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Perry Creek Winery - Sierra Nevada Mountain Range


From the very start, the success of Perry Creek Vineyards has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Remember those Burma Shave billboards that were spread out along the roadside every few hundred feet that you couldn’t resist reading? “Believe it or not, that’s how I became aware of this property,” says winery owner Michael Chazen pointing towards his vineyard. “The previous owner had put up signs along the highway just like those old Burma Shave signs, describing this piece of land, and it piqued my interest,” he says with a grin.

Just about all of us have done something that was seemingly insignificant at the time but later turned out to be quite the opposite. In June of 1989, Michael was driving to Reno, Nevada for a rodeo when he spotted those fateful signs. “The funny thing is, I normally fly to places when I go out of town. But for some reason I decided to drive that time,” he recalls.

The site encompassed 155 acres of beautiful, open, gentling rolling hills that were nestled among the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California’s Gold Country. When Michael set his eyes on the property, the idea of a vineyard and winery immediately popped into his head. “I wasn’t looking for property to buy at all, let alone wanting to start a winery!” he says a bit mystified. Following his instincts, he pushed his idea along.

Expert opinions from geologists and viticulturists confirmed that growing conditions at the site were excellent for wine grapes. “We had to start from scratch,” Michael continues. “The most difficult decision was what to plant,” he recalls. At an elevation of 2,400 feet, the vineyard is on a ridge-top above the Consumnes River. During the growing season the days are sunny and warm and the nights stay cooled by constant breezes from the valley below. The site is ideal for Zinfandel, and it was thought that the Bourdeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc would do well also. The game plan was ready for execution.

Michael hired a vineyard manager and went to work putting in the first 20-acres of grapevines. Anxious to get going, he purchased some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and made his first commercial wine from the 1989 vintage. As the vines were maturing in his own vineyard, he followed up the Cabernet with a small quantity of Chenin Blanc, releasing both wines in 1991.

By the end of following year, Michael completed planting an additional 40 acres of various other varietals such as Sangoivese, Syrah, Viognier and Muscat. “We knew that Rhone style wines were becoming more important in California and everything we saw told us they would do well here,” says Michael. Call it an educated decision or call it instinct, but once again Michael hit a home run. The Rhone varietals have flourished at Perry Creek Vineyards.

In time for the 1993 harvest, Michael hired winemaker, Nancy Steel. Nancy has over 15 years of winemaking experience and is one of the few female winemakers in the business. Before joining Perry Creek, Nancy was the winemaker for Mazzocco Winery for seven years. Prior to that she was with Stag’s Leap and Lambert Bridge wineries. “Her expertise has been an important factor in the success of our winery,” Michael points out.

In 1995, Perry Creek’s first estate grown wines hit the market with a bang. Incredibly, each of the four wines released—a Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Muscat, won Gold Medals at the competitions that year. The 2,500 cases produced that year were sold mainly at the winery tasting room. The wines were also placed in local wine shops and restaurants in their home county of El Dorado. “We knocked on a lot of doors to get things going,” Michael recalls. “We concentrated our sales efforts locally at first, then kept expanding the concentric circle further and further out. Controlled distribution is a key concern.”

Sales have grown almost ten fold since the debut of their first estate grown wines. A major contributor to that growth may well be traced back to their signature wine they call ZinMan. Several years ago during a brainstorm session to remake their label design, a drawing of a whimsical, blue and yellow-starred dancing figure caught Michael’s eye. His immediate thought was, ‘That’s ZinMan’ “I knew instantly that was the one to go with on the label. Whether it’s the label, the wine, or both, ZinMan has become synonymous with Perry Creek Vineyards. ZinMan quickly catapulted to become their best selling wine.

The labels were redesigned across the entire product line in a similar theme of whimsical figures and scenes. The new labels have been so effective, they’ve won Gold Medals and Best of Show at the prestigious Orange County Fair for the last two years.

And if Gold Medals were given out for top-notch Tasting Rooms, Perry Creek would win hands down. Their first-class layout not only includes the obligatory tasting room, gift shop and picnic area, but also includes a vintage and classic automobile and motorcycle collection. Next door, is the walk-in cigar humidor room featuring over 100 selections, many of which are hard-to-find in this country.

Perry Creek Vineyards is just beginning to hit its stride, both literally and figuratively. Production capacity is 30,000 cases a year, a level which Michael figures he’ll hit within the next two years. Currently, a dozen different wines are in the winery’s portfolio. Each one is a tribute to the high calibur of grapes now being grown in the Sierra Foothills area. Collectively they represent the remarkable progress this small winery has made in a relatively short period of time.

From the very start, the success of Perry Creek Vineyards has been nothing short of phenomenal. From site selection, to varietal choice, to high quality product and packaging, distribution and guest hospitality, Perry Creek Vineyards seemingly can do no wrong.



Michael Chazen

Michael Chazen never fathomed he would take his interest in wine beyond that of just an educated wine consumer. ‘I truly had no thought of ever owning a winery—it just sort of happened,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. His quick response to our question tells us he’s heard it asked many times before. Although there may be a slice of truth in his answer, we soon learn that things just don’t happen in Michael’s life—he makes things happen.

Michael was born and raised in the Bronx. Even as a teenager he envisioned being a successful businessman. ‘I enjoy the interactions of business,” Michael explains. Not so much the day-to-day details of running a business, but rather growing a business, the deal making, and the people aspect, the relationship building—in other words, the fun part! To that end he focused his college education on marketing, and graduated with a BBA in Marketing at the University of Toledo.

Out of college in 1964 and after a stint in the Coast Guard, Michael decided to pursue a career in the textile industry. ‘I have always been fascinated with the clothing business, it’s fun, it’s fast-paced and it’s a business that’s heavy on building relationships,” he clarifies. Through some personal networking he landed a job with a large manufacturer in New York that specialized in men’s and young men’s clothing. ‘I started out on the lowest of the low rungs of the ladder,” he says only half-kidding. But he hung in there and gradually worked his way up. By the early 1970’s he was the East Coast Sales Manager and promoted to head up the merchandising and product design. This new position was based out of California and required that he travel extensively all over the globe. In his travels he discovered and enjoyed many fine wines throughout the world as well as in his new home state of California.

By 1982, Michael decided it was time to fly on his own, so he teamed up with a friend to form his own clothing manufacturing/importing company. Michael Gerald Ltd., as they named it, is now a $50 million business, selling Hawaiian shirts, sweaters and other men’s apparel to department stores and big chain stores across the country. Michael has since stepped away from the day-to-day involvement of the business, opting instead to focus on the winery.

‘I learned a very valuable lesson before I started the winery,” says Michael. ‘Hire the best.” From winemaker extraordinaire, Nancy Steel, to seasoned Vineyard Manager Bill Bertram, and a dedicated, supportive staff; everyone has put in what it takes to make Perry Creek Vineyards a world class operation.

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