How many vintners see their wines make it all the way to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.? You can count Christian Stark among the few.
Stark’s family tree is populated by numerous artisans and merchants, so it seemed to be in the cards that he would end up doing something creative with his hands. While attending the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, it became quite apparent to him that where one found good food, one also found good wine.
After graduation, he spent time as a musician, a carpenter and a graphic designer. But the lure of the wine world was strong, and Stark also became a bit of a cellar rat, learning all aspects of the wine business from making the wine to selling it. In 2000, he moved to Sonoma County.
David Georges, the winemaker for Davis Bynum, soon became a mentor in the cellar. Stark supplemented that practical experience with viticultural classes at the University of California at Davis. Ultimately, however, he says nothing beats “grape-stained, hands-on experience.”
Stark began making his own wine in 2003. The first bottling bearing the Stark Wine label was a 2003 vintage Syrah, crafted from grapes grown in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley.
To this day, he concentrates on Rhone varietals – Syrah and Viognier – and always manages to create something that is fresh and exciting. As Stark puts it, “We produce and sell ultra-premium wine made with grapes grown by reputable farmers with proven track records for growing fruit of exceptional quality.”
Currently in release are two bottlings of Syrah and one of Viognier.
The Viognier comes from another acclaimed Dry Creek Vineyard – Damiano – and is a wonderful warm weather wine that pairs perfectly with lighter seafood dishes and salads.
Stark lives in the town of Geyserville with his wife Jen and their son Julian. The Starks love to cook for friends and family, and it’s not unusual for their regular Saturday evening get-togethers to morph into late-night jam sessions. It’s a way that Christian can perpetuate his musical talent.
But it’s his talent in the cellar that pays the bills, and about a week ago, Stark’s wines were featured, along with those of 16 other “Rhone Rangers,” at the Smithsonian Sustainable Seafood Culinary Weekend in our nation’s capital. The event took place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The highlight of the event was the Friday reception at which the “Rhone Rangers” poured more than 60 wines, and seafood specialties were prepared by more than 30 noted chefs.
It was one of those high-profile events that brings more attention to some of California’s under-appreciated wine varieties and wine estates. And it was worthy acclaim for Christian Stark, who is pursuing his passion for winemaking for all the right reasons.
“Stark Wine reflects our passion for family, community, art and sustainability,” he explains. “We strive to create an environment that develops and supports relationships among family, friends and our greater community.”
Toward those ends, Stark uses “green” materials whenever practical, works with growers who employ sustainable farming practices, and donates 5 percent of profits to art education.