Charles Creek Vineyard
Sonoma County region
Young Charles Creek vineyard Emerges from the Crowd to Find Credibility and Success
What do you get when you take a pair of transplanted Mid-westerners who wind up living in the middle of the beautiful Sonoma Valley? Potential winery owners, of course as is the case of, Gerry and Bill Brinton, proprietors of the recently reinvigorated Charles Creek Vineyard.
Charles Creek Vineyard was actually begun sometime in the spring of 1984, when the Brintons purchased a second home in Sonoma to be able to spend some quality time with their two sons, Charlie and Bobby. The house was neatly set in a hilly 10-acre parcel that shouted ‘plant me’ to its new owners.
“In Sonoma, it soon became apparent that everything centered around grapes,” Gerry Brinton offered during a recent interview. Wherever you went, socially or otherwise, the talk usually centered around wine or the wine business.” It took the Brintons a few years, five to be exact, to actually plant a small vineyard on their property. By 1995, their grapes produced enough fruit that the first vintages of Charles Creek became a reality. The first vintages were tiny, 75 of the 1995, 125 of the 1996 and a whopping 225 of the bountiful 1997.
All the while, Bill Brinton was also developing a natural products and nutritional beverage firm in San Francisco that wound up occupying the greater part of his time. Gerry had also secured her Harvard MBA and was employed in the accounting business on a full time basis. While the acceptance level of Charles Creek Vineyard and its small production was remarkable, the simple fact was that the Brintons did not have the time to produce any further wines and the Charles Creek Vineyard was temporarily suspended.
Jump ahead to the year 2001 and Bill Brinton has sold the beverage company and feels a calling to the wine business on a full time basis. Having spent the better part of two decades in Sonoma, he has close contact with many of the top growers and some of the leading winemakers.
Along with Gerry’s help, they secured a number of long-term leases on fruit from both Sonoma and Napa and set about making Charles Creek a force in the area. They hired a well-known winemaker Kerry Damskey. With 25 years of winemaking experience on four continents, Kerry Damskey brought both expertise and perspective to Charles Creek Vineyard. Damskey has spent his career gaining a better understanding of the entire ecology of wine, including the impact of the climate, soil, sun exposure, and temperature on the grape growing and the winemaking process - a concept the French call terroir. In the space of four short years, Charles Creek has grown to around 13,000 annual cases; a level the Brintons feel is about perfect for their sort of operation.
“At this level, it is possible to control our destiny regarding quality of our wines," Gerry Brinton added. "Since I am responsible for all our distributor contact as well as inventory control, I know how important it is to keep the quality of the wine at a constant level.”
And first and foremost, both Gerry and Bill Brinton consider themselves as consumers before winemakers. They pay particular attention to their wines price/value relationship, something both parties agree upon fully. They point to countless examples of wineries that have expanded their operations at the cost of their wines’ quality and are determined to insure that a similar situation not occur at Charles Creek.
The name Charles Creek is derived from their oldest son Charles’ first name and Bill’s grandfather Charles Deere Wiman. It would seem that the future is particularly bright for the still fledgling Sonoma Valley operation. There are still some details to work out with the assorted (13) growers that supply the winery, but with both Gerry and Bill at the controls, the bumps in the road appear slight at best.
Consumer demand for Charles Creek wines has steadily risen and the accolades have continued almost unabated since the winery’s rebirth in 2001. Neither of the Brinton sons seems interested in following their parents into the winery business, but the opportunity to do so is always there should either change his mind.
Gerry and Bill Brinton seem to have it all figured out, but with their educational background and business expertise, one could guess that the pair would plan well. After all, they consider themselves consumer first, and winemakers thereafter. A truly refreshing way to look at it, don’t you agree?
Map of the area
Gerry & Bill Brinton - Proprietors
It was Bill Brinton’s father who first peaked his interest in wines even when Brinton was a relatively young man. The elder Brinton was a fancier of Bordeaux and Burgundian wines, and allowed his children to taste during mealtimes. Sometimes, he would even quiz the youths about particular wines so see if they had retained the earlier information.
‘I really thought it was neat,” recalled Brinton, an energetic 59-year-old. ‘It was great that we got to taste these old, wonderful wines, and the fact that he wanted our opinions was even neater.” Brinton graduated from California Western in San Diego with a Political Science degree and a few years later earned a master’s degree in accounting from Columbia. He considered his move to Sonoma a logical progression for someone who had somewhat of a background and passion for the wine industry.
His own family’s history also happens to be the stuff that press releases are made from. Bill is directly descended from pioneer inventor John Deere, the person that revolutionized the agricultural business with his invention of the self-scouring steel plow. Brinton’s family controlled the giant tractor and utilities maker until its recent transition into a public company.
Immediately after he sold his startup and highly successful nutritional beverage company in the early 1990’s Bill felt the call into the winery business. With the firm support of his wife of 26 years, Gerry, the two sought to develop their own type of winery using the expertise gleaned from years of wine drinking and association with winery owners and winemakers.
But through it all, Bill Brinton has held fast to his own idea of style and purpose for the wines of Charles Creek Vineyard.
‘I realized early on that the wineries that used great grapes produced great wines,” he admitted. ‘So I made it my business to search out the very best growers and didn’t delude myself when I had to pay their prices for the best grapes. I have always been fond of the California style for our wines, big, fruit forward wines that can accurately reflect the character of the areas in which they are grown. Our wines are not too dry, and can be drunk by themselves or in the company of fine foods. That way, it’s a win — win situation.” Brinton feels he turned the corner in his smallish operation when he sold his entire production of the 1997 vintage, 225 cases, to one customer.
‘When I saw that one person liked our wines well enough to buy the entire lot and not haggle over the price,” he added, ‘I realized then that we must be doing something right. Even though I wasn’t able to devote much time to the winery at that point, I knew in the back of my mind that one day we would be back into it in a big way.”
That event occurred some years later after Brinton sold his beverage company. He heard about a vintner that was leaving the industry and wanted someone to take over his existing contracts with the famous Sangiacomo Vineyard in the Carneros Region. Brinton jumped at the opportunity and the resulting juice formed the basis for Charles Creek Vineyard’s first multiple-award-winning Las Patolitas Chardonnay.
As the winery has grown and prospered, Bill Brinton has remained very specific regarding the style and effect of his wines.
‘Each grape varietals has it’s own unique personality,” he reflected. ‘Various areas turn out different varietals and its up to us to blend these together to produce the very best flavors. That’s what its all about, and the wineries who can do it best and the ones everyone talks about. They are the wineries that ultimately become successful.”
Brinton’s goal for the future is simple, that being to make the very best Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that he can possibly make. He is also extremely aware of the cost factor in such a process, and revels in the fact that his wines are considered excellent values in the minds of the consumer.
‘It’s the very best of both worlds,” Brinton concluded. We are making great wines at good price points that people can really identify with. I’m not sure we could ask for much more.”
Brinton and his Charles Creek Vineyard will be around for many years to come, and that’s extremely good news for his growing legions of followers.