Perry Creek Winery
El Dorado Foothills
Perry Creek's wines reach the top of their game
It can be accurately explained that Perry Creek Winery of Fair Play (who couldn’t trust wines from a place with that name?), California has a dichotomous existence; something that could also be termed the winery’s past and present.
In 1989, New York-born Michael Chazen spotted some property while driving to Las Vegas and was immediately bitten by the wine bug. He planted some 20 acres and built a winery that eventually reached more than 20,000 cases, no mere feat for a startup winery in the Sierra Madre Foothills during the early 1990’s. Chazen eventually planted more acreage but a nasty divorce and settlement forced Chazen into an absentee ownership position. He departed California for Florida and the winery was put up for sale just after the advent of the millennium.
Perry Creek remained in that status for several years until Dieter Juergens arrived on the scene and became interested in the property. Juergens was already a property owner and grower in the Fair Play region who had even used Perry Creek’s facilities for his first custom crush fruit from his own vineyards. According to Juergens, “Perry Creek was exactly what I had been looking for, and maybe hadn’t realized it at that point. It had been on the market for a while and there was literally no movement. I knew that the price would be right and I finally succeeded in buying the entire place.”
Since the Perry Creek name was basically intact and came with the purchase, Juergens decided to go fast forward in resurrecting the cozy winery. He bulldozed a lot of the area around the winery proper and created a large area park that literally jumped out at visitors. He also installed a new deck with sufficient space for events and made ample use of the existing river and creek to create an idealistic destination for winery goers.
Perry Creek sprinted ahead under its new ownership and the aggressive management team that was assembled. Stefan Tscheppe was hired from Austria where his family had owned VINO Tscheppe for the many generations. Tscheppe serves as operations manager and assists on the winemaking team, bringing a wealth of knowledge to Perry Creek in the high-end wine and international marketing facets of the business. Also joining the Perry Creek team was Garrett Buckland, a UC Davis graduate and winemaker that brought credibility and expertise to boutique winery. He is currently the head winemaker for Perry Creek, with assistance from Scott Johnson as well.
Current annual production stands near fifteen thousand cases, a level that is comfortable for the small winery to continue producing at the standard of quality they are proud of. Perry Creek’s wines are also a product of a wide variety of opinions, a sort of wine-by-committee approach that seems to be working with amazing results. Practically everyone involved with the winery, from operations manager to vineyards manager, along with the tasting room manager thrown in for good measure, has a say in the final blends that become Perry Creek wines.
“I firmly believe that everyone who has a hand in developing the wines should also have a say in what becomes of our final blends,” stated Juergens. “That way, everyone puts everything they have into the process and feels like they are part of the final product. With the awards that we have been able to win, I would say that the process seems to be working quite nicely.”
It isn’t all that often that established wineries receive a second chance at success, but in the case of Perry Creek, this time around seems to be quite rewarding. Cheers to Perry Creek, and their new signature style that is present in each and every bottle.
Map of the area
The Art of Fine Wine
Painted by contemporary oil painter Elin Bogomolnik who enjoys mixing cubism, abstract, modern and expressionism styles.
About the Vineyard
The Sierra Foothills wine region is famous for its Zinfandels and other fierce flavored varietals. The area that was home to the famous California Gold Rush setting in the 1840s also contains a great amount of complexity as far as soils and conditions are concerned.
Perry Creek’s vineyards are situated in the Fair Play AVA Appellation, at around 2,400 feet elevation, an excellent altitude that requires the vines to work extra hard to accomplish their mission. At this altitude, the accompanying low annual rainfall forces roots deep into the decomposed granite soils, creating highly concentrated, complex wins. The resulting fruit is also able to exhibit optimal natural acidity, due to normal cool nights in these high altitudes. Even though the actual fruit yield from mountain vineyards is much lower than valley-grown grapes, the accompanying flavor intensity and complexity more than compensate for the lower yield.
Joe Flemate - Winemaker
Perry Creek's new energentic winemaker, 38-year-old Joe Flemate, recently joined the winery's talented winemaking team of Garrett Buckland and Stefan Tscheppe.
Originally from the Bay Area, he considers himself an old world winemaker, with a taste for fruit forward wines. Trained at the likes of Fogarty, Villa Mt. Eden, Conn Creek and B.R. Cohn, Flemate says, "It's all in the vineyards and the attention to detail."
Dieter Juergens finds the Sierra Foothills truly beautiful
When new owner Dieter Juergens, 66, first discovered the Sierra Foothills, he was looking for a place to take his banking customers from his base in Sacramento, California. He found the area "to be beautiful beyond belief," and when he compared the land value there to both Napa and Sonoma, much more potentially affordable.
"It wasn't just the price for the land that attracted me," Juergens confessed recently, "it was much more than that. The wineries in the foothills were much smaller, and the people who operated them were generally friendlier. When you consider the natural beauty El Dorado County has to offer and its historical significance, the combination was quite unbeatable." Juergens bought his first property around the town of Fair Play with the intention of being a grower. When the possibility of purchasing Perry Creek from its troubled owner became a reality, Juergens literally jumped at the opportunity.
He was a principal player in international banking, first with Wells Fargo and later with his own banking trust company in Sacramento.
It wasn't until the age of thirty that Juergens first became interested in wine. He first tried the sweeter German wines of his native country and then was introduced to California wines after coming to the United States in 1964.
"Once I tasted the great wines that California had to offer, I was permanently hooked," he explained further.
After acquiring Perry Creek, Juergens started amassing a management team that he felt could meet his ultimate objectives. "Like most Germans, I am only interested in producing the finest possible product. Take automobiles for instance. Germany produces the Mercedes Benz, Porsche and BMW just to name a few. If I was going to produce wines, I wanted them to be just like the greatest cars."
The rest of the story is now becoming part of the Sierra Foothills wine history. With the top notch team in place, Perry Creek has already exceeded its earlier counterpart in terms of wine quality and consistency.
A great deal of the quality aspect comes from the fact that much of the grapes used for Perry Creek come from Dieter Juergen's home vineyard that he labels Fair Play Farms.
"When I first saw the Fair Play property,"Juergens continued, "I was amazed with its natural beauty. Then I remembered most of the finest German vineyards were located at high altitudes in rough soils so I decided that the area would make an excellent vineyard site. So far, we have been quite happy with the quality of the grapes we have produced. My winemaker Joe (Flemate) absolutely believes that true quality in wines begins and ends in the vineyards, so we do our best to produce the finest fruit."
Juergens is still in banking, but admits to spending each Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the winery. He can usually be found in the Perry Creek Tasting Room behind the counter pouring wines for visitors and customers.
"This gives me an excellent chance for consumer feedback," he added. "I get the first hand reaction to our wines and pass it on to my winemaker and consultant. Whenever changes need to be made, we have a head start on what people are really looking for."