Tasting Room Adventures

Perry Creek Winery

These days, visitors go to Fair Play to have fun instead of fight. During the Gold Rush, the town was a mining camp. Its name was the result of a fist-fight between the two founders of the town and a by-stander who insisted on “fair play.” Located in El Dorado County, Fair Play is about an hour’s drive from California’s capital in Sacramento and boasts the highest average elevation, between 2000 and 3000 feet, of any California viticultural region. Twenty-seven wineries in this bucolic rural area now host visitors in their tasting rooms. Dieter Jurgens is responsible for two of them, one at his Perry Creek Winery, a 42-acre estate, and another on his 70-acre vineyard property nearby, where his daughter Monika pours her wines.

Visiting tasting rooms has become a popular activity and can be a great resource for learning about wine and finding labels, whose production is too small to ever reach urban markets. Warm and affable, Dieter Juergens has some advice for those who tour wine country. “Never visit more than three wineries a day,” he laughs. Otherwise you’ll have some surprises when you return home and open the bottles that you purchased, especially those that you bought toward the end of the day.

Perry Creek has three different labels. Zinman, portrayed as a joyful dancer, is Perry Creek’s most recognized label and is devoted to Zinfandel with the recent addition of a Syrah Rosé. The Estate Wines also depict the fanciful Zinman and showcase Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Barbera. Altitude 2401 includes Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, and Syrah. And finally the Cobra label, named for the Shelby Cobra, the famous British sports car with a Ford engine that was produced in 1962, features just 300 cases each of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet.

With the exception of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Cabernet, the rest are the historic wine grapes of the region that were first planted during the Gold Rush. Visitors can taste all of them in the Perry Creek tasting room without charge, which would be impossible in more commercial appellations like Napa. Because winery personnel provide visitors with education, tastings, and tours in the vineyard and winery, Dieter points out that visitors will pay slightly more when they buy wine there. But from all reports, they are happy to do so. Selecting a wine for purchase that they’ve already tasted is a great advantage over buying blind, which is typical in most retail wine shops.

Except for Zinfandel, the winery makes very small amounts of each wine, so when it sells out of a particular vintage, it is forced to release the next one. “Our wines are going to improve over a three or four year period. It’s a shame to open a bottle before then,” Dieter explains. “But before you know it, we’re selling a Cabernet from 2010. In some restaurants, they’re already selling Cabernet from 2011. For lower priced wines from big wineries, that’s okay because they’re never going to get any better anyway, but ours will.”

Dieter often spends weekends in the tasting room and maybe a day in the middle of the week. Like everyone else, he says that he appreciates beautiful young women. But when they arrive in a limo, he’s less appreciative. “They come only to drink, not for the education or to enjoy my wines. They become loud and rowdy and are constantly taking pictures of one another with their cell phones. It’s a big circus,” he says. And they don’t buy wine, which is the only way that free tasting can be cost-effective.

Dieter has had other issues with tasting room visitors. A native of Berlin, he erected a series of flag poles in front of the winery and hung flags from all of the wine producing countries in the world. A wonderful display, he thought, until an elderly man entered the tasting room and complained. “He made a big fuss,” Dieter recalls. Military protocol requires that the American flag be flown higher than the others, the visitor insisted. “So we took all the others down and left just the American flag.”

Some people who visit tasting rooms have little experience with wine and gravitate toward sweeter styles. Dieter says that his is not a “market-driven” winery with wines that are going to appeal to everybody. “We want wines with nice complexity and a certain weight but not such high alcohol that they have to be watered down like many wineries do. I want a wine that can be paired well with food,” he emphasizes. Dieter makes two dessert wines that appeal to inexperienced wine drinkers, a Muscat Canelli and a Moscato. “But some people get carried away with them. We had an event at the winery, and they drank the Muscat Canelli as if it were a regular wine. They didn’t last the night.”

In addition to hosting people in the tasting room, Perry Creek offers a series of events throughout the year. “Our Mother’s Day event is one of our biggest. This year, we had food and a German band playing music.” The winery also has a Fourth of July barbecue celebration and a Futures Release Party.

But Perry Creek’s most unusual event would be the Hunt for the Zinman when the moon is full. The party begins with wine pairings and appetizers in the tasting room, followed by dinner on the veranda. As the sun begins to set and the full moon rises, Dieter and winemaker Scott Johnson lead guests on a tour through the vineyards. They enjoy a glass of wine while they learn the art of grape-growing in the vineyards and soak up the scenery. They are able to taste the actual grapes, from which their favorite wines are made. As the sun begins its descent and the moon rises, guests are encouraged to imagine Zinman, dancing amongst the vines. While experiences like these can be memorable fun, they are also highly informative. The more consumers know about wine, the more they can appreciate both the wine and the effort that winemakers employ to make it.

California Wines of the Month

Artisan Series

Perry Creek- 2009 Zinman Reserve

Winemaker Scott Johnson’s Notes

The legend of Zinman can be traced back to the days of the gold rush when reports first trickled in of a mystical creature known to sprinkle “ZinDust” upon the vines of the Sierra Foothills. Over 150 years later, his work can still be experienced in a bottle of Zinman. You just have to close your eyes and enjoy all of the magical flavors that dance upon your palate. This is our first ever vintage and release of this much anticipated Reserve Zinfandel from estate vineyards. It begins with bright, dark berry flavors that lead into a complex layer of rich plum and spicy cherry characteristics. The finish is full of life and body and might just cause you to reach for that second glass. Zinman’s colorful new label demonstrates all of the dynamics of one of the most awarded Zinfandels in the Sierra Foothills, Zinman dancing in the vineyards on a starry evening, “ZinDust” in hand (14.9% alcohol).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Moderately pigmented, smooth and spicy, this wine is mostly Zinfandel, harvested from estate grapes, but Scott Johnson has added several other red grape varieties to round out the flavor palette, which is extremely appealing. At 14.9% alcohol, this is hardly a light red, yet the wine gives exactly that impression and can be served with almost any Mediterranean dish from a gourmet pizza to grilled meats, including chicken. I drank it with quickly braised Spanish peppers and red onions, and it was delicious. Serve at cool room temperature.

Perry Creek- 2012 Estate Chardonnay

Winemaker Scott Johnson’s Notes

Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, this Estate Chardonnay is a fine, refreshing wine, brimming with apple, pear, and pineapple aromas and flavors. Our Estate Wines offer a large portfolio of different varietals grown in our vineyards, and they all stay true to Perry Creek’s style of wine making that pairs so well with food. Each of our Estate wines offers vivid diversity and elegance that has become typical of our vineyards. The eye catching, modern, and unique labels of this series partly resemble Zinman, who is the free spirit that roams quietly throughout our vineyards. To us, wine stimulates imagination, and so do the fanciful labels that adorn our Estate Collection bottles (14.1% alcohol).

Anna Maria’s Notes

This is a wonderful summer Chardonnay, especially well suited to lighter foods. Serve chilled with appetizers, seafood salads, and fresh fish, quickly grilled. This wine will go anywhere, even to the pool.

Winemaker Series

Perry Creek Altitude 2401 – Zinfandel 2009, Fair Play Farms

Winemaker Scott Johnson’s Notes

Altitude 2401stands for our reserve wines and ties them to our Fair Play Farms Vineyard’s average elevation of 2401 feet. The vineyard is one of the most modern, farmed in the Sierra Foothills. It was planted 10 years ago and is over-seen by Garrett Buckland, our viticulturist from Napa, who works with some of California’s most popular wineries. Fair Play Farms Vineyard is the major grape source for Perry Creek Winery, allowing us to produce wines that stand next to other great Californian wineries from all areas and to develop our distinct and unique style. Luscious berries, intense spices and chocolate flavors bring this complex Zinfandel to life on your palate and create a velvety, smooth finish. Fermentation and aging in French and American oak preserve the luxurious fruit flavors (14.8% alcohol).

Anna Maria’s Notes

“Elegant” is not a descriptor that we normally use to describe Zinfandel, and yet it fits this wine. Truly silky and not in-your-face in any particular way, it has the Zinfandel aromas and flavors that we expect without being heavy-handed. It’s also not heavily pigmented, which is typical of Zinfandel. A versatile wine, believe it or not, that you can serve with barbecued meats and vegetables or salmon, and of course everything Mediterranean. Serve at cool room temperature.

Perry Creek Altitude 2401 – Petite Sirah 2010, Fair Play Farms

Winemaker Scott Johnson’s Notes

Dark-purple color, intense ripe blackberry and plum aromas followed by a rich, meaty mouth-feel of mint, sour cherries, and raspberry jam. Low yields concentrate both the flavors and color of this special Petite Sirah. This wine spent over 20 months in our finest American and French oak barrels, enhancing ripe tannins while accentuating the wine’s complex flavors and amazing body. Its deep, rich texture is followed by a seductive finish. Pair with bold or intensely flavored dishes or enjoy by itself (14.8% alcohol).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Inky black and full of spice with beautifully textured tannins, this wine has created a reputation for Perry Creek. It’s big and beautiful and perfect for meats, roasted on the grill.

Perry Creek Altitude 2401 – Chardonnay 2011, Peek Vineyard

Winemaker Scott Johnson’s Notes

Aromas of honeysuckle, green apple and pear fill the nose. Lush buttery overtones and hints of oak on the palate create a rich mouth feel and creamy finish on our new release Altitude 2401 Chardonnay (14.3% alcohol).

Anna Maria’s Notes

This is a nicely balanced Chardonnay with fruit flavors and the oak that you would expect from a Californian premium Chardonnay. I enjoyed it more on the warmer side, in the refrigerator for no more than a half hour.

Menu of the Month


Celebrating August

First Course

Slices of heirloom tomatoes with multi colored cherry tomatoes & fresh mozzarella balls,
drizzled with olive oil and coarsely chopped fresh basil

Main Course

Grilled marinated game hens, served with new potatoes and green & yellow zucchini,
lightly braised in olive oil with red onions & cilantro


Baby arugula with finely sliced fennel, dressed with olive oil & lemon vinaigrette


Nectarine crumble with freshly whipped cream

Recipe of the Month

Grilled Marinated Game Hens

Why game hens when they are so similar in flavor to chicken? The answer is that they are small and require just six minutes of cooking time on each side. And because they are small, they can be more effectively marinated and pick up the great combined flavors of olive oil, lemon, garlic, and oregano. We’ve adapted this simple recipe from Lorenza de Medici’s Italy Today, the Beautiful Cookbook, and beautiful it is! Enjoy!


3 Cornish game hens

Juice of 3 lemons

3 cloves of garlic, smashed

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano


Cut each hen in half by splitting through the breastbone and then cutting along the backbone. Gently flatten the halves with a meat pounder. Place on a platter, season to taste with salt and pepper and add the lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and oil. Turn the hen halves to coat evenly with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for about 6 hours, turning occasionally. Remove the hen halves from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Place the hen halves on the grill rack over a hot fire and grill, turning once and brushing frequently with the reserved marinade until the skin is crisp and nicely browned and the hens are tender, about 6 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter and serve.