Dogwood Estate Winery
By Michael Martino
As the first winery to be reviewed by the Emerald Magazine outside of Humboldt County, we could not be more excited to present to our readership the Dogwood Estate Winery located in sunny Trinity County just near the town of Salyer. Founded by Gary and Pam Barker, the Winery has grown from a hobby that began in the late 90’s, whose goal was to produce wine for family and friends, to an award winning business churning out highly sought after Zin’s, Cab’s, Pinot’s, dessert wines and other great varietals. The name of this winery has a very sentimental provenance that is worth sharing. Gary’s mother passed away about 20 years ago and when she died, she was buried on Dogwood Drive in Napa County. As a way of remembering her, Gary’s father gave each of his children a dogwood tree, as that was her favorite flower. Gary he planted it in his garden in Willow Creek and on several occasions a large oak branch had fallen down on it, at one point taking it down to a nub. But like his mother who was able to fight off cancer several times – it kept coming back – and is now a vigorous and healthy tree to this day. As a way of further honoring her memory, Gary named the winery in recognition of his mother.
While this winery is definitely off the beaten path, a trip out there will positively be worth your time. The entrance begins as a short but meandering road through grapevines, rose bushes and blooming Crape Myrtles. Eventually it leads to a more shaded area of oak and dogwood trees where one would park to enter the wine tasting room. The grounds of this winery are some of the nicest and most well kept I have ever seen. There is a cobble stone path that wanders through a mix of koi ponds and perfectly landscaped garden areas. It is mostly shaded and has the effect of calming the mind and spirit. As the path reaches the back of the property it will eventually lead one to the Barker’s house and an amazing view of the Trinity River. Gary would be the first to tell you that he is a lucky man, but after spending some time with him and his wife it is clear their dreams were achieved the old-fashioned way, hard work, and more hard work.
Gary has a history with wine that stretches back to his childhood where he was raised in Napa County. As a young man he witnessed Napa valley, primarily known for growing the best prunes in California at the time, transform into the wine making powerhouse that it is today. While this may have been inspirational, the growing of grapes and the making of wine would not come to him until much later in life. As he got older he eventually got started in the car dealership business, and worked at it until he was able to start one of his own. By the time he retired he had owned multiple car dealerships during the span of his career including Lithia in Eureka. Upon arriving at the winery Gary hopped out of a Kubota and appeared as if the meaning of the word retirement was lost on him completely. Throughout the tour Gary would point out new gardens he is planning on establishing, or a koi pond that he was currently repairing. I think he must have taken his mother’s word literally when she said idle hands are the devil’s workshop.
It cannot be said enough how truly amazing the grounds of this winery are. The entrance to the tasting room is incredible, comprised of tremendous arched doors made from old growth redwood that are held together with black wrought iron, it feels like the entrance to a castle. The inside was warm and inviting and the walls were filled with interesting art that the Barker’s have collected over the years. Just beyond that area is where the fermenting room is. Stacked with oak barrels, wine was being aged and tested to ensure a well-balanced and flavorful product. In the back of this building was another trail that would lead you to another cellar full of wine being aged for later consumption. After walking through the gardens, and taking in the koi ponds I couldn’t help but feel like I was ready to try my first glass of wine.
We started with a bottle that Gary explained was one of only 12 left in existence. His 2010 Mea Culpa, a special Meritage blend comprised of 2/3rds Primotivo grapes, then Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot making up the other 1/3rd. It smelled of caramel and spice. It was well balanced with hints of bing cherries and pear flavor notes. Also it had a slightly smoky finish. Being a red wine guy it met all of my expectations, big flavor and smooth. The next wine we tried that day was a 2012 Chardonnay made from grapes grown in Willow Creek. A mellow wine, it had a medium buttery texture as well as hints of citrus at the end. It would go well with any of the local seafood fare found in these parts, salmon, oysters, or cod. The third and last bottle that I will mention is the 2010 Cornus Cuvee’ made from grapes grown in Napa Valley. A beautiful blend, it’s 60% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot. This is a medium bodied wine filled with aromas and flavors of berries and spices. Finished by a rich toast that comes from being aged 26 months in Oak. It would go well with most Italian dishes rich in red tomato sauces.
Gary shared with me his style of producing wines. He said that his wines tend to range in flavor from year to year. He does not try to manipulate his grapes in order to insure a consistent flavor profile throughout the years. He says weather varies from year to year and so will the favors in the grapes. He embraces this truth and uses what the earth gives him to make the best wine possible. Gary is one of the more down to earth vintners I have met. A great guy, full of fun stories, who will keep the laughs rolling while he shares with you his passion for his wine and his lovely property. If you have the time or simply on a trip to Willow Creek for the day, you would not regret calling the Dogwood Estate Winery to schedule a visit.
Dogwood Estate Winery
Phone: (530) 629-2191
3995 Campbell Ridge Rd