Wine as User Experience – Tales from Dry Creek Valley

Tim Bucher loves tractors. Trust me. I mean loves them; like a collector of exotic Italian supercars, he keeps them polished supreme, and on display. "Serial number one!"

Tim Bucher: Tractor story imminent.

In this episode of his Dry Creek Valley adventure, Clint heads to Trattore Estate Wines, where he discovers a factoid about Olive Trees, a collection of shiny red tractors, and a secret connection with Silicon Valley.

Can wine, sitting in a glass, be viewed as the ultimate user experience?

And what on earth does that mean? More on that in a second – you might not be all that surprised by the ultimate source of the expression “user experience” when it comes to wine.

I finally had the opportunity to tour Dry Creek Valley up north in Sonoma County (just northwest of Healdsburg, that most wonderful of small wine country towns). It’s off the beaten track, and thanks to a press junket was able to tour several wineries. And tour wineries is exactly what you’ll do here. There’s welcome quiet, and beauty; not a franchise in sight. No Starbucks. No Home Depot. No Fry’s. What on earth is a guy to do? Taste wine, talk wine, taste wine.

About the only store that I could find was the Dry Creek Valley General Store:

Dry Creek General Store: Enter to your right for a latte. Enter to your left for a shot of whisky.

It reminds me of the Oakville Grocery in Napa. You’d half-expect to see a horse or two in front, and a few cowboys chasing some maidens around the saloon. Or something like that.

Dry Creek Valley I discovered is all about winding roads and views:

The view across Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma: I can see for miles, and miles, and miles…

Oh, there’s plenty of stories here too – what AVA would be worth its tannin if not for a few generational hand-me downs and tall tales of working with Dad, tilling the soil, forking the hay, dropping the grapes…

There’s about 50 wineries here. Many will know this part of Sonoma as the home of E&J, but all of the places I visited are small, family-run operations with most under 1,000 cases per year; though I did stop by at least one or two larger ones.

This is Tim:

Tim Bucher: Tractor story imminent.

This is one of Tim’s tractors:

Vineyard Hotrods: One of Tim’s shiny red beauties. He likes this one because “it bears my name.”

Tim Bucher runs the Trattore Estate Wines, a relatively new winery perched up on some steep hills. Rhone style blends are his thing:

Trattore Estate Wines: The ’09 Diamond Tread ($35), a Rhone Style Blend (66% Grenache, 25% syrah, 9% Petite Syrah) pictured in the middle was a standout.

I dare you to visit (the tasting room is still under construction so call ahead first) and not hear at least one story about (a) tractors, (b) olive trees, or (c) user experience.

The first two are immediately obvious.

Tim loves tractors. Trust me. I mean loves them; like a collector of exotic Italian supercars, he keeps them polished supreme, and on display. “Serial number one!”

The previous day, Tim gave us a demonstration of the olive press process at the plant used to produce the oil used in his line of Dry Creek Valley oils. I have never witnessed such a thorough, engrossing explanation and walk-through. This is the look of a kid who’s digging his second career, and chasing a childhood passion:

Press at Dry Creek Olive Company: The instructions to set it up were in Italian. It takes a bit more than a Jiffy Lube to keep it humming.

The self-described “impatient SOB” owns about 40 acres, and is ramping production from 3,000 to 5,000 cases.

An interesting aside regarding olive trees. Tim explained that they are more than simply ornamental. You often see them next to roads adjacent to vineyards, or lining property lines. Turns out there’s function too. Leaves on olive trees are hardy – as opposed to leaves on vines which are sensitive. Thus Olive trees are useful for collecting dirt and debris that otherwise might make it to the vineyards where it could do damage. A neat tidbit; something I did not know.

Then the bomb.

“Wine,” he says holding a glass of his agreeable ’09 Diamond Tread Red (see what I mean about that tractor thing?), “is the ultimate user experience.”

Later I thought about that. Hmmm, user experience. In relation to wine.

As Tim was talking about all the piece parts of the winemaking process that went into that glass of wine, which embodied the ultimate “user experience” I immediately thought of computer operating systems. I use both OS X (MacBook Pro) and Windows (desktop). What’s interesting is that I don’t necessarily think of the details of using each – what an icon looks like, or how a window moves, or how programs launch. Rather, I come away with a certain feeling. I almost always come away from my Win 7 machine feeling like it was functional. When I come away after a few hours of work on the Mac I feel creative. I don’t know why. I do pretty much the same on both, though video editing happens on the i7 Windows rig because I need the horsepower.

Days later I decided to Google this Tim guy. I knew the childhood dairy farm bit, and now I’d been to his Trattore winery, and his expanding Dry Creek Olive Oil Company. As far as I know he didn’t make movies. He wasn’t a lawyer – not that I was aware of. And he didn’t invent the stent. So what happened between the 8 year-old tractor rider and the gregarious adult wine entrepreneur now in front of me?


Apple and Steve Jobs happened.

In the 2000s Tim ran hardware engineering for Apple, and oversaw the development of the Mac Mini among other successful products.

Mac Mini and User Experience: The inspiration behind Trattore winemaking?

There’s some ugly backstory – and he said/she said involving Steve Jobs. I can understand why none of this makes it into the winery tour.

It certainly explains why he’d use “user experience” to frame his thinking of wine. And come to think of it, looking out across the exceptionally tidy vineyards, perfectly organized rows of olive trees and unusually clean machinery, I can’t but think that I was standing in an iWinery.

There’s more tales from Dry Creek Valley on the way. Keep it dialed in to Stark Sips for the ongoing wine adventure.

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