors are guaranteed a personalized experience because the winery limits groups to eight or fewer. On Sundays, locals flock to the winery for their weekly fill of Guadagni, Preston’s tribute to the table wines made by Italian-American migrant workers in the early days of California winemaking. This jug wine is a zinfandel-based field blend meant for immediate enjoyment. Each time you fill your jug, you’re given a new sticker to label your wine.

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For more information on the people of Preston, the land, and the unique experiences you can have during your visit, check out their website.