Mill Creek Winery
Dry Creek Valley AVA
An award-winning winery guided by three generations of the Kreck Family
At least one winery in Sonoma can correctly claim that its very existence is directly tied to the flooding of the mighty Russian River. To fully explain that statement, it is necessary that we travel back in time to the year 1947.
It seems one Charles “Chuck” Kreck and a friend were traveling through Northern California, on their way to Oregon. Kreck was in the process of relocating his family from San Gabriel in Southern California and had recently sold his hardware business to his brother. Oregon’s virtual wilderness beckoned, him fed by his desire to return to the farming life he had known as a child.
The pair made it as far as Healdsburg, where a major flood of the Russian River prevented any transit north. Kreck was forced to stay in Healdsburg for several days and decided to scout the area for any potential property.
Kreck was immediately taken with the nearby Alexander Valley and soon called his wife Vera and informed her that they now owned some beautiful land in Sonoma County.
He immediately moved his family to the area and began a life as a sheep farmer. After several years, Chuck decided he could make more money buying, improving and then reselling land around the area.
It wasn’t until 1965 that the Kreck family actually entered the wine business. Chuck Kreck had purchased a particular ten-acre piece of property in Dry Creek area that contained prune trees. Chuck removed the prune trees and replanted the land with what were arguably the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in Dry Creek. When it came time to sell the property, Chuck wisely held on to the vineyard land. Around 1969, another 70-plus acres of prime property was acquired that would become the site of today’s Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery.
Chuck and Vera Kreck’s two sons, Bill and Jim, were both enlisted to help with the new winery enterprise. Jim involved himself with vineyard planting, management and wine production while Bill’s duties involved the sales and marketing of the first Mill Creek Wines.
A wine consultant was hired to insure quality, a transplanted German man named Bob Stemmler who later gained fame in the wine world with his heralded Robert Stemmler wines.
Mill Creek’s first release of about two thousand cases of Cabernet Sauvignon came in 1974, before the actual winery building was completed on Westside Road.
“We were forced to custom crush our grapes over at Korbel’s facility,” recalled Bill Kreck. We just wanted to be sure someone who knew exactly what they were doing treated our grapes correctly. Thankfully, everything came out okay and everyone was pleased.“
From the initial release almost thirty years ago, Mill Creek has slowly increased its production to its current level of between 12,000 to 15,000 cases, depending on the variances of specific vintages.
Asked if Mill Creek intends to significantly increase its production, Bill Kreck’s charming wife Yvonne states flatly, “Our present production level is the only way we can truly have hands-on control of our wines. When you get any larger, your control becomes watered down.”
And quality control is as important at Mill Creek today as it was when Chuck and Vera Kreck proudly offered their first release nearly three decades ago. The winery points to the fact that approximately ninety percent of its production originates from its estate vineyards, surrounded by its bucolic winery and tasting room with its signature mill, pond and water powered mill wheel. A small percentage of the grapes used in Mill Creek’s wines come from additional vineyards in Alexander Valley and other Dry Creek vineyards, but these vines are also owned and controlled by members of the Kreck family.
The third generation of Kreck family members are now involved in Mill Creek’s ongoing operations and there is hope and expectancy that future generations will also carry on the work first started by the flooding of the Russian River nearly six decades earlier.
Mill Creek’s current wine operations are in the hands of noted winemaker Hank Skewis, formerly of Lambert Bridge Winery and the 1995 Winemaker of the Year in Sonoma. Skewis’s expertise assures critical acclaim for Mill Creek’s wines along with continued success in competitions.
Gold Medal is delighted to offer this month’s selections as a partial insight to the world of Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery.
Map of the area
The Kreck Family
While many past Gold Spotlights have featured outstanding individuals from our featured winery, this month’s Spotlight involves the members of the extraordinary Kreck Family of Sonoma County, owners of Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery.
Even though Mill Creek’s founder and soul, Charles “Chuck” Kreck, passed away nearly five years ago, his sons and their families carry his wonderful legacy daily. Chuck’s remarkable wife Vera continued to work around the winery until just recently. Now approaching ninety years young, she continues to reside in the couple’s Mill Creek Road residence. The couple’s oldest son Jim and his wife Elizabeth are still actively involved in many facets of Mill Creek ,along with their son Matt who grows some excellent Zinfandel fruit at another site in Dry Creek that is sold exclusively to Mill Creek.
Jim’s younger brother (by five years) Bill and his wife Yvonne have played major roles in the development of Mill Creek’s operation. Having known each other since childhood and having attended Cal Sate Chico at the same time, Bill and Yvonne Kreck embody the very core of what makes Mill Creek tick.
“We are all quite happy here at Mill Creek,” Yvonne Kreck offered. “Each one of us does the job that we are best suited for. Over time, we have each found our own particular niche. The nice thing is that it all tends to come together and allows us to produce some really outstanding wines. When customers enjoy our wines, well, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Yvonne’s husband Bill has handled most of the sales and marketing for Mill Creek for the past twenty years while Yvonne, who taught school for many years and raised three sons, does most of the public relations work. She also runs the tasting room and insures the historical accuracy of the winery’s beginnings. The couple’s two oldest sons, Brian and Jeremy, are also intricately involved in Mill Creek.
Brian, now 30, graduated from UC Davis with an economics degree. He handles the winery’s business affairs and also is responsible for Mill Creek’s presence on the vast east coast wine market, one of the few areas outside California where Mill Creek has chosen to sell its wines. Brian also runs a thriving web development business in addition to his Mill Creek duties. Brian’s 26-year-old brother Jeremy was an agribusiness graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who minored in viticulture and oenology. Jeremy is primarily responsible for vineyard management of the Alexander Valley vineyards and also part of the Dry Creek vineyards that the Kreck Family owns. A third brother, Philip, attended West Point and is now an officer in the army.
The Kreck Family has always believed in involving themselves in the outstanding issues of both their community and the wine industry itself. They have served on numerous civic and political action boards and committees and were instrumental in helping establish the Sonoma County Vintner’s Cooperative, a major facility to its forty-three member wineries.
A prime example of the Kreck family’s active involvement in Sonoma’s wine industry is the fact that Bill Kreck is still one of the few winery principals that annually participates in the Sonoma County Wineries Association’s Grand Tour, a demanding role that has most certainly grown old with time. Bill doesn’t see it that way, an opinion shared by the entire Kreck clan.
“Our family has always emphasized respect for agriculture,” he explained. “We nurtured the belief that if we used our lands wisely and maintained a deep esteem for those who make their livings from it, in the end, everyone would prosper.”
Such is the spirit and feeling that pervades Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery. It is fitting that such fortitude and character should exist within the small winery operation.
To the Krecks, it is all quite simple. They feel that being part of a winemaking family in nothing short of carrying on a centuries old tradition practiced around the world, not just in California. Would that there were more in the wine business that felt the same.
With Brian and Jeremy Kreck around to serve as third generation operators, Mill Creek’s future seems quite secure. With the kind of family both have evolved from, that seems a fairly safe bet.