© 1996 JDM Enterprises
MILL CREEK REVISITEDby Jerry D. Mead
It has been several years since I tasted through the entire line of wines from Mill Creek Vineyards in Sonoma County. The sad occurrence of the passing of the patriarch of Mill Creek is what brought them back to mind.
Charles (his friends called him Charlie) Kreck died just shy of his 85th birthday. He wasn't well known in the wine industry. Flash and industry gatherings were never his things, and come to think of it they aren't the things of anyone at Mill Creek, which is pretty much family.
Kreck made his fortune making hardware for ships during WW II, but was never happy at it. Kreck wanted to be a farmer. So he sold that business to his brother and brought his family to Sonoma County in the late 40s.
Alas! For years Kreck couldn't make a dime farming, whether raising cattle, crops or prunes, but did develop a flair for fixing up farms and making a profit selling them to the next wave of would-be farmers.
Kreck finally found the right crop at the right time when he decided to plant Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on what had been an old prune ranch, and he did this in 1965, almost a decade before the wine boom really boomed. It was especially daring, and visionary, for Sonoma County, since most of the wine activity was in Napa in those days.
With wife Vera, sons Bob and Bill and Bill's wife Yvonne, the Krecks converted an old dairy barn into a winery full of shiny stainless steel and oak barrels. Their first crush was 1975.
The Krecks were growing red grapes almost exclusively, and the mid-seventies was the middle of the white wine boom. There was such a shortage of white wine grapes that vintners were trying to make white style wines out of red grapes. They did this by removing the juice from the skins immediately upon crushing them (the juice itself is white) to try to avoid picking up any color.
This white wine shortage is what gave birth to what we call White Zinfandel, and other pink or copper-tinged wines made from the white juice of red grapes, called "blancs de noir" and various other things.
While no one much cares how much color a "White" Zinfandel has these days, when they were first created the thing was to make them as white as possible. Some wineries actually ran such wines through charcoal filters to strip out the color (and unfortunately flavor, too), and wine critics tended to insist that wines labeled "white" or "blanc" actually fit those descriptions.
A visit I paid to Mill Creek in 1976 placed us both in the wine history books (see The Wines of America by Leon Adams).
The Krecks had tried to make a white wine out of their estate Cabernet grapes to have something to supply the virtually insatiable white wine market. I had tasted all the current releases and was excusing myself to get on to the next winery, when Charlie asked if I'd take time to taste one more wine that hadn't been labeled yet.
"Sure," I said, and they brought out this odd looking pink wine. I say odd, because it was then, though it wouldn't be now. But it had way more color than the White Zinfandel or Pinot Noir Blancs of the day, yet was way lighter than any of the Roses of the time.
I smelled the wine. I tasted the wine. I loved the wine. It was delicious. It was unlike anything else on the market. It had all this wild strawberry thing going on and it wasn't too sweet.
"How much do you have? What are you going to charge for it? When are you going to release it? And what are you going to call it?"
Charlie Kreck opined that what to call it was the problem. He knew the critics, retailers and wine judges would clobber him if he tried to call it White Cabernet or Cabernet Blanc, it simply had too much color. But he was afraid to call it Rose too, because it was so light.
Up to that day the term "blush" had never been used as a noun to describe a wine category, though the trade talked about white wines made from red grapes that had pink in them as having "picked up a blush of color."
Jokingly I said, "I guess you could call it Cabernet Blush!" We all laughed. A name had not been chosen as I left that day.
As I drove I thought about the name problem, and that "blush" kept popping back in mind. When I got back to my lodgings I called Kreck and told him my joke about blush had turned serious, that I thought it was a good name. Mill Creek's proprietary, trademarked pink wine called "Cabernet Blush" was born that day, and the term "blush" soon became accepted as the descriptor for white style wines, made from red grapes, that pick up a bit of color.
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK
Mill Creek 1996 "Dry Creek" Gewurztraminer ($9) Delicately spicy in aroma and flavor, with lichee and rose petal with a basically dry perception. Great with Thai or Szechwan or all by itself. Rating: 90/88
Mill Creek 1995 "North Coast" Sauvignon Blanc ($10) Two-thirds Dry Creek fruit, one-third Napa and really attractive. Mostly grapefruit aromas and flavors with mildly herbaceous undertones. Partially barrel-fermented, but not woody. Great food companion. Rating: 89/86
Mill Creek 1995 Chardonnay ($12) Vanilla and spice and everything nice. Pear and apple fruit and oak vanillin throughout. Don't serve too cold. Rating: 89/87
Mill Creek 1994 "Dry Creek" Merlot ($16) Already a gold medal winner (State Fair) this youngish red wine is very attractive. Smoky cherry and light blackberry flavors in a medium bodied wine that will benefit from a year or three of bottle age. Rating: 87/84
Mill Creek 1994 "Sonoma" Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) Black cherry leaning toward plum with very forward fruit flavors throughout the taste experience. Very youthful and should benefit from at least five (maybe more) years of bottle age. Try it with lamb chops. Rating: 87/84
Contact the winery regarding local retail outlets: Mill Creek, Box 758, 1401 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448 (707) 433-5098.
Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.