Up on a Hillside and Down in the Valley

Hawley Winery sits on the upslope of Sonoma’s Bradford Mountain. Preston of Dry Creek operates downslope on the valley floor. Both take an organic approach to making wine, choosing natural methods that link older times to modern sensibilities.

Austin, John and Paul Hawley

Austin, John and Paul Hawley

John Hawley lives above the hillside where he grows merlot, cabernet sauvignon and viognier grapes. Along with his two sons — Paul and Austin — Hawley makes a variety of  other reds and whites, including a juicy viognier that won “Best of Class” in 2007 and 2008 from the California State Fair. The 2008 tasted of fresh honeysuckle and apricot with a creaminess that demanded another sip, even at a 10 a.m. tasting!

Hawley, Preston and Gustafson Family Vineyards (which was profiled in last week’s blog Up, Up and Away)  were part of a tour organized by the Wine Growers of Dry Creek Valley to spotlight organic viticultural practices.

Corked! Comeback

Paul Hawley helps out around his dad’s winery, but he has earned his own notoriety in a different field. The younger Hawley co-directed the mockumentary “Corked!” — a satirical send-off of the wine business — with Ross Clendenen, a Healdsburg High grad (and son of Hawley’s vineyard manager) who studied filmmaking at the Brooks Institute of Film in Santa Barbara.

The Hollywood Reporter’s positive review called Corked! “a pithy delight” and “a brilliant lampoon of winemaking.” The movie debuted last year and was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. If you missed it, the film returns to wine country for a special two-day run at the Raven Performing Arts Theater this weekend (Oct. 3-4) in Healdsburg.

Nurturing Naturally

Back in the real-life vineyard, the elder Hawley is convinced that organic farming is the right approach.

“Our grapes every year seem to be better and better… after going organic,” said Hawley, an industry veteran whose resume includes principal winemaking duties at both Clos du Bois and Kendall Jackson.

Hawley Hillside Vineyard

Hawley Hillside Vineyard

Two hawks circled overhead as Hawley explained how hard his 10 acres of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and viognier vines have to work to survive . The vines are planted on shallow volcanic soil that over eons had been leached of its nutrients by seasonal rains that washed the topsoil downhill to the more verdant valley floor.

“Soil is the basis of everything,” he said.

While there are no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, Hawley does use natural amendments, including grape pomace, to revitalize the land that supports the family business.

Organic to the Max

Hillside runoff winds up in places like Preston of Dry Creek, a winery with eco-friendly operations on the floor of Dry Creek Valley..

Lou Preston, the namesake proprietor, takes the organic attitude to an even higher level with a big dash of bio-diversity thrown in for good measure.

Preston Vineyard

Preston Vineyard

He bought the first 40 acres (which had been planted in prunes and pears) off West Dry Creek Road in 1973. Today, Preston oversees organic vineyards and a wide array of complementary fruit orchards, olive trees, vegetable fields, livestock and poultry. Winery tractors burn bio-diesel (recycled vegetable oil from local restaurants) and most electrical needs are fed by an on-site solar power plant. Recycle and re-use aren’t just catch phrases here. They are the law of the land.

“Man must drink, but you need to eat well, too,” Preston quipped as he led visitors past a field of tomatoes and peppers towards a pen stocked with chickens and pigs.

The winery owner and his wife, Susan, sell their organic fruit and produce at local farmer’s markets. I can personally vouch for the apple-chili chutney, which adds a new, spicy dimension to the common pork chop. If you visit the winery, be sure to check out Preston’s artisan bread, which he bakes in a customized kitchen adjacent to the winery.

“Our job is to bring to our customers an experience that is indicative of our place,” Preston said. “Which is pretty unique.”

Lou Preston and Friend

Lou Preston and Friend

Preston produces 12-13 wines a year.  The L. Preston, a combination of syrah, cinsault, mourvedre and carignane that resembles a Rhone-style blend, is a perennial favorite. I also liked the 2008 sauvignon blanc ($22), which was clean, crsip and quite tasty on a 90-degree afternoon in Dry Creek Valley.

“We have diversity in a viticultural setting,” Preston explained. “We are passionate, perhaps obsessive, with a different kind of land management. There is not so much of a monocultural approach. We eat and drink from the land where we live.”

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