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by Fred McMillin
Winery of the Week
Sure Thing Sterling
Leon Adams, The Wines of America, 2nd Ed., 1978...
The Rest of the Story
1974—My wife and I have just returned from Teheran and take the ski-lift-type tram up to the spectacular winery, which has been open less than a year. The first winemaker is future star Richard Forman, who now operates his own winery. His very first efforts caught critic Robart Balzer's eye who wrote of his preliminary tasting of Sterling's "pure Merlot...already one of California's fine wines."...and this was before Merlot mania had struck the U.S.A.
1977—Coca Cola buys the winery and hires an assistant winemaker who will be a major factor in wine quality for two decades. His name is Bill Dyer. (Yes, Domaine Chandon winemaker Dawnine Dyer is his wife.)
1994—A good example of Bill's invovlment in all phases of quality is his note to me, not about a change in winemaking, but in one of their vineyards. "Dear Fred, The Diamond Mountain Ranch Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon reflect our continued progress at that vineyard— eliminating irrigation and avoiding filtration of the Cab has given us wines of greater concentration. Regards, Bill Dyer"
1996—Bill leaves and is replaced by a dynamic team. Coke sold Sterling to Seagram way back in 1983, and now Seagram brings in Greg Fowler as Vice President and Senior Winemaker. Greg brings in his former fellow winemaker at Schramsberg, Robert Hunter. They have over 700 acres of vineyards to draw from, they buy a lot more French oak barrels ("contribute more finesse and elegance"), etc.
The new team's looking good. Robert Parker, Jr. says their first Chardonnay is improved... "Burgundian style, not too acidified, excellent fresh fruit. HIGH CLASS!" He also likes their Sauvignon Blanc..."crisp, mineral-like, refreshing, attractive.
2000—The original little winery on the knoll made the equivalent of 3,000 cases a year. When I last checked, today's production is around 350,000 cases, and growing. One of the reasons for the continued expansion is that Greg and Robert are making a new line of "Central Coast" Sterling wines...after all, they can get their hands on only so many Napa Valley grapes. There's both a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon...a very nice way to appraise the team's ability for only $13 a bottle.
Breaking News...The First "Central Coast" Releases
Yup, the first Coastals are being released this month.
The Cab, 1997, $13
The Merlot, 1997, $13
Birdlovers must visit Sterling's Carneros vineyard called "Winery Lake." Some years, not only wild peacocks roam the grounds, but wild geese choose to live on the lake all year instead of migrating north to Canada.
This page created April 2000