Q&A with Winemaker, Tom Gendall, Cline Cellars

Given your accent, we know you’re not from California.  Can you tell us where you were born and what motivated you to get into the wine industry?

I am from Christchurch, New Zealand and lived there until 2011, when I moved to Sonoma. The high school I attended was broad-minded; in our final two years we had to choose at least 5-6 “experiences” before graduating, as a way of learning about possible careers. These “experiences” ranged from scuba diving and rock climbing to wine tasting. What teenager doesn’t want to drink at school (with parental permission of course)? Within a few weeks of completing the wine tasting course, I was accepted at Lincoln University and had planned my whole degree out. I’ve never looked back.

Tom Gendall family


Who was your first mentor in the wine industry and why did you look up to them?  Are you still in touch with them today?

My first mentor was Greg Miller, the Vineyard Manager at Pegasus Bay, one of the most successful wineries in New Zealand.  I started working for Greg just as I turned 19 years old.  Not only is his understanding and management of the vineyard, techniques, outcomes, and logistics phenomenal, but the way he oversaw numerous crews and easily managed the people and personalities really struck a chord with me. He gave me my first full-time job, as his Assistant Vineyard Manager, when I was 22. I helped him plan and plant a 50-acre organic vineyard while also helping to manage the 100-acre estate vineyard and the crews that worked with him.  I am still in touch with him and most of the Pegasus Bay team. We stay in touch; Greg has visited me here in Sonoma and we usually drop in on him when we are back in New Zealand.

 

You’ve spent time in both the vineyard and the winery, and have been quoted as saying “the grapevines will tell you what they need in order to make the best possible wine.”  In other words, you’re a “grapevine-whisperer!”  How does that work?

Grape-whisperer is definitely going a bit far–even though I may have occasionally talked to my vines, they haven’t actually talked back, at least not “yet!”  Mainly it is about knowing what the vines are trying to tell you through growth, stress, soil, how the clusters look, etc. We have a lot of modern tools to measure all of this and give you a greater understanding of what the vineyard is doing.  The more time you spend in the vineyard, the more these things become apparent, and second nature. For example, knowing where you have a stressed section, dense canopy, when to speed up or slow down the spreader or sprayer, these are all important.

After leaving New Zealand, you worked in Germany for Weingut Keller making Riesling and Pinot Noir.  Now at Cline, you’re making Pinot Noir here in the Petaluma Gap.  Can you describe the differences in growing conditions and flavor profiles between the two areas?

The other day I was fortunate enough to have one of Weingut Keller’s Pinots–a 2012 that was peaking and very Burgundian in style. It still had fresh acidity, some clean fruit and was dominated by earthy flavors. California Pinots are much more fruit-forward with a focus on the primary fruit.  The secondary characters come in through techniques like stem-inclusion and barrel choices. Weingut Keller emulates Burgundian-style Pinots, whereas California focuses on what it does well—showing off its bright fruit. As far as growing conditions, Germany has a lot more rain pressure throughout the growing season and is similar to Oregon in weather patterns. Here in the Gap our disease pressure is from fog and humidity, but we have an abundance of sunshine.

You met your wife, Michele, in New Zealand in 2008.  You both work in the wine industry.  Does that bring you closer together or is “wine-talk” off limits when you’re at home with the family?

We love talking about wine, as long as we don’t argue too much. Just the other day we went wine tasting, which is treat for us.  We definitely have different palates.  It’s fun for both of us to justify why we like different wines, neither being right nor wrong, just different. I think it has brought us closer together; we both have the same goals and dreams and working toward a shared future is fantastic.

Michele’s family owns a vineyard in Sonoma Valley.  The two of you manage the vineyard and make some wine under the Gordenker label.  Gordenker produces less than 300 cases per year and you’ve called it a “labor of love.”  What are the challenges and how do you fit it into your busy schedules?

Michele and I took over management of the vineyard in 2012 and made our first 100 cases of wine back then.  Previously it was managed by Phil Coturri, who planted it back in 1998.  The challenges are the same as anything – balancing and time management. For me it means early mornings or late nights to get things done, and depending on the task, working weekends.  I find it relaxing to spray the vineyard (when the sprayer works properly) and to do detailed tasks there.  It’s like gardening for me. I know the vineyard like the back of my hand and it is a place where I am very at ease. The winemaking is all done at a custom crush facility where Michele and I have both worked multiple harvests, so we trust their system and know how to make great wine there. Michele does the bookkeeping and we both do sales, although lately she is definitely doing more of that than I am.

In 2017 you and Michele lost your home to the fires in Sonoma County.  Have you recovered fully and do you ever think about leaving the area?

I do not think you ever fully recover from something like that, but you definitely learn and become stronger. We had a 1-month old at the time and the support from friends, family and the community has been overwhelming. Some things definitely leave scars and you see it here and there in everyday life. We are actually about to move back to Glen Ellen; it’s all very different, but the future is bright. We think about moving back to New Zealand all the time (my mother never lets me forget), but not in a very serious way–we are too embedded in the community and the lifestyle here. My biggest fear is that my children will have an American accent!  My two-year old, Paxton, is just starting to talk now.

Cline Cellars has a large team for winemaking and production, including Charlie Tsegeletos, who has been with Cline for a very long time. How do you split responsibilities and what’s it like to work with such a tight-knit team on large-scale production wines?

We actually have a surprisingly small team for the production. Charlie is Director of Winemaking and I’m the North Coast Winemaker.  We also have a Lab Manager and Cellar Master. The way we have split things up has been that Charlie is in charge of our Appellation and Ancient Vine Series (our big programs), while I am in charge of the Sonoma Series.  We collaborate on everything, and being a small team we all help each other out and have direct input to all of the wines.

The Cline Family has two wineries – Cline Family Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards.  Jacuzzi makes wine from some very unusual grape varieties.  What was the learning curve like for working with some of these lesser-known varieties?

I’ve been working for Cline and Jacuzzi for four harvests now and for the last one I’ve got the added responsibility of winemaker at Jacuzzi. It’s been a great introduction period and there has been a lot to learn — including how to pronounce the varietal names!  Working with and learning from Charlie has been fantastic– from getting an understanding of new growing regions, the idiosyncrasies of each variety, new fermentation techniques and how to cellar Italian wines.  Italian varieties are generally high acid, high tannin wines–it has been both fun and challenging.

Cline is also known for its “Green String” growing method.  Does this carry over into the vineyards?

Yes, this is a big part of the Cline philosophy and what makes me love working for them so much. We moved to the Green String philosophy back in 2001, which is a play on string theory where everything is connected, much in the same way that in nature, everything is connected. After moving away from all pesticides and herbicides, we now only dust sulfur on our vineyards, we use weed-whackers and our wooly-weeders (sheep and goats) to control weeds, along with mowing and some cultivation. Canopy-management is extremely important and allows us to avoid using heavy fungicides.  We use organic compost teas, along with bacterial isolates, to help fight disease and seaweed extracts and oils to help strengthen our vines. We are certified sustainable and consider ourselves beyond organic, although we are not officially certified.

What is your philosophy toward “natural wine-making” and allowing for nature to take over, for example, using only native yeast for fermentation and cover crops for weed control?

I love the idea of natural wine-making and we use some of the practices of “natural” winemakers.  We refrain from inoculating all of our reds (except for a couple of particularly frustrating Zinfandels) and about a third of our whites are also made with native yeast.  We use no fining-agents (except for bentonite), we make vegan wines and minimize our use of SO2, (typically our SO2 at bottling is below 100ppm). We use cover crops, while leaning more towards volunteer cover crops, to help build organic matter back into the soil and colloidal structure in our heavy clays.  This helps with cracking and drying out and breaks up the pans that are around.  We also use compost and compost teas as fertilizers.

As far as my personal philosophy, the less you do to the wine the better.  In California we have an excess of great sun that makes fantastically fruity wines, but they typically need a little touching up in the winery which I don’t have a problem with.  I would rather help the wine a little to be great, rather than flatly avoiding it on a philosophical basis and end up with bad wine.

You and Megan Cline have begun a special project making wines in terra cotta amphorae. How are wines made in amphorae different that those made in traditional oak barrels?  What about concrete tanks?

The amphora project is fantastic and I have learned a lot. It started in 2015 with Syrah, before I arrived at Cline.  Since then we have been making a red and a white; a lot of research has gone on behind the scenes.  Amphorae are fantastic ageing vessels for high-tannin wines; we have fermented a lot of varieties in them and flirted with making an orange wine. I love the effect of the amphora on the wines–it gives them a richness, length and body that is fantastic, while keeping the fruit in our reds very fresh and giving far more complexity to our whites. One defining characteristic is the saline quality of these wines; it heightens the perception of acidity.

You’ve made wine from many different grape varieties – Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet—what’s your favorite grape variety to work with?  What’s the hardest to grow? What’s your go-to wine for celebrations?

Each has its own challenge; the trick is to understand your site and what you are trying to achieve. There is a fine line between pushing the limits at your site for hang-time and flavor development, without sending ripeness through the roof.  The harder you push, the better the wines, but there is a fine line.

My favorite varieties are Pinot Noir and Riesling. I also love working with Merlot and Cab, as well as Viognier–I need to start drinking it more. I used to love growing and working with Riesling, but the opportunities here in California have been limited.  We are just releasing a new Riesling from Cline early next year, with 8.5% alcohol–very fresh and easy drinking. For celebrations, Michele loves Champagne so that’s what we start with.  My friends could all tell you the drill at our house—Champagne, followed by maybe a dry German Riesling, or a Chablis or Austrian Gruner Veltliener.  Then we go into reds, usually Burgundy or Bordeaux, depending on the meal, and sometimes from the West Coast or northern Italy.  We finish with a sweet German Riesling or Sauternes. That about sums up our celebrations–usually lots of wine poured!  We keep a fairly diverse cellar to with wines to suit our tastes and to surprise our friends.

In April 2020 you’ll be cruising the Danube with two other Petaluma Gap wineries.  Do you have anything special planned for those who are on the cruise?

I was going through my wine collection and have lots of special things–the amphora wines will be joining us on the cruise along with a brand-new range of wines I’ve been working on with Megan and Hilary Cline.  There will also be some fantastic, alternative varieties from the Petaluma Gap. Just for fun, I’ll be pulling a couple of wines from my personal cellar, so there will be no shortage of great wines!

When your son, Paxton, grows up, do you want him to follow in your footsteps?

I would love him to, but that’s completely up to him.  After all, he’s only two! My favorite memory from my time in Germany, was learning about Weingut Keller.  It has been in their family since 1789.  There are four generations living a on the property, the oldest being Herr Keller (in his 80’s) and the youngest being Max, who was 7 or so. Even the children had their own little mini-ferments! I remember one day overlooking the winery and seeing Herr Keller with the biggest smile I had ever seen on his face.  When I looked into the winery his son, has grandson and his great grandson were all working together to make wine and I could only imagine the satisfaction and happiness he felt.  I would love that one day, too.

Q&A with Grower, Scott Welch, Jackson Family Wines

Scott WelchWhy did you choose viticulture as your profession and how did you get your first job?

I grew up on a Chardonnay vineyard in Potter Valley, Mendocino County and life revolved around viticulture and the ranch, so I guess I was born into that first job.

When did you start working with Jackson Family Wines managing their Petaluma Gap vineyards?

I started managing Jackson Family Wines’ Petaluma Gap vineyards in 2017.

You have deep knowledge of soil types and grapevine clonal selections.  Where did you study this? Was it a challenge or is farming in your DNA? Did you have a mentor?

My family taught me that knowledge is a powerful and important tool, and they supported my efforts to not only study viticulture, but become a more rounded person in all facets of life.

You’ve spoken many times about the various soil types in different vineyard properties and the clay that is prevalent in the Petaluma Gap.  How does this soil type benefit the vines?

Our notorious Diablo Clay is a challenging soil type to work with, but clay provides a greater water holding potential, allowing vines a steady amount of moisture during bud break and early shoot growth in wet years.  This steady availability of moisture in the soil profile allows us to go further into the Spring/Summer before using stored or purchased water for irrigation.

We’ve heard you talk about the quickly changing weather in the Petaluma Gap and the need to be able to adapt quickly.  What is the single-most important tool that you wouldn’t leave home without when heading out to the vineyard?

Muck boots.  Tracking mud into the house during the evening is a big no-no.

Jackson Family Wines has many vineyards in Sonoma County.  Is Cloud Landing the only vineyard you are responsible for? How big is it and what varieties are grown there?

I manage three vineyards within and near the Petaluma Gap AVA.  They add up to around 550 acres and are all predominantly Pinot Noir and a smaller proportion being Chardonnay.

We’ve heard you talk about the challenges that animals create for farmers—for example, the birds that watch and wait for the grapes to ripen.   Are they your biggest challenge?  What are some of the others and how do you deal with them?

We primarily rely on Integrated Pest Management practices to protect our vineyards from pests. Birds are our number one challenge in the animal kingdom. We deter birds with our falconer and will also use sound deterrents, laser lights, and some netting throughout the three ranches I manage.

Where did you learn to speak Spanish?  Does it come easily to you?

Scott Welch and familyMy dad is bilingual and I had an amazing Spanish teacher in high school, so both of them helped me build a foundation.  I’ve since improved little by little within the vineyard.  It did not come easily.  In fact, I stuttered as a child, and after finally crawling over that hurdle in my adolescence, I discovered that the Spanish vernacular opened the door for similar challenges.  However, it was too beautiful and fun of a language to give up on and I now enjoy speaking it every day.

As a vineyard manager it’s important to create trust and teamwork for the safety and benefit of all.  Can you tell us some stories about your team and how you work with them?

We stress open communication within our group.  Whether it’s by phone, text, or radio my team knows they can always chat with me or other members of our management team.  We listen to new ideas and inputs that can help us farm to the highest standards.

What’s your favorite wine in the JFW line-up (or are you more of a beer-kind-of-guy)? 

I’m more of a White Claw-kind-of-guy these days…

Just kidding, the question is:  What are we eating with it?!

At the end of this year’s harvest, how do you plan to celebrate?

Go “trick or treating” with the kiddos, I hope!

Q&A with Winemaker Jake Hawkes, Carpenter Wines

Jake HawkesYou and your dad started making wine together. You’ve said he’s the smartest man you know. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from him about the business of winemaking?

My dad taught me the value of being stubborn and oblivious. This is a hard business and, to some extent, a changeable one. It takes years for a vineyard to produce, years more for the wine from it to be ready, years beyond that to make any money. It’s good to know what you care about, what you love, what means something to you and to do that thing irrespective of what the market or your peers do or say. Self-belief is more important than approbation.

You have an eclectic work history, having performed a variety of jobs from nightclub bouncer to being an English teacher in Texas. What was your favorite gig and how did the myriad of jobs you’ve had prepare you for the rigors of winemaking?

If my varied past prepared me for anything, it prepared me to love people and be able to relate to them. In spite of winemaking being such an earthbound trade, in the end, that’s my job: working with people. I want the best vineyard workers and cellar hands and sales people and I want them to go to war for me. If I can’t see their value and relate to them, that doesn’t happen.

Growing up your goal was to live anyplace but where you grew up, in the Alexander Valley. Why did you want to escape and what drew you back to Sonoma County?

What drew me back here were three things. First, I find it incomparably beautiful. I’ve been to a lot of places, a lot of them famously beautiful, and I think Sonoma County comes out on top. Second, I love my family. Third, I grew up in the society of Mexican farm laborers. They were my first workmates and drinking buddies, and I didn’t want to live without their daily company anymore.

Your Old Road #3 Vineyard (Flocchini) is in the Petaluma Gap. What attracted you to making Pinot Noir from this vineyard? Do you plan to label this wine as Petaluma Gap AVA in the future?

Flocchini VineyardI’d had wines from surrounding vineyards, among them Keller and Griffin’s Lair and had been impressed by them. I have also always generally admired the area: the air and light on the stretch of Lakeville Highway south of Ernie’s and north of Black Point are inspiring. More than any of that, I love the Flocchinis. They are a couple of old dairy men who were born on the property where a vineyard now grows. They were born on the land and have worked it all their lives – since the 1940s. If they are still making people like the Flocchini brothers, show me a few.

And yes, we’ll label the Pinots with the dual appellation Sonoma Coast/Petaluma Gap.

Which wine are you most proud of in the Carpenter Wines line-up?

I like our Single Clone bottlings. We ferment and bottle La Tâche, Pommard, and Swan clones all by themselves. If you’ve loved Pinot for decades, it’s a fascinating and unique study of its various beautiful faces.

What was your scariest moment as a winemaker and how did you “save the day?”

My scariest moment was after I’d bottled a few vintages and put them in a warehouse. When you’re bottling, you’re working too fast to worry. You just stack the wine up as fast as you can and go back for more. But, when I came back the next morning and opened the door and saw all that wine looking back at me, I threw up in my mouth. What was I going to do with all that stuff? My wife, Laura, saved the day by selling it.

Laura and JakeLaura is the proprietor of Carpenter Wines; how did you meet and how do you work together as partners in the business?

Laura and I have known each other forever. We’ve lived together on floors and in shoe boxes and now, the most beautiful place on earth. I make, she sells.

What’s the next big thing for you?

A nap.

Q&A with Grower, Scott Tweten, Volamus Vineyards

Scott TwetenYour vineyard property at one time had five different grape varieties, but now it’s all Pinot Noir.  Why did you make this change?

When we purchased the property in 2006, the existing vineyard had been planted with the idea that the prior owner, who intended to make their own wine, wouldn’t have to drink the same varietal two nights in a row. A couple of the varietals struggled in the cool Gap climate and at just over 3 acres, the vineyard is barely large enough to squeak by commercially with just one varietal.   Once we were feet on the lot, I made some investigations with a few nearby vineyard owners, stopping by and introducing myself, and discovering what they were growing.  Realizing that we had stumbled into an ideal location for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and not being a real white-wine guy, I set off to transform the vineyard to only Pinot Noir by re-budding the other varietals the following season.

On your blog you’ve talked about patience and the search for the perfect vineyard manager.  Have you found that person and what have you learned along the way?

When we arrived in Sonoma County and found ourselves owning a vineyard, my wife, Patty asked me if I would be taking classes at UC Davis in viticulture.  In medicine and in aviation, after the book learning the real education comes by doing under supervision.  Consequently, I opted instead to hire the farming talent and learn by observing and doing.  Unfortunately, that first year it was difficult to get many vineyard management companies to journey to Penngrove from their home territory.  I interviewed the few that would and wound up using someone who didn’t have the experience with Pinot Noir or rebudding and especially not with the winds of the Gap.  We probably lost 1/3 of our rebuds due to wind damage and had to repeat it the next season.  Since then I have had three more vineyard management companies.  The determinates for me of what make a good vineyard manager is knowledge and responsiveness.  The second vineyard manager grew over 3 years from an average vineyard size of 5 acres to an average vineyard size of 30 acres and we were lost to the big guys.  The third fellow was never able to maintain a labor force capable of timely vineyard operations.   We currently use Alta Vineyard Management run by Eric Neil.  Eric’s done this for as many years as I’ve been a physician.  He knows cool climate Pinot Noir like no one else I’ve talked with and it’s not just the How and When but the Why you do it.  Having Eric for our vineyard manager the past three years has been like a masters’ program in viticulture.

You spent four years in the Air Force as an officer; has that experience had an effect on how you approach managing your vineyard and selling your grapes?

“Uncle Sam” was kind enough to pay for medical school; in return I gave four years of service as a Flight Surgeon—a general practitioner for the flyers and their families.  I traveled internationally for the first time and spent about half of those year’s overseas, in 2-month blocks.  Patty and I also learned to fly through the flying club on base.  Then the Air Force brought me to California; I’d been trying to get here since the day I graduated high school in Minot, North Dakota.  I made life-long friends and had experiences that shaped me to who I am today.   How to manage people, how to manage complex problems and how to make the best of a situation are used routinely with the vineyard.  The attention to detail required in the service, as well as in medicine, is right at home in the vineyard.  As a matter of fact, the name of our vineyard, Volamus, comes from U-2 squadron I was attached to as a flight surgeon:  Solum Volamus or “alone we fly” was the squadron motto.  As Patty and I are both pilots, it seemed a fitting name for our new endeavor.

What is on your personal highlight reel of being a vineyard owner in the Petaluma Gap?

In the beginning it was just about walking out the front door and having a vineyard for a front yard.  After the potential of the vineyard became clear, it has been satisfying bringing the best- possible quality fruit into production.  I’ve enjoyed being involved with the wine industry here in the county, albeit at a small level.  I’ve met so many people who love what they do whether it’s growing grapes, making wine or selling wine and people love to talk about what they love so I’ve learned so much in the process.  These days, the annual rhythm of the vineyard has a beauty and pace that defines the year.  Winter-dormancy and pruning leads to Spring bud-break and bloom.  Summer-veraison and ripening leads to fall’s hectic harvest.  Each season has the required phases to accomplish.  It’s very satisfying.

Scott Tweten plus wife

What impact has the wind in the Petaluma Gap had on your farming practices?

We lost a good portion of our initial rebud because our first vineyard manager didn’t sufficiently support the new shoots of the rebuds.  There are definitely adjustments that have to be done to farming practices because of the winds: Only irrigate or spray at night when the wind won’t blow it off course.  Young vines need more support and the rows require hedging to avoid shoots from drooping into the downwind row.  On the upside: rapid drying of the vines and clusters after a misty foggy morning, the onshore coastal marine layer each night that provides moderation of the climate and provides the cool climate that allows the Gap to do so well with cool climate varietals.

You’ve talked about how owning a vineyard is a family affair.  How have your wife and daughter been involved and has that communal effort impacted family life? 

We moved from Marin County when our daughter was 5.  My wife and I both grew up in middle class families and wanted to eschew the sense of entitlement that seemed so prominent there while we raised our child.  In Sonoma County, our daughter attended the local elementary school in Penngrove and went on to Hillcrest and Analy in Sebastopol; she’s at Cal now.  She was always surrounded by kids who lived on farms or vineyards or smaller towns.  She helped hand-raising chicks (she’s Vegan now) and used to run the dogs around the vineyard.  She and my wife helped pick MOG on harvests and occasionally I could even convince my daughter to help with re-suspending irrigation drip lines or placing bird reflective ribbons.  For a few years I made a barrel of wine each year and the annual bottling party was an excuse to get the family and friends together and bottle a vintage.  Patty has also done all the graphic design for the vineyard (logo, swag, biz cards, etc), as conveniently, she’s a graphic designer.  These days our daughter is off at college and Patty is working as a creative director in the wine industry so the vineyard has done much to help shape us and move us forward.   However, we still have our front yard to return to when we’re all together.

Your day job is as an anesthesiologist, which can be long hours and high stress.  Are there any parallels with owning a vineyard?  Which is more satisfying?

The years of training with too much work and too little sleep have given me an appreciation for the frenetic pace of harvest. These days it’s much less common for me in medicine with the exception of the occasional nights being on-call.  The good news is that as someone who can’t sleep past 6 AM, my days off are incredibly productive.  Anesthesia and medicine are very detail-driven and episodic.  The vineyard has a long-term rhythm and the detail is in making sure that the something that is done today will have the desired effect down the line.  A nice yin to the yang.

To whom do you sell your grapes and what is the highest rating that has been received?

We’ve sold to several wineries over the dozen years that we’ve shepherded the vineyard.  We’ve had several good scores by various raters.  The best would be the 2013-2015 vintages that we sold to Lando Wines which received 91-points from Wine Spectator for their Sonoma Coast releases that we were a majority grape in.   This year has been difficult.  We had hopes of a long-term commitment from a new buyer last year, but due to a massive fruit glut and the slowing of wine sales they backed away.   We’re flirting with a new (to us) winemaker and hope to get asked to the dance in short order.  Until then, I’ll keep that confidential.

When did you first get involved with the PGWA?

Probably my first year here, my friend John, from Koos Family Vineyards, and I heard about the formation of the Petaluma Gap and went to an early meeting held at Adobe Road Winery.  I’ve followed the development of the PGWA since and participated as appropriate and when able.  I think that the PGWA provides a needed voice for the unique growing area that it is and for its member vineyards and wineries.  The word seems to be out if you look at all the new vineyards going in.

What’s next for you?

Hard to say.  Thirteen years is the longest we’ve lived in any one place; our daughter’s off to college and we’re not getting any younger.  But every time I come home after a long day at work or from a vacation away, I’m struck by the beauty and tranquility of where we live.  I’ve planted over 150 trees on our 6-acre parcel in addition to maintaining and improving the vineyard.  Maybe I’ll sit in the shade of those trees for a while and enjoy the fruit of my labor, preferable fermented, before chasing something new.

Q&A with Winemaker Shane Finley, Thirty-Seven Wines

Shane FinleyYou’ve said that the book, Wine for Dummies, got you hooked on the idea of becoming a winemaker.  When did you first think it might be possible to earn a living as a winemaker?  Were there any setbacks or turns in the road that made you think twice? What did your parents say?

After returning from France in 2003, I was finally able to visualize the possibility of winemaking as a career. Copain had just offered me a full-time position as cellar master and I had completed three vintages on three continents. I began to feel pretty confident then that wine would be a long-term venture for me. Yes, there were some obstacles—obviously navigating France was a challenge since I didn’t speak the language when I arrived. But I was able to teach myself while working. Thankfully our crew was very patient and there was a lot of pointing and miming. My parents have always been supportive of my decisions, but at the beginning, they were skeptical about my leaving a secure corporate job for an unstable and unknown winemaking career. Now, my mom might be the biggest California Pinot Noir fan in the state of Minnesota!

You graduated from Virginia Military Institute, famous for its rigorous, character-building educational program.  Was living as a cadet in military barracks a warm-up drill for the rigors of harvest? 

Shane Finley on barrelsAttention to detail is paramount in winemaking and the Virginia Military Institute definitely instilled that in me. In addition, I learned to multitask, plan and prioritize under pressure. So, while I didn’t have any viticulture classes at VMI, it certainly was great preparation for the fast-paced, stressful and detailed harvest environment.

What impact did your winemaking experiences in Australia and France have on how you make wine here in California?

When you are immersed in making wine in any region, there are so many opportunities to visit and taste wines that can never be replicated outside of those areas. The biggest benefit for me was to the ability to access wines that in the US were unaffordable or just not available. I gained a lot of cellar and vineyard experience abroad, but more importantly I was able to educate my palate. In the long term this gave me a valuable global point of view. I am so grateful for the conversations and time I spent with winemakers in Australia and France; whenever the opportunity arose to spend time with them, I always tried to focus on the “why,” rather than the “how.” For me, understanding the thought process was extremely important.

How did you meet Al & Lisa Brayton, owners of Thirty-Seven Wines and Paradise Vineyards, and become their winemaker?

Dan Moberg, owner of Vintelligent Marketing, introduced me to Al and Lisa and the rest is history.

What is your favorite grape variety at Paradise Vineyards? 

That is an incredibly tough question given the diversity we have in the vineyard. What I enjoy most about Thirty-Seven Wines Is the opportunity to work with so many different varieties. For many years, I was focused on Pinot Noir almost exclusively. Now, with Thirty-Seven Wines, I am able to work with so many different varietials—Albariño, Riesling, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc and even Blaufrankish. But, if I had to pick one, it would be Albariño. It’s a unique and exciting variety – fun to make and even more fun to drink!

Which of Thirty-Seven’s wines are you most proud of?

I am proud of all the wines we make. We work hard in the vineyard to accentuate the true characteristics of each variety and strive to make sure each of our wines is unique. Lisa has been a huge advocate and driver of precise vineyard practices. That being said, we have worked extremely hard on our Cabernet Franc blocks. It is not easy growing Cabernet Franc in the Petaluma Gap, but as a result of our hard work I think our “Hermit” is one we can all be extremely proud of.  It is a wine with all the hallmarks of true Cab Franc and plenty of vibrancy, depth and structure.

37 wines vineyard row

We’ve heard you say that “my wines show the essence of the variety, vineyards and vintage.” As winemaker for Thirty-Seven, you’re working with grapes grown on the edge of San Pablo Bay. How does being at the end of the Petaluma Gap wind-tunnel impact the grapevines and the flavor profile of Thirty-Seven’s wines?

One of the best characteristics of our vineyard is its ability to maintain acidity. All of our wines, from the earliest picks to the latest picks, have great acidity. This provides plenty of verve and nuance and helps to provide structure for the wines. The winds from the Gap and the temperature inversion that occurs so close to San Pablo Bay, give us some challenging conditions. But it is also what makes our site unique and allows us to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as Bordeaux varieties. The moderate temperatures, cooling wind and the long harvest period, are cornerstones for our success.

You’ve made wine for some other top pinot noir brands in the country – Copain, Dumol, Pisoni, Kosta Browne and Lynmar—how does Gap fruit differ from that of the other AVAs where these brands are sourcing fruit and have you modified your winemaking techniques for Thirty-Seven to deal with these differences?

In general Petaluma Gap wines tend to have darker characteristics. Our reds certainly show that component. What I love about California is the variety and excellence across so many different appellations.

Harvest means long hours, little sleep and lots of hard labor.  How do you stay balanced during this time?

I have great support from my family. I rely on good music, plenty of caffeine and hydration! And now that I’m getting older, vitamins help, too.

Tell us about your family and how they influence the wines you make.

My family is key. My wife, Barb, pulls double duty during the harvest. We have two kids -our son, Graham, who is 6 and our daughter, Stella, who is 11.  Their greatest influence is the support, patience and love they give me.

Shane Finley and family

Q&A with Grower Ria D’Aversa, McEvoy Ranch

Ria D'Aversa

Are you farming sustainably and/or organically and what specific practices are you most proud of?

McEvoy Ranch is certified organic by CCOF and it is something we are very proud of. Our founder, Nan McEvoy, and the ranch team developed the land through regenerative cycling of nutrients and detailed care for each crop planted, and our soil health is strong because of it.

We are all land stewards here at the ranch and care deeply about what goes into our crops and what we take from the land.

How many different grape varieties are planted and why were they chosen?

We have an interesting blend of the classic Petaluma Gap varieties (Pinot and Syrah) plus the Italian varieties (Montepulciano, Refosco, Sagrantino and Vermentino) due to our long-lasting relationship with Italy and our Italian consultant Maurizio Castelli. He helped us develop the ranch and we are happy to have his Tuscan influence throughout our acres. 

How many acres of grapevines are planted at McEvoy Ranch and how does this compare to the acres of olive trees?

We have 30 acres of grapes and 57 acres of olives.

Is it difficult balancing your time and attention on both grapevines and olive trees?

Olives and grapes both require fertilization, irrigation and pest and disease monitoring. However, grapes require sprays at a higher frequency than olives, so we can easily organize our weeks and months to make sure both crops get equal attention. Further, olives are harvested on our ranch much later than grapes, usually starting in early November when all the grapes are already in the wine cellar.

What impact has the wind in the Petaluma Gap had on your farming practices?

The strong afternoon wind is something I really love about working in the Gap. During those high heat days of July and August, our vines can rely on the cooling winds. I think it sets us up well for climate change’s unexpected weather conditions, with varied high and low temperatures. Our vines are hardy because of the wind, but also profit from its cooling.

We’ve heard that you enjoy working with your hands and started your career as a chef making pastry dough.  How did you make the transition to viticulture?

My transition to viticulture and farming isn’t too far off; I studied Botany at the University of Vermont and went to work at the New York Botanical Garden doing research right after college. During 2008 the financial crisis hit and all staff was required to take a sabbatical. Mine took me to Italy where I studied pastry.  I found myself enjoying the wine classes and vineyard visits more than the kitchen and found a job in a vineyard in Piemonte, in northern Italy. That job inspired me to apply for graduate school; my attendance at UC Davis’ Master’s program for viticulture is what brought me out to California.

Does McEvoy sell grapes to any local winemakers or do you use all the fruit for your own wines?  If you do sell to others, which wineries are you working with?

We do both. We make wine for ourselves; Byron Kosuge is our winemaker. We also sell our fruit to other wineries. One of our longest client relationships is with Dutton Goldfield who makes an estate Pinot from our Azaya Vineyard. Our pinot grapes are also sold to Boisset for their DeLoach brand and to Garry Brooks at Brooks Note. We also sell our Syrah to many exciting, smaller wineries including Harrington, Pax Mahle, Darling and Pennrose. 

Any awards for wines made from grapes that you’ve grown that you’d like to make note of?

Our 2016 Montepulciano recently received: GOLD, BEST OF MARIN, 90 Points at the 2019 North Coast Wine Challenge. It’s great to see our wines out there and getting noticed. We think we are doing something really special here and I am happy to share it.

Are there any notable changes planned for your vineyard program?

In the beginning, it was all about finding what works and ripens in our area. Earlier on we had many more varieties. Grenache and Mourvèdre were planted, but we had mildew pressure and the cool nights weren’t conducive to ripening. Our current mix of varieties suits the Gap; the grapes are able to reach the physiological ripeness that pleases our winemaker and winery clients.

You recently had a baby; how difficult is it balancing family & work?  Any parallels in your tending the vineyard and caring for your child?  

How sweet of you to ask! Marigold is 6 months old and I can already tell she loves being outside looking at flowers. A growing baby and a growing season are quite different, but they both require loads of patience, detail and care. 😉

Q&A with Garrett Martin, Adobe Road Winemaker

Garrett - Famighetti Treehouse - April 2019

Which vineyards in the Petaluma Gap do you source fruit from and what made you select these vineyard sites?

I source fruit across the Petaluma Gap. In the south I partner with Griffin’s Lair for Pinot Noir, and the Sangiacomo family for Syrah. In the north Gap I source from the Sangiacomo’s Roberts Road Vineyard for Pinot and up the hill above the fog line I have Cabernet Sauvignon at Lichau Hill Vineyard. I selected each of these vineyards because they bring a unique profile to our single vineyard bottlings. It’s almost like you can take a tour through the Petaluma Gap just by tasting our wines!

As winemaker at Adobe Road, you craft small lots of wine. Are there any special techniques you use to bring out the Gap’s terroir?

2017_PinotNoir_PetGap_Sangiacomo_robertsroad_non varietalI think the terroir of the Gap is always there in the fruit, the fermentation, and hopefully makes it all the way into your glass. Rather than techniques to bring it out, I think of how to best showcase the unique elements of what’s already in the vineyard. That starts with having a great relationship with the farmer who is growing those grapes. With a grower who is quality minded and collaborative, we can make the site-specific, weather dependent, time-sensitive decisions that are required to grow grapes to their full potential for each ranch. From a winemaking perspective I can talk about having a balance between tannins and acid in the Gap, or ripeness versus aromatic potential, but without a grower who is constantly striving to deliver the best grapes the vineyard can produce, my efforts would be wasted.

Do you do all the winemaking for Adobe Road or do you have a team to help? How are winemaking decisions made?

From a hands-on production perspective, Adobe Road is a two man operation. Between me and my incredible Cellar Master, Carlos Rodriguez, we make it happen. Picking and winemaking decisions are all made by weighing multiple factors. Vineyard history, lab analysis, taste, smell, and sight all play into decisions along with logistics, costs, and other business considerations.

Your undergraduate degree was in psychology; what made you choose winemaking as a career?

GMandKB TastingI was working my way through school at a wine-centric restaurant in Petaluma, which was my first exposure to wine. After learning more about wine production I was taken with the journey of fermentation: harvesting raw ingredients and guiding them through a transformation that preserves and enhances. It is science and art; pragmatic and sensual. It is about relationships and our connection to each other. It is about playing in sync with the rhythms of nature. All of that appealed to me, and I began my own journey to figure out how I could learn more and contribute to that community.

What was your first major position in the wine industry and how did it prepare you for your role at Adobe Road?

A wise mentor once told me that every position, every experience, is an important stepping stone in a career. Along those lines, I think all of my experiences large and small have prepared me for where I am today. From my first position cleaning drains and tanks at a small family winery to helping steer a million case brand, they have all helped prepare me to create a successful collection of wines and build a new winery in downtown Petaluma.

What is on your personal highlight reel of being a winemaker? What was achieved and how did you feel?

Highlights come in all sorts of forms, and for all sorts of reasons, so here are just a few: Taking my three kiddos out to vineyards for visits and camp outs before harvest days. Teaching them to appreciate growing and how much work goes into picking grapes is important.

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Being part of charitable giving through winery donations has been a huge highlight; supporting local causes and folks in need grounds us in our community and helps us focus.

Highlights also come from the tasting room and office — seeing customers branch out, try new varieties of wine and expand their palates. Working with winery teams that are passionate about what they do is always inspiring.

And earning over a dozen 90+ point scores in the last year and a half from Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate is affirmation that our style and model is resonating with critics and our customers.

Adobe Road is breaking ground soon for your new facility; how will this impact winemaking at Adobe Road?

Our new facility will be in the heart of downtown Petaluma, right on the historic riverfront, and we’re starting construction very soon! We’ll combine production, tasting room, and event space together in a way that will work synergistically for Adobe Road and also more broadly for Petaluma. For production, a new facility means upgrades to infrastructure and tools, but at its core, the winemaking will remain the same: incredible attention to each block, both in the vineyard and in the cellar, to express the full potential from each fermentation.

Adobe Road, new Petaluma winery rendering

Garrett Martin Bio

Adobe Road winemaker Garrett Martin will tell you that winemaking is all about the journey of raw ingredients transforming into something greater. His goal is to allow the wine to express its own personality through his artisan skill and winemaking techniques. His creativity, focus, and smart use of the best technology available serve him well while working in relationship with the close-knit community of growers, coopers, and other colleagues.

While at Sonoma State University, Garrett developed a love and passion for wine and viticulture, completing his training in the vineyard, lab and winery at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm. Over the next 10 years, he honed his winemaking skills at a variety of cellars in Sonoma and up and down the Napa Valley. When the opportunity at Adobe Road presented itself in 2015, Garrett jumped at the chance to create world-class wines in his hometown.