While enrolled in a course at Sonoma State University, this reporter participated in a case study involving the start-up of a winery. We would analyze the various costs involved in producing a fine wine from the cost of the grapes, to the production costs, bottling costs, marketing costs and commissions. We varied many of the factors to try to achieve a financially viable result and found it difficult to make the grade. We soon realized that, while winemaking might be a romantic passion, it is also wrought with danger if your goal is to make a living in this business.
The winemakers in the “Wines of Danger” realize that hazards they are facing but are willing to face the danger to achieve their passion. In many cases the winemakers already are winemakers for other larger wineries, or they have a “real” job where they make money so they can then spend their weekends and evenings crafting their wines, or they have an understanding working spouse to help put food on the table while they pursue their passion. But in several cases they are succeeding and the winery is their sole source of income as the try to grow their business while meeting their financial requirements.
At the Wines of Danger tasting at the Mission Rock Resort near AT&T Park in San Francisco last week, I met 22 hardworking individuals who have set their goals in achieving their dream as a winemaker. Over the years, this reporter has run into many winemakers who have the passion but lack the marketing sense that achieving this goal requires people to actually purchase your wine. And here in California, particularly Northern California, the competition is huge. There are 4,285 wineries in California as of the end of 2014 according to the Wine Institute. How do you make your wines stand out from the other wineries? The winemakers of the Wines of Danger are impressive in that they do realize what is necessary to meet that challenge. Whether it is the varieties they choose, the appellations, winery name, wine brand name, promotion, or the right representative, each of these winemakers are taking the steps towards making their wines stand out!
I wish I could describe each of the wineries here, but space is limited. Subscribe to the California Wine Examiner because I will be covering other wineries in future articles.
With a name like Eclectic you expect to find interesting unique wines and at Eclectic Wines you will not be disappointed. This is a moonlighting project of Mike and Wendy Trotta. Mike grew up making wine in his uncle’s basement and has been the winemaker at Elyse Winery in Napa since 2001. Wendy has had experiences at several wineries including Cain Vineyard & Winery. At Eclectic you will not find your standard Chardonnay or Cabernet. Their goal is to craft small amounts of refined, idiosyncratic wines from obscure varietals. Their wines are food-friendly and ready to enjoy now or after years of cellaring. They are minimalists and let the fruit speak for itself. At this tasting we enjoyed a really nice 2013 Pinot Noir Blanc from Carneros, a 2013 Charbono from Suisun Valley and a 2011 Tempranillo from the Sierra Foothills. Each wine was unique and delicious, definitely showing the joys of these fruits.
Buona Vita Cellars
Joe Healy grew up in Southern California without a wine background, but when he discovered it, he jumped into this newfound passion with both feet. He went back to college at Fresno State to learn all about wine. After graduation he went on to become the winemaker at Bella Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. But while he was crafting the great Zins, Pinots and Syrahs of this region he dreamed of working with the classic Italian noble grape, Nebbiolo. He loved the strength and complexity of the great Italian Barbarescos and Barolos and felt that in California, the Nebbiolo can also be great. So Joe and his wife Kathleen started a new chapter in their life forming Buona Vita, the “Good Life” in Italian, focusing only on Nebbiolo. His first vintage was 2007 and at the Wines of Danger tasting visitors got to sample the 2009 and 2010 Nebbiolo. This is a beautiful, strong wine that takes special handling to bring out the dark fruit characteristics and the leathery background expected. Joe uses an extra year in puncheons to achieve this. Is it exactly like an Italian Barbaresco? No, but it is the closest this reporter has seen in the U.S.
Stars & Freckles
This is a delightful family owned and operated winery founded in 2010. The family has a long history in farming, both in Northern California and their original family homeland in Ireland. Stars and Freckles is inspired by owner Melody Meckfessel’s grandmothers and their long history of family farming. Melody is an amazing renaissance woman. During the day she is developing much of the developer tools at Google, thus, making Google work. Nights and weekends are spent managing the full operation of Stars & Freckles managing everything from the fields to the bottle. In addition she is an active mom and runner. She must have somehow developed a 40-hour day! Other members of her team at the event were Cristen Mann handling the sales and marketing and Bruce Devlin, winemaker. As with other Wines of Dangers, Stars & Freckles know the importance of standing out. Stars & Freckles is a name you will not forget and it brings together their star bound hopes and goals of the future with the down home friendliness and hospitality they learned from their farming family past. Stars& Freckles focuses on premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Carneros. The Chardonnay exhibits a bright acidity with aromas and flavors of citrus, apple and tropical fruits. The natural flavors of the Chardonnay shine through and run on to a long balanced finish. The Pinot Noir has a nice spicy character to its rich fruit of red cherry, strawberry and raspberry with a nice long finish.
Scratch is the project of winemaker Sabrine Rodems. Sabrine is another winemaker who developed her passion later in life. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Theater from UCLA she spent many years working tine the film and theater industry prior to deciding to return to college to earn her Masters of Science in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis. For the last ten years she has been working in Monterey County, most recently as winemaker for Wrath Wines. But she has always had the itch to also start her own winery and that itch was fulfilled with Scratch. Her work in Monterey has gotten her access to some of the best vineyards in the world for Pinot Noir, Riesling and Grenache. Sabrine is also the driving force behind Wines of Dangers, drawing this collection of wineries together to promote their wines. The 2013 Scratch Riesling from Arroyo Seco is very balanced with great acidity and minerality combined with aromas and flavors of grapefruit and lemon. The 2013 Scratch Grenache is an excellent wine with bright fruits of black cherry, black berry, plum and spice. The 2014 Rosé is a bold Rose of Pinot Noir reminiscent of a Rosé of Provence in France, dry and fruity and perfect for a hot summer afternoon.
Other members of Wines of Danger include Betwixt, Big Sur, Blair Estate, Calstar Cellars, Collier Falls, Comanche Cellars, Cuvee Wine Cellars, Dane Cellars, Georg Rafael Wines, Halcon, Idle Hour Winery, Onesta, People’s Wine Revolution, Post and Vine, Ser, Three Clicks Wines, Vinemark and Waxwing.
For more information: Wines of Danger