A NUMBER OF California wineries turn the big TWO FIVE this year, marking their 25th anniversaries in winemaking. . . .
As a rule, most media don't cover most anniversaries, because if you cover one you should cover them all, and once you start covering a few you end up covering them all, too. . . .
There are exceptions, of course, especially when people or companies reach milestones, and this is one of those times. . . .
If you turned back the clock 25 years to 1972, you'd find one of theif not theworst vintages in modern history. Rain at harvest led to a plethora of dull, wimpy, muddled wines. . . .
But it turned out to be a banner year for new wineries, many of which went on to grand winemaking achievements, and most of which are still thriving today. . . .
AS WE STEP into the capsule and go back in time, here's some comparative analysis between then and now, courtesy of Kim Stare Wallace, daughter of Dry Creek Vineyard's pioneering winemaker, David Stare, who crushed his first grapes in 1972. . . .
When Stare shelved his career as an engineer for the B & O Railroad to found Dry Creek Vineyard, he was starting the first winery in Dry Creek since before Prohibition. Kim, now the winery's public relations director, was 9 and running around in cut-off blue jeans. . . .
Bare land cost $1,800 an acre, compared with $25,000 an acre today. . . .
Only 600 acres of grapes were rooted in Dry Creek, while now there are 5,500 acres in vines. . . .
You could buy a ton of Chardonnay for $600 then, but you'd pay close to $1,500 a ton now. . . .
Dave Stare was Dry Creek Vineyard's lone employee in '72; now he signs checks for 34 on the staff. . . .
Stare managed to stomp enough grapes to produce 1,300 cases that first year, and now the volume is 120,000 cases a year. . . .
OVER IN NAPA VALLEY, Tom and Linda Burgess moved into the old Souverain winery on Howell Mountain to start Burgess Cellars. . . .
Through the years the winery has been a consistent producer of fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, along with an occasionally silky Chardonnay. . . .
Through it all, Bill Sorenson has been the one and only winemaker. . . .
CHARLIE WAGNER decided it was time he tried his hand at winemakingrather than selling his grapesand he and his son, Chuck, made a few hundred cases of Cabernet from their Rutherford vineyard known as Caymus Vineyards. . . .
Cabernet is still king at Caymus, and the winery's flagship wine, the Special Selection, now sells for $100 a bottle. The first Caymus, 1972, sold for $4.50. . . .
Chateau Montelena, also in Napa Valley, made its first wines in 1972 and has been a model of consistency with its brilliantly crafted, long-aging Cabernets and crisp, flinty, almost-as-ageworthy Chardonnays. . . .
Founder Jim Barrett remains at the helm as president, with his son, Bo, overseeing winemaking. . . .
Montelena rose to international fame in 1976, when its second vintage of Chardonnay, a 1973 made by Mike Grgich, won the famous Paris Tasting, outpointing a flight of French white Burgundies and other highly regarded California Chardonnays. . . .
OVER ON DIAMOND Mountain, Al Brounstein crushed his first grapes that year. . . .
He fretted about his woefully small crop of grapes and the obvious differences in the soils and microclimates in his Diamond Creek Vineyards. . . .
After much deliberation and hand-wringing, he bottled two vineyard-designated wines that year, a staggering 40 cases of Volcanic Hill and 25 cases, or one barrel, of Red Rock Terrace. . . .
The next vintage he added a third vineyard, called Gravelly Meadow, and years later a fourth, called Lake Vineyard, which is bottled only in special years. . . .
Dave Stare's inspiration came from Loire Valley-style Sauvignon Blanc and healong with Robert Mondavipopularized this variety, renaming it Fume Blanc for a flashier name recognition. . . .
Stare slowly enlarged the lineup to the point where Dry Creek makes all the major varieties, from Cabernet to Chardonnay to Merlot, Meritage and Zinfandel. He still sticks with Clarksburg-grown Chenin Blanc. . . .
Reserve bottlings of Cabernet, Chardonnay, Fume Blanc and Merlot appear when quality merits. . . .
FRANCISCAN VINEYARDS STARTED OFF on a bumpy journey in 1972, with a product mix that included low-priced "Burgundy" and weedy Cabernets. . . .
But winemaker Justin Meyer, who had also founded Silver Oak Cellars that same year, decided his future was at Silver Oak and by 1979 had sold the winery to the Eckes family in Germany. . . .
Under Tom Ferrell's direction, Franciscan began its turnaround, improving quality. In 1985 Agustin Huneeus joined the winery and held a steady course, with even better wines. . . .
Meyer went on to greater achievements at Silver Oak, building one of the most successful and prosperous wineries in California, with supple, silky, herb- and sage-tinged Cabernets from both Alexander and Napa valleys. . . .
HIGH ATOP the Santa Cruz Mountains, a group of investors parted ways with the irascible Martin Ray and moved into his former winery, renaming it Mount Eden Vineyards. . . .
Ray moved his winery to the lower half of the vineyard, while Mount Eden stayed on top. . . .
This winery remains dedicated to austere, often quite tannic Cabernets, austere and often quite rich and detailed Chardonnays and austere and often quite seductive Pinot Noirs. . . .
BOTH WARREN WINIARSKI and Carl Doumani decided to call their respective wineries "Stags Leap" but apparently neither consulted the other before doing so and for years they fought in court over who owned the name. . . .
In the end they both won the right to the name, although with different spellings, different apostrophe placements and different styles of wines. . . .
Winiarski owns Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, famous for its supple Cabernets, and a win in the red wine competition at the Paris Tasting of 1976. . . .
Doumani owned Stags' Leap Winery, noted for its beefy Petite Sirah, before selling it this year to the group that owns Beringer Wine Estates. . . .
Years after the Stags Leap name war ended, an appellation was formed, the Stags Leap District, with no apostrophes. . . .
Not far from the two Stags, French-born Bernard Portet founded a winery for New Yorker John Goelet, calling it Clos Du Val. . . .
The initial focus was on reds, with Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, before expanding to Chardonnay and Semillon. . . .
In Carneros, partners Francis Mahoney, a one-time wine retailer, and Balfour Gibson decided to try their hands at winemaking, believing they could make great Pinot Noir in Carneros. . . .
In the early years Mahoney worked with grape suppliers from Napa to the Sierra foothills, tinkering with Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, before narrowing Carneros Creek Winery's focus to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. . . .
THE LONE FATALITY from the class of '72 was Veedercrest, which produced good but unexceptional Cabernets and Chardonnays in Napa Valley before running out of money and shutting its business down. . . .
A lousy year for wine, a better year for wineries, vintage 1972 makes for a lively round of wine trivial pursuits. . . .
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