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KD: In the big sense, we like each other. We like working with each other — and that's huge — in terms of just wanting it to work and being inclusive. In any business relationship, that's so powerful! Deb and I like working with each other a lot; it's a very healthy relationship. So, that's really important in terms of always wanting to do your best and create something constantly special.
DM: He's very patient. Some winemakers may get irritated by a hands-on owner or someone in his shadow — Kerry has no problem with that.
KD: We always blend together!
DM: And it's fun. That, actually, is the fun part of the job, because not all aspects are.
KD: I certainly have the big picture in terms of what I think the wine should taste like, but rarely, if ever, do I just say, "Boom! This is the way it's going be!" I'm very inclusive; I'll create all these different trials, and then together we finalize where it should be. We do that with every wine.
DM: That's the fun part, because you're actually learning as you go. And Kerry gets feedback from Dan [the assistant winemaker] and I about how the wine is being perceived. He hears about the blends from us; that's part of our job.
KD: And I'm probably the most critical. We had a wine from the '05 vintage, a Cabernet: it was a cool vintage, it was a big crop, and it just seemed a little weedy — I really don't like weedy wines; I like wines to be voluptuous. If I taste something incorrect, I'll make sure we fix it.
The Analytic Artisan
NM: Would you call yourself a perfectionist?
KD: That's a broad term. I certainly don't work by recipes, but I would call myself a scientist. My training is very scientific; I'm always utilizing the numbers and analyses — that allows us to take risks and make interesting wines. And I'm always, always willing to take risks with wines, because I think that makes better wines.
NM: So you describe yourself as a scientist. But I'm also hearing from you that you're very much an artisan. How do you harmonize those two?
KD: Time! You get older! I mean, that's what it really is. I was fresh when I got out of [University of California,] Davis — boy, I thought, 'This is the way it is! It's by the book!' But as I matured and was around other mentors — I was the student for many years; now I'm the teacher — I learned the whole concept of risk-reward. And that's important in life. For example, we do a lot of native yeast ferments — a lot! And that brings lots of risk! When you do native yeast ferments, they usually don't just ferment dry; they slow down. But you have to ask if there's anything else going on [that might be slowing down the fermentation]. Ultimately, you conquer it, but not after taking that huge risk. But there's a reward: when you compare wines that are fermented with cultured versus native yeast, the wine made with native yeast are almost always more interesting.
NM: Now, wouldn't you say that that's a school of thought, and that there are some people in the business who might disagree with you — or, in the very least, if they do agree, don't feel it's worth the risk?
KD: Oh, a lot of people! Now let me qualify that: it has to do with the variety. With Riesling, I don't think I'd do a native yeast. With Chenin Blanc, I'm not sure I would do it, either. With certain fruit-driven varieties, I think I would always use a cultured yeast. But yes: there are so many winemakers that just don't want to take the risk. And a lot of times it's because would have so many lots of wine that they'd have to watch; they don't have the staff! If you're going to use cultured yeast, you have to have the staff to watch the ferments.
[In an effort to illustrate wines bearing this style, two of the Dutcher Crossing Chardonnays were poured, both of which are fermented with native yeast: the 2007 Saralee Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) and the 2007 Stuhlmuller Vineyard Chardonnay (Alexander Valley). Though decidedly different in flavor profile, it was apparent that both wines shared the same tactful hand in their crafting, one that no doubt seeks to emphasize the more delicate and nuanced aspects of the fruit.]