David Stare’s first professional love was railroads. In the early days of his career, he worked for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad after earning a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at MIT and an MBA at Northwestern. He found his second love when he worked for a steel company in Germany. And it was winemaking.
His personal interest in wines sharpened as he visited nearby vineyards. Initially set on establishing a vineyard in France, he read about the nascent wine industry in California and soon changed his goal. In 1969 he returned to the Boston area, where he had grown up, and in 1971 he moved to Northern California. There he began taking classes at UC Davis in viticulture (the scientific principles that underlie growing grapes) and enology (the science of wine and winemaking). Soon he bought a 70-acre prune orchard in Sonoma County that became the foundation for his company, Dry Creek Vineyard. Over the decades, he has helped revive winemaking in north Sonoma with bold grape choices and finely nuanced French-style varietals and blends.
One of Stare’s first big decisions at Dry Creek was choosing which grape varieties to plant. While local experts warned him away from sauvignon blanc, he had been inspired by the Loire Valley and wanted to grow its native grape. “I went ahead and planted it, and it turned out to be a great idea,” he says. “It’s still our flagship wine.”
Part of winemaking is science—testing ripe grapes for acidity and sugar levels—and part is craft. “The subjective part is how the grapes taste and look on the vine,” Stare says. Although he did the testing and tasting in the early years, he soon turned to the business and marketing side. “I’m a very people-oriented person, and I enjoy producing a product that is meant to be enjoyed,” he says.
Stare’s daughter Kim now runs the Dry Creek operation. Another daughter, Romy, lives in Austin, Texas.
Stare and his wife, Lee, who live in Santa Rosa, are on to new adventures. They support Global Partners for Development, a nonprofit that promotes education, health, clean water, and economic self-reliance in East African communities. Earlier this year they visited Uganda to meet the three high-school-age girls they sponsor through the organization. In his spare time back home, Stare has rekindled an early love of music and plays banjo and trombone in local bands. “You’ve got to have some fun,” he says. And since he enjoyed his 50th MIT reunion two years ago so much, he’s looking forward to returning for his 55th.