Dutcher Crossing: An Idyllic Slice of Heaven

By: Nan McCreary

Every now and then, when traveling the wine trail, one comes across a true hidden gem, one of those wineries that have it all: beautiful wine country views, award-winning wines and warm hospitality that beckon the visitor to return again and again.

  One such destination is Dutcher Crossing, a charming winery that sits in the picturesque hills of Dry Creek Valley at the crossing of two creeks, Dry Creek and Dutcher Creek, in Sonoma County. Sitting in their classic 1900s style farmhouse tasting room, one feels transported to another world, where fellow wine lovers—and dog lovers—gather to enjoy the views, the wines and the camaraderie, not to mention the attention of the staff’s dogs who “officially” greet visitors.

  This little piece of wine heaven belongs to Debra Mathy, who purchased the property in 2007. At the time, the operation included 35 acres and made five wines. Today, under Mathy’s leadership and creative vision, Dutcher Crossing offers 30 wines from various premier vineyards in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties and owns 75 acres of estate-designated vineyards. Production averages 12,000 cases per year.

  Mathy’s story is as revealing of her character as her winery. Growing up in Wisconsin, she knew she did not want to follow in her family’s footsteps in the construction and timber industries. Instead, she sealed her destiny with a high school trip to France. “To be honest, the only reason I studied French was so I could go to France,” Mathy told The Grapevine Magazine. “While I was there, I fell in love with wine. Until then, I knew nothing about it. I’d never seen vineyards, and I’d never seen people drinking wines.  It had never occurred to me that people could make a living in that field. It was an ‘a-ha’ moment. I came home, and I told my dad I wanted to get into the wine industry.”

  She put that dream on hold while pursuing an education, but years later, when her dad was facing stage IV cancer, he encouraged her to revisit her goals. “He said, ‘life’s too short,’ and if I still wanted to open a winery, we could do it together in the time he had left.” 

  So, the journey began and, with the help of consultants, Mathy discovered Dutcher Crossing.  The winery wasn’t for sale, but she recognized it as a perfect fit.  “I liked the sense of family and the quality of the wines,” she said.  “The winery had a nice foundation—it wasn’t showy—and it would give me a good base to build on, wherever I decided to go. The confluence on Dry Creek and Dutcher Creek gave the winery a sense of place too, which was really important to me.” 

While the owners had bought the winery with plans to sell eventually, Mathy convinced them that they should sell now and that she was the right person to buy it. “They didn’t want to sell to the corporate world,” she said. “They wanted it to be in great hands and ended up turning it over earlier than planned.”

  New to the industry—this kid from Wisconsin who had transplanted herself to California—Mathy faced the challenges of not only being an outsider but of being the first single female winery owner in Sonoma County. “I had to prove that I was serious about this, that it was not just a hobby,” Mathy said. “I got active in the community, developed relationships and learned everything I could from others. I also surrounded myself with great people. I come from a family where we know that it takes a lot to succeed, but if you have good people around you, your chances of success are much better. On the path upward, we win as a team, and we lose as a team. It’s been a nice journey.”

  At the beginning of this journey, Mathy retained the winemaker and staff from the previous owner and hired winemaker Nick Briggs to take over the reins eventually. “We wanted to diversify and make great wine, so, in addition to growing our own fruit, we searched for the best grapes we could find to expand our portfolio,” Mathy said. “Fortunately, we were able to find premium winemakers who would give us a shot, but we had to prove ourselves first.” 

  And prove herself she has. Today, Mathy is recognized as a pillar in the community, offers a stunning array of award-winning wines and has established a loyal wine club, selling out of her wines every year. She said, “Our path has been to create a well-balanced, three-legged stool: making the best wine by staying true to the vineyard, vintage and varietal; preserving a beautiful sense of place in our vineyards and winery; and offering a level of hospitality that allows visitors to feel like they are part of our family. Not everyone has that balance in their business. We’re fortunate that all who work with us buy into this philosophy and take pride in it.”

  Under Mathy’s careful guidance—and that of winemaker Briggs—Dutcher Crossing farms premium fruit from four vineyards on 75 acres. Grape varieties include Chardonnay, Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier, Riesling, Grenache, Mourvedre Syrah, Cinsault, Petit Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Muscat. The winery doesn’t use all the grapes for its own production but sells some of its fruit to other wineries. With fires, droughts and other whims of Mother Nature, farming is always a challenge, according to Briggs, who oversees the viticulture program.

  “Farming is dynamic—it’s different every year,” he said. “You have to have experience and pay attention to what’s going on, whether that involves taking petiole samples to check for nutrients, watching how the vines are growing or, once there’s fruit, making judgments about the balance of the crop.”

  Dutcher Crossing farms sustainably to ensure that the land will stay healthy for years to come.  “It’s important to us to preserve the land for the next generations,” Briggs said. “We know that vineyards can be successful for hundreds of years, as long as you apply sustainable principles of integrated pest management, nourishing soils and healthy vines.”

  In the winery, Briggs is a big advocate of blending. “We don’t always take the fast and easy approach in fermentation. Rather, we make small batches and see how they come out, then blend them later. Blending is the most artistic part of winemaking. To find the perfect wine, you just keep blending and blending until you end up where you want to be.” 

  With minimal intervention, Briggs strives to coax as much out of the fruit as he can. His goal is well-balanced wines with aromatics, fruit flavors and acidity that all carry forward to a lasting finish. “We take great pride in producing drinkable wines on release,” he told The Grapevine Magazine. “When we offer tastings, our visitors enjoy all of our wines, not just one or two.  That’s quite an accomplishment.”

  When not in the winery, the vineyards or greeting customers in the tasting room, Mathy and her staff are active members of the community. Mathy, for example, has been involved with the Boys and Girls Club for a dozen years and has served on boards that help various children’s causes. The winery also donates proceeds to melanoma cancer research in honor of Mathy’s late father. During the recent fires, Mathy’s staff of 20-plus people took it upon themselves to cook for firefighters and help find homes for displaced people.

  “When people ask me what the greatest thing is about being a winery owner, I tell them it’s watching my staff grow and mature to become better professionals and better leaders,” she said. This is where the excitement is for me right now.” 

Mathy has established a dynamic where all of the staff members consider themselves part of a family. “When the fires break out, we call each other first and say, ‘Hey, I need help,’ and no one says ‘I can’t.’ It’s always ‘Come, we’ll figure it out.’”

Unfortunately, Dutcher Crossing lost 98% of its crop to smoke taint in last year’s fires. “It was awful,”

  Mathy said.  “But when I look back, I see that the community grew together, and the relationships we had built also grew. And it could have been worse. If the firefighters had not done their job, it would have been catastrophic.”

  As Dutcher Crossing looks to the future, the team is considering options for diversifying by creating more wine brands or finding opportunities for grape-growing in Oregon and Washington State. But what’s primarily on everyone’s mind are the unknowns: those that come with fires, smoke damage and climate change. One challenge Mathy and Briggs face, for example, is how to balance cover crops that provide nutrients to the soil but also add fuel to the fires. “We may have to make strategic changes in the vineyards,” she said, “and will face some hard choices in the next five or six years. But primarily, we want to be good stewards of the land so that when we leave, the property will be better than it was when we found it.”

  Whatever direction Mathy and her team decide to go, you can be sure that the winery will remain a favorite go-to destination as long as she is in the picture. “It’s a beautiful, old farmhouse, and it’s very quaint in the way it’s oriented,” Mathy said. “When you walk through the breezeway, you see the beautiful hills of Dry Creek Valley. It’s so cozy, so comfortable, that you just leave your worries behind.”

  If that view isn’t enough, when the tasting room is open, you can relax by the stone fireplace, constructed of old railroad pieces, and admire the 1892 penny-farthing bicycle that sits nearby.  The bicycle is the last Christmas gift Mathy received from her late father. It also features on the Dutcher Crossing wine labels as a tribute to their wine journey together, a journey that made a dream come true for a young girl from Wisconsin.

For more information on Dutcher Crossing, visit www.dutchercrossingwinery.com

Nitrogen Use in Wineries: Targeting Oxidation Before it Starts Help Experts Keep Oxidation in Check

By: Cheryl Gray

The air we breathe is home to a free, abundant and primary weapon that wineries use to combat the ever-present threat of oxidation.

  That weapon is nitrogen, which makes up about 80% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Winemakers harness the benefits of this colorless, odorless, inert gas to prolong the shelf life of their products by guarding them during production and storage.  In short, nitrogen protects what is most important to winemakers—the wine’s taste, aroma, and quality.

Vacuum Barrier Corporation

  The question of how nitrogen functions best in any winery is answered by companies that are experts in the field. Among them is Vacuum Barrier Corporation, a cryogenics industry leader based in Woburn, Massachusetts. VBC designs, engineers and fabricates liquid nitrogen dosing and piping systems for wineries, breweries and other industries across the globe.

  The company has a 60-year history of providing its clients with custom-built and standard solutions for liquid nitrogen. Wineries use VBC’s signature Nitrodose injection systems in multiple applications. Its piping systems include the stainless Semiflex, Nitromatic dewar fill and Cobraflex. CobraFlex is a liquid nitrogen hose made of stainless steel, deriving its name in part from its extremely flexible outer wrap. A clean-in-place feature is available for all piping options, as are sensor control separators and modulating valve phase separators.  

  Jim Fallon is an Application Engineer for VBC. He explains that liquid nitrogen use in wineries is versatile and provides many solutions in real-time, helping to delay or eliminate oxygen contamination before it can start. 

  “The main advantage of nitrogen is that it’s inert and won’t easily react with other substances. This means it can be used to reduce or delay the oxidation of the product. It essentially replaces a significant amount of the oxygen found in ‘air’ at different stages of the manufacturing and packaging process.”

  VBC works specifically with liquid nitrogen to deploy it for common uses such as purging wine bottles before filling and removing oxygen in the headspace before capping. Fallon describes how liquid nitrogen is key in this process, known in the wine industry as flushing. 

  “Flushing can be an important step in maintaining the freshness of any organic material,” he says. “Removing oxygen from a storage container or bottle will help to extend the shelf life of the product. Liquid nitrogen expands to 700 times its volume as it evolves into a gas. That rapidly expanding gas drives air out of the container.”

  Another use for nitrogen in wineries is sparging, which removes the oxygen that has dissolved in wine during various points in production. Since it is inert, nitrogen doesn’t react with the wine and, as a result, won’t alter the flavor and bouquet intended by winemakers. Fallon points to argon as another inert gas that wineries use for sparging. Another option is carbon dioxide, but Fallon warns that its use presents some challenges. 

  “Carbon dioxide tends to be more reactive and tends to alter the profile of the wine, which may or may not be desired,” he says.

  Fallon adds that nitrogen is also typically used in blanketing, which functions just like it sounds. Nitrogen, or argon, covers an area or container to help protect the wine by keeping oxygen out.

O2 N2 Site Gas Systems

  Giving wineries the option to generate nitrogen in-house and on-demand is the expertise of O2 N2 Site Gas Systems. In business since 1987, the Connecticut-based company provides a range of generator options, including Membrane Nitrogen Generators and Pressure Swing Adsorption Nitrogen Generators. The company says that adsorption is the physical separation of molecules, not a chemical one. 

  The PSA generators produced by O2 N2 Site Gas Systems separate nitrogen from oxygen in the air. A PSA generator system performs this task using a pressurized vessel containing either carbon or zeolite. Nitrogen is trapped while oxygen is safely released back into the atmosphere. According to the company, this method provides 99.9995% of nitrogen. Other cost-saving features include an automatic standby mode when no gas is needed. The generator will also continuously check the pressure to make certain that the gas generated matches nitrogen demand.

  The company’s membrane technology also uses pressurized air. That air is forced through membranes that act like filters with tiny holes small enough to allow oxygen molecules to pass through, leaving the nitrogen molecules behind. The process continually generates nitrogen at the desired flow and purity levels.

Chart Industries

  Chart Industries is a global manufacturer offering a wide range of products for multiple nitrogen applications in wineries. The company produces equipment engineered to provide technologically advanced solutions in virtually all areas of industrial gas applications. Its portfolio of products includes not only engineering but also service and repair. 

  Located in New Prague, Minnesota, the company has a 160-year history of being at the forefront of technological advances. In 2021, it acquired Cryo Technologies, a leading manufacturer of cryogenic systems that Chart Industries has worked with for more than 20 years. The acquisition brings a team of highly skilled, richly experienced engineers and designers with a deep knowledge of cryogenic system design. 

  Chart Industries manufactures liquid nitrogen dosing systems for several industries, but its primary focus for wineries is using nitrogen for cleaning equipment and product storage. Richard Rosik, Sales Manager for Chart Industries, describes how the company’s products integrate well into wine production, including applications for storage, bottling and cleaning production lines.  

  “The cleaning of the equipment is very important to ensure a sterile environment as well as line changes from product to product. The Chart Nitrogen Doser is designed for use in these types of environments. Our liquid nitrogen dosers are specifically used to displace oxygen in the headspace by allowing the liquid to vaporize inside the bottle, pushing out the oxygen and other impurities.”

  Chart Industries also provides wineries with bulk storage options that preserve wine by protecting it from oxidation through the sparging process. Rosik says the equipment is ideal for these functions. 

  “Because of Chart’s diversified portfolio, although our nitrogen dosers aren’t specifically used in the sparging process, our Storage and Vaporization equipment is. Our liquid cylinders, MicroBulk and bulk tank offerings are ideal for these applications.”

  The company’s bulk tank products range in size from 1,500 to 264,000 gallons and can accommodate maximum allowable working pressures ranging between 175 and 500 PSIG. The tanks come in horizontal and vertical configurations and feature a stainless-steel inner vessel and a carbon steel outer shell with an integrated support and lifting system for easy transport and installation. The insulation system of the tanks promotes high thermal performance, long hold times, minimal life-cycle costs and reduced weight to cut operational and installation costs.  

  For smaller operations, Chart offers the Perma-Cyl MicroBulk System. This system is designed for small and medium wineries to benefit from onsite gas delivery of liquid nitrogen, with tank sizes ranging from 61 to 1,840-gallon capacities. Its primary function is to cut the cost of time and money lost in the cycle of exchanging cylinders. Things like loss, damage, keeping track of cylinder inventory, even losing the use of residual gas left in the cylinder are costs that are difficult, if not impossible, to recoup. 

  For more complex operations, O2 N2 Gas Systems provides clients with custom-engineered nitrogen generation systems. The company develops with a cost-savings approach in mind for wineries and other industries that want onsite, on-demand nitrogen generation. It offers all facets of systems design technology, assessing individual client needs for the short and long term.  

  Whether liquid nitrogen or nitrogen generated from the air, experts say this inert gas is by far the most popular choice for wineries guarding themselves against oxidation. While there are other inert gases to use, such as argon and even carbon dioxide, wineries use nitrogen because of cost, accessibility and the kind of wine they produce. 

Sweet Vines of Tennessee

A barn at Tsali Notch Vineyards in front of the Smoky Mountains in Madisonville, Tennessee.

By: Hanifa Sekandi

When most people think about Tennessee, they think about whiskey. There is no disagreement that people are talking about the best bourbon in town or the best whiskey they ever had. The dispute of who makes it better can last hours. But what about wine? Does viticulture have a place among the crown spirit of the south and the best whiskey? It seems it does, and it is just as good as your taste buds can imagine. There is more to southern wine than strawberry wine, and for North American wine enthusiasts supporting local and imbibing in something homegrown is a palate-pleasing dalliance.

Viticulture in the South

  In comparison to other wine regions across the world, winemaking in Tennessee is in its infancy.    The lineage does not run deep and is not riddled with the same political turmoil and unpredictable weather fluctuations that one would find in South Africa or Germany. There is no sad story to tell. Perhaps a few good stories about hidden wine that bootleggers used to sell during Prohibi-tion. Wine, just like the music in this state, is the birth of something new. It becomes something you never stop hearing about when done right and given a little patience.

  Tennessee winemaking is a new, lucrative frontier, thanks to settlers from Europe who migrated to the region in the mid 19th century and brought their winemaking skills. During this time, it was a burgeoning wine industry with only approximately 1,128 acres of grapes planted, but it proved to be quite lucrative. A yield of over 64,000 gallons of wine was valued at $90,000. If you consider currency during this period, a golden price tag and limited supply marked these Tennessee wines a rare Southern find.

  Although a promising beginning saw wines made in this Southern region as a possible competitor of those produced in California, this potential Napa Valley of the south experienced slow growth due to the impediment of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, establishing total alcohol prohibition throughout the nation. Even when Prohibition ended 13 years later with the 21st Amendment, a hold on wine production in the region lasted more than 50 years. This hold meant that Tennessee winemakers who entered an already booming wine industry were decades away from gaining recognition among wine connoisseurs.

  With the changing times of the 1970s, when archaic production laws were finally put to bed, wine cultivation in Tennessee experienced its freedom and led to the slowly growing industry now seen today. The West Tennessee Experiment Station, the Plateau Experiment Station and Middle Tennessee Station spearheaded research on grapes and how to best cultivate them in the region. This endeavor in the mid-1970s opened the door for establishing vineyards and creating signature Tennessee wine blends. By the end of that decade, Tennessee had 125 acres of planted grapes.

Easing Into Ripe Times

  It has been a slow start for Tennessee winemakers, simply because it was not until 1980 that grape cultivation licensing to produce wine for sale was available in the state. Forty years in an industry with a long, diverse lineage allows Southern winemakers to see what has been done be-fore, make it better and add their own flair to stand out amongst the best. With that said, it also puts them a step behind since making a name for their brand and enticing local and international acclaim is not easy, as winemakers around the world know. For a wine to truly become a mem-ber of the elite, it must be something special.

  What winemakers have done for centuries is work with what they have. Whether it be the scarci-ty of materials or challenging terrains, they made it work. Even with small but mighty vineyards, the Tennessean winemaker’s hard work is apparent. Wineries span the state from east to west, and to date, there are approximately 40 wineries. The wine produced here ranges from a smooth Merlot, rich flavored Cabernet Sauvignon and refreshing Chardonnay to popular signature homegrown blends Muscadine, Traminette, Catawba and Chambourcin. Muscadine is a well-known wine made from the oldest grapevine planted in the U.S., and its grapes are also used to make jams and jelly.

Tennessee Wineries  — a Southern Blend

Highland Manor Winery

  If you are going to Tennessee to experience Southern-made wine, you must start at the first li-censed winery in this wine region, Highland Manor Winery, near Jamestown. The array of wine produced at this winery is due to the variation in microclimates and nutrient-dense soils that al-low vines to grow with ease. It is family-owned by Rhonda and Frederick Moody, who acquired it from Frederick’s aunt and uncle Gertie and Butch Campbell, who devoted a fortuitous 17 years to this historic vineyard.

  For a mid sized winery that has only been running for 40 years, there is a vast selection of wines to enjoy. Their best seller, Muscadine, is made from the white Muscadine grape grown through-out Southern vineyards. Another unique sweet blend is the Cab Berry, a beautiful marriage of red wine and blackberry wine. It is also worth mentioning the combination of flavor profiles found in each signature wine. For example, the Southern Blush, a dessert wine, is delicately infused with peach. The wines produced at this winery imbue a relaxed sophistication that complements the easy going Southern sensibility.

Grinders Switch Winery

  Sometimes a hobby can become more than you could have imagined. Grinders Switch owners Gail and Joey Chesser describe their decade long success at their 7 acre vineyard as “a hobby out of control.” The winery is located in Hickman County in middle Tennessee, a quaint and serene countryside. The winery holds up to 15,000 gallons of wine. If you cannot make it out to the country, the Chesser’s opened up a location in Marathon Village amongst all the live music in downtown Nashville. Here you can enjoy wine in between a few live shows while exploring this vibrant city.

  Aged for three years in an oak barrel, their 2015 Sintra, a silky sweet ruby wine with notes of smokey caramel, will have you singing high notes. The 2020 Vidal Blanc is a citrusy dry white wine with notes of tangerine and grapefruit. It is an excellent accompaniment for fresh caught grilled fish. Grinder’s Switch also makes a Muscadine called General I.

Arrington Vineyards

  If you are looking for the Napa Valley experience with a sophisticated yet laidback Southern flair, make your way to Arrington Vineyards, a winery with expertly crafted, award-winning wines. This middle Tennessee winery, owned by country music icon Kix Brooks, entrepreneur John Russell and pro-vintner Kip Summer, opened in the summer of 2007. The winery merges two different properties: a 25 acre hog farm bought by Summer and adjoining vineyards purchased by Brooks. Russell’s addition in 2008 allowed for larger distribution via the Lipman Brothers.

  Appreciating a glass of their award winning 2004 Syrah vintage while taking in the breathtaking views and listening to music at the Music in the Vines venue sounds like the perfect way to es-cape from your worries. Add that missing spark with one of their refreshing sparkling wines, Sparkle, a light fruit-infused dry white wine with floral aromas. The 2020 Chardonnay aged with French oak provides a perfect balance for those who like a buttery vanilla oak texture and finish along with a bright and sweet burst of flavor. Lastly, if you can get your hands on a bottle of their 2020 Honeysuckle, a dessert wine that is a blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer grapes, be sure to pair it with lemon pound cake.