Dave Stare ’54: The Making of Dry Creek Vineyard

Myrhia Brewer, Director of Alumni Engagement and Development
The unmistakable clink of wine glasses and echoes of laughter filter up through the floorboards and into the offices of Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg, California. Dave Stare ’54 sits back in his chair and muses at the journey that led to this very seat as the founder of a popular California winery filled with guests even on a rainy Sunday in February.

In the late 1940s, Dave and his family moved to Needham, Massachusetts, and Dave enrolled in Fessenden’s third grade. One of his most enduring memories from his seven years on the top of the slope, aside from the wooden desks in the Schoolroom, was joining the model railroad club. Dave remembers spending countless hours in the old train room, foreshadowing his first job many years later. While at Fessenden, Dave played the piano and competed in both soccer and baseball. He laughs, remembering one particular day on the baseball field, “someone hit a pop fly in my direction, and the coach said, ‘Heads up!’ And I looked up and got hit in the head with the ball.” Dave departed Fessenden after eighth grade, and he attended Phillips Academy Andover and then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before receiving his MBA from Northwestern University and accepting a job with the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad.

The spark that would ignite his passion for wine came in 1967 when he quit his job at the railroad and moved to Germany, beginning a two-year journey living on the Rhine River, south of Cologne. It was during this European experience that Dave first became interested in wine, “just as a hobby.” By the time he returned to Wellesley in 1969, his one-time hobby had grown into a potential career opportunity. Dave enrolled in wine appreciation classes in the summer of 1970 before returning to Europe on a trip to the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France, where the entrepreneurial seed of wine cultivation began to mature. “Fortunately for me,” Dave shares, “after coming back from the trip, I saw an article in The Wall Street Journal talking about what a great future California had for becoming a world-class wine destination.” In the summer of 1971, Dave moved to California to pursue his newfound career.

Following a year at the University of California, Davis, which has one of the country’s preeminent programs in viticulture and enology, Dave decided to purchase land in Northern Sonoma and open Dry Creek Vineyard in 1972. He built the winery from scratch—starting with 1,300 cases in the first year and maturing with the guidance of some of the industry’s best mentors. Today, Dry Creek produces and distributes over 130,000 cases internationally each year. Dave’s approach to leadership blends well with his appreciation for the mentors who helped guide him. He explains, “To be a good leader you need to listen to your people.” Dave adds, “You can guide them and suggest trying to do this or that, but you hire good people and let them do their job.” That philosophy has been his blueprint for success, as the winery currently has 40 full-time employees. Now, Dave has transitioned day-to-day operations to his daughter, Kim Stare Wallace.

Dave’s life while running a winery with international demand and distribution has certainly had its challenges, but none have been harder than this past year when the Sonoma firestorms destroyed his home. Thankfully, Dave was out of town at the time, and his wife and dog were able to evacuate before the fire overtook the property. All of his belongings were lost in the fire, but he has begun to rebuild and speaks more to the value of his experiences than his possessions.

Dave continues to create new memories and experiences for himself in retirement by remaining active in his community. He plays the trombone in the New Horizons Band of Sonoma County, the banjo in a separate Dixieland combo, and the ukulele on the side for fun. Dave also travels back to the East Coast frequently, whether to sail in Maine during the summer or to visit his sister and watch the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl together.

As the laughter and cheers begin to fade from the tasting room below, Dave becomes thoughtful about the unique opportunity that Fessenden provides and has a message for the boys: “Study hard—you are at a good place to learn. Enjoy the time while you are in school because when you get out, the real world is not quite as much fun!” Looking around the rolling hills of Northern California and the views from Dry Creek Vineyard that Dave has created, it’s easy to agree with his sentiment of studying hard, but the real world looks pretty good as well.

This article originally appeared in the 2019 issue of Red & Gray Magazine. View the full issue here.
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