A natural progression

Grape-to-glass organic wines at Durham’s Dog Creek Cellars

Judy and Neal Cline in their Durham tasting room.

Judy and Neal Cline in their Durham tasting room.

Photo by Daniel Taylor

Dog Creek Cellars:
9975 Garden Creek Road, Durham; 345-3714; www.dogcreekcellars.com.
Tasting room open the first Sunday of the month or by appointment.

When Neal and Judy Cline planted the first organic grapes on their Durham property in 2006, they knew they had a tough row to hoe. “The adage is: To make a little money in the wine business, start with a lot,” Neal said with a smile.

But a decade later, Dog Creek Cellars is producing award-winning organic wines—the 2014 pinot grigio recently took home bronze at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition—and the Clines are offering tours and tastings at their boutique winery and tasting room.

Neal and Judy, who have day jobs at Enloe Medical Center in flight care and emergency services, respectively, had previously grown organic Asian pears on the property. Inspired by a trip to the Russian River Valley, they made the decision to try growing organic wine grapes. Though the Clines were fairly certain as to what they wanted to do, how to go about doing it was another question entirely.

“When we decided to plant grapes, we had an idea of what varieties we wanted, but we really didn’t know what to do,” said Neal. “So we went to a weekend course down st UC Davis; it was called Managing the Small Vineyard.”

“We did a series of those courses as we were establishing the vineyard and the winery,” added Judy. “They tell you, step-by-step, what to do, what not to do, the pitfalls, the pearls. It was amazing.” Neal went on to graduate from the two-year winemaking certificate program through UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology.

The next hurdle was coming up with a name for the operation. An established Sonoma County winery already had dibs on Cline Cellars. So the couple looked to the past, and the four-legged members of their family—including an exceptionally large Weimaraner named Gustav and a pair of Boston terriers, Trix and Bosco—for inspiration.

“Growing up, my parents had some property north of here on Dog Creek Road, and that’s where I spent a lot of my time,” said Judy. “Dog Creek has a lot of meaning to me, and it’s got the dogs in there. We’re dog people.” The winery even encourages fellow dog lovers to bring their dogs with them when they visit.

Visitors to Dog Creek Cellars can get a taste of its selection of wines, which, in addition to the pinot grigio, includes a sangiovese, a zinfandel and a rosé. All of the wines produced by Dog Creek Cellars are made using organic grapes and an organic winemaking process, two distinct levels of organic certification.

According to Neal, wine labeled “made from organic grapes” may not have been made organically. Likewise, a certified organic winery may not be using certified organic grapes to make their wines. For him, the dual certifications are worth the extra effort. “If you’re gonna do it, do it,” he said about choosing to go organic. “For us, it does ensure that the product is completely organic all the way through.”

With the recent success at the California State Fair, a growing regional following and their participation in local agritourism events such as the Sierra Oro Farm Trail, the Clines said the next step for Dog Creek Cellars is getting onto retail shelves. Organic wines are an increasingly popular choice for consumers and the Durham winery is positioned to capitalize on that trend.

“People are much more aware of what they’re willing to put into their bodies,” said Judy. “We’ve always felt like hopefully the market will eventually catch up with us, and then we’ll be ready with a product that we’re super proud of, and now we’re there.”