Yvonne and Bill Kreck
As proprietors of Mill Creek Vineyards, and one of three generations running the winery, Bill and Yvonne Kreck have a hard time separating family life from work. For them, being part of a winemaking family is both a way of life and a way to make a living. The best part is that neither could have asked for a more fitting way to blend similar backgrounds and beliefs.
Both Bill and Yvonne came from backgrounds that emphasized respect for agriculture. Both had the idea of wise and conservative use of land, and deep respect for those who make their livings from it, ingrained from the time they were children. While their paths eventually, but temporarily, separated, they both returned to their roots in Sonoma County to marry, raise a family, and help run the family business. Their childhood experiences also provided them with a strong sense of community, and a commitment to maintain the rural lifestyle.
Bill’s family history is the history of Mill Creek Vineyards itself. Charles and Vera Kreck brought their three children to Alexander Valley almost by accident. Moving north to Oregon from Southern California in December, 1948, flooded roads forced a stopover in Healdsburg. Out of curiosity and with not much else to do, Charles looked at a couple of parcels of land, bought one in Alexander Valley, and the young family had a new direction. They moved once more, to the ranch on Mill Creek Road. From there, Charles continued adding to the family’s real estate holdings, with Bill and Bob pitching in to help with taking care of livestock and crops. In 1969, a prune orchard along West Dry Creek Road became a cabernet sauvignon vineyard; the grapes were some of the first planted in the Dry Creek Valley since before Prohibition, leading the way for the wine industry boom over the next two-and-a-half decades. The Mill Creek Estate property was purchased in 1969 and vineyards took the place of old prune trees during the following couple of years.
Yvonne’s family also migrated to Alexander Valley—from Berkeley—before she was born, and likewise never left. In fact, she and Bill raised their three sons in the house in which she grew up. Land that was once corrals and pasture for her horses are now filled with grapevines: it took many years, but Bill’s dream of a small vineyard on the Chalk Hill Road property came true in 1991; amidst two-hundred-year-old valley oaks are seven acres now planted to the classic Bordeaux varietals cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot used in the Kreck Estate Meritage, Reflections. Mill Creek Vineyards’ Cabernet Sauvignon blends grapes from this vineyard with those grown on the Dry Creek Valley Estate.
Tiny Alexander Valley School provided the first opportunity for the two to meet—they were classmates in a combined first-second grades class of 12 students. Bill left after that year when his family moved to Mill Creek Road, but he and Yvonne both attended Healdsburg High School, although memories of each other then are admittedly vague. The third school in common proved to be the charm when they met up again at California State University, Chico, where Bill majored in business administration and Yvonne earned a Masters' degree in psychology. Bill served with the US Coast Guard Reserves, stationed out of Alameda and Monterey before returning to help run the family’s new winery, having been put in charge of marketing. He and Yvonne were married in 1971; their oldest son Brian was born in 1973, followed by Jeremy in 1977 and Philip in 1979. Yvonne taught psychology at the community college level for seven years before turning her attentions full-time to her family, and consequently, the family business.
The Krecks believe in being involved and giving back, and have been leaders in many community and industry organizations. Bill has been a member of almost all the local wine-related trade associations. He served on the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and was a founding member of the Sonoma County Vintners Cooperative, which stores and ships roughly one million cases a year for 43 member wineries. In addition to being involved with several trade organizations, Yvonne served on local school boards for 19 years, focusing on curriculum development, and was involved in drafting and passing county and state legislation. In 1986 she helped start the United Winegrowers of Sonoma County. This is a political action and monitoring group favoring “right to farm” ideals. Yvonne joined the Mill Creek staff full-time in 1993, taking on hospitality and retail management duties after Bill’s mother retired.
Being part of a winemaking family is nothing short of carrying on a centuries-old tradition, practiced around the world and in California. For Bill and Yvonne Kreck, running a family winery and raising a family have been identical endeavors—and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Growing up on a vineyard outside of Healdsburg, Jeremy has a deep-rooted appreciation for the Sonoma County wine culture. “The wine, food, art, and climate of the greater Healdsburg area make it an extraordinary place to live. Did I mention the wine?”
After high school, Jeremy attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where he studied Agribusiness and of course, wine and viticulture. “The central coast, at that time, was experiencing a huge boom in grape plantings and wine production. There was a great interest from the industry, which in turn led to a certain electricity in the wine and viticulture programs at the university.” Post college, Jeremy returned to Healdsburg where he began in the cellar and vineyards at Mill Creek. “Being both in the vineyards and winery, I attained a great perspective of the relationships between the vines and finished wines.” Jeremy worked under Hank Skewis, Mill Creek’s former winemaker, for 4 vintages and also continued his education with wine production courses at UC Davis.
Jeremy’s first harvest as winemaker was 2004, which was the earliest in 100 years. “I took a sugar sample on the Sauvignon Blanc the last day of July. 21.7 Brix! We ended up picking two and a half weeks early.”
Jeremy’s objective in winemaking is to essentially stay out of the way of the vineyard and the expression of the fruit. “My goal is to have the winemaking process and components compliment and enhance the fruit.” He maintains a hands-on approach that includes weekly vineyard inspections, and he smells and tastes each barrel of wine every six to eight weeks.
Jeremy lives with his wife, Mindy, in Healdsburg. Together they enjoy ‘the wine-country lifestyle’ with weekly trips to the farmers market, tending to the vegetable garden, golf, and, of course, cooking.