Dawson Creek Winery
Sonoma County region
Ultra-boutique wines by one of California's top winemakers
Dawson Creek Winery has been in existence for over fifteen years and is well on its way to becoming one of Northern California’s premier niche wineries. It has survived the difficulties of the latest recession that forced numerous small wineries out of business. In fact, Dawson Creek Winery has almost doubled its size to its present level of around 10,000 cases.
Dawson Creek Winery is the brainchild of Napa Valley wine entrepreneur Shahin Shababi, 52, who is the proprietor of a number of Napa Valley wineries including Stonehedge Winery and Havens Winery and a number of other small production wineries.
Dawson Creek Winery possesses a most interesting history, a story worth telling. Dawson Creek Winery actually began just after the turn of this century , when the wine was first produced for a wine distributor in Scandinavia who also sold it several European markets. Its name was chosen from a popular television series of the same name that was a much-admired show in Scandinavia and seemed to suggest a distinctive American appeal to the wines.
Dawson Creek Winery became very successful abroad and eventually a decision to make the wines available in the United States was made a reality by owner Shahin Shahabi.
“I was really interested in producing a terroir-oriented wine that was decidedly non-commercial” Shababi remarked during a recent interview. “I wanted to make a wine that was never diluted or overdone in any respect. It was my intention to produce wines that accurately reflected the area in which they were grown. My company had excellent relationship with growers throughout Northern California that made everything possible. It also allowed me to choose fruit from a number of different areas. The only thing these grapes had in common was that they were all of extremely high quality.” We have not doubt that you will enjoy both of these Gold Series Wine Club selections produced by Dawson Creek.
Don Baker - Winemaker
Winemaker Don Baker carries a resume that literally could drag along the ground. Baker, a Philadelphia native, enjoys a career that has spanned more than forty years in the wine industry. Baker met his wife Lynn during college in Montana. She was from Sacramento and Baker soon developed a keen interest in wine.
Baker decided to do something about his fascination and called the dean of viticulture and enology at the University of California Davis for advice. The dean felt that Baker’s former forestry courses (and in particular, the sciences involved) gave the former Marine veteran an advantage and encouraged him to enter school. A short two years later and Don Baker graduated and successfully made the jump into the wine industry.
Don Baker is today a classic winemaker, having learned from some of the leading winemakers in the Napa Valley during his extensive career. His list of former employers includes the likes of Robert Mondavi Winery, Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates, Joseph Phelps Vineyards and William Hill Estate Winery to name just a few. But, more importantly, Baker is also a throwback to earlier European winemakers who believed in the old adage that Mother Nature provides a silver platter for winemakers.
Don Baker is a firm adherent of leaving the wines alone as much as possible to allow them to achieve their own greatness. He says emphatically, “If you just baby it along, it will do wonderfully. Period.” It is hard to find fault with such a philosophy and the marvelous record of awards and praises Don Baker’s wines have garnered in the past. His approach is proven and his attitude is clear. “I want to achieve a good value relationship first and foremost,” he proclaimed. “My wines will be clean and well-balanced. With the ability to carefully select the fruit we use, we should be able to achieve the same quality on a regular basis.”
Into his mid-70’s, Don Baker exudes the energy of a person much younger than him. He is also the owner (along with his wife Lynn) of an emerging new winery aptly named LynnDon Cellars.
A new found passion surrounding the founding of LynnDon Cellars has tended to re-energize the renowned winemaker and consultant to a degree he had never thought possible.
Sonoma’s Russian River Valley has always been considered the crown jewel of the Sonoma Valley growing region for its incredible fruit and the diversity of its varietals, both white and red. Its total acreage amounts to about 18% of the total vineyard acreage in Sonoma County.
Geographically, the prime growing area lies between the southerly cities of Sebastopol and Santa Rosa and the more northern cities of Healdsburg and Forestville. It is centered on the Russian River and was granted AVA status in 1983.
The land was formed millions of years ago by the collisions between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. Eruptions of volcanic vents then deposited ash on layers of eroded bedrock forming sandstone of loam that is known as Goldridge soil. This particular type of soil produces miraculous results when growing vines.
The Russian River Valley is also characteristically cool (winds flow through the Petaluma Wind Gap and are channeled down by the Russian River) and heavily affected by incessant fog owing to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean’s maritime influence (some parts are only ten miles away from the ocean). The area has achieved wonderful successes in the growing of chardonnay and pinot noir, two cool climate varietals that thrive within the Russian River Valley’s chilly climate.
Practically every varietal is found (some 36 at last count) within the confines of the Russian River Valley and a wide variety of wines are produced by hundreds of wineries of all sizes and shapes. Approximately 42% of the grapes harvested in the Russian River Valley are chardonnay and while some 29% are pinot noir. Only a few of the warmer growing areas (Chalk Hill for instance) have the venerable cabernet sauvignon in attendance.
Winegrowing and winemaking in the area date back to the 19th Century when a large number of growers emigrated from Europe, with a significant number coming from Italy. By the start of the 20th century, nearly two hundred commercial wineries were known to be in existence. Prohibition nearly ended the Russian River Valley’s wine industry but somehow it managed to survive.
Uniquely, many of the individual vineyards in the Russian River Valley are as famous as the winemakers, a fact that is not the case throughout California.
Shahin Shahabi - Owner
Shahin Shahabi and his family have been in the wine business for more than four decades. They began as wine importers in Southern California and became successful enough to allow Shahabi to start his own ventures nearly twenty years ago. He first acquired the well-respected Stonehedge Winery and reestablished it as a formidable Napa Valley entity that has a huge following throughout the country. But his experience in his family’s wine import business opened additional doors for the native of Iran.
Speaking of Iran, Shahabi hails from the ancient Persian City of Shiraz, famous for incredible rugs that bear the town’s name. Legend also has it that the original grape that bears the name of Shiraz also originated in the city. Holy men supposedly carried the vines to the south of France where the noble Syrah is the main varietal found in France’s Rhone Valley. Other planters took the same rootstock to Australia where the modern Shiraz (same spelling) is the backbone of Australia’s burgeoning wine industry.
Shahabi is quite realistic when it comes to his Dawson Creek Winery. “I have always made Dawson Creek a limited production brand, and only available in a few markets. I have always stressed the terroir from which the fruit originates, so I can control the quality and produce wines that offer truly great values to my customers. I would prefer to remain small in this regard, since the bigger wineries always seem to encounter sourcing problems as they tend to grow larger.”
Shahabi admits that there are a few states that have Dawson Creek wines but he is not intent on increasing his distribution at this time. “I produce just enough wine to satisfy my needs and that formula has worked well for me since Dawson Creek Winery’s introduction. I won’t change something that’s working so well.”
Grapes for this month’s Gold Series Wine Club selection originate from the heralded Russian River Valley of Sonoma (see Region story), one of Shahabi favorite growing areas. “The grapes from Russian River are usually on the fantastic side,” he related. “We have ongoing relationships with some really top growers so we are always assured to getting the best fruit.”
Shahin Shahabi is a veteran businessman who realizes the fact that niche wineries have their place in the wine industry. He continues to produce high quality wines with little fanfare and excellent results. He is content with gradual growth n his varied operations and had developed a fierce cadre of loyal supporters and customers for his stable of wines.
Shahin Shahabi is perfectly comfortable in his role as owner of a winery such as Dawson Creek. Enjoy!