You and your wife, Yun Chu, have a 24–acre vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. How and when did you acquire the land and why did you choose this site?
We acquired the property in 1999 with the aspiration that one day there would be a vineyard there. The vineyard wasn’t developed until 2008. We wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing so we hired experts to test the soil and give advice on what to plant. They confirmed that Pinot Noir would grow well here so we decided to plant five different clones: 115, 667, 777, 828 and Pommard 4. We chose these clones because we love the rich aromatics and silky textures that they bestow to a glass of Pinot.
Is Yun involved in the vineyard with you?
Yun is a gourmet cook and spent many years in the food and restaurant business. She is meticulous in her approach to hospitality and guides our visitor experiences to the property. Yun is also involved in coordinating with the vineyard management crew, tasting the wine during its processing, and the shipping of our purchased wines.
When did you first get involved with the PGWA?
We joined the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers in 2015, just after planting our vineyard. We’ve met other growers through the group and like to attend the events to stay connected with what’s happening in the Gap.
Do you farm the vineyard yourselves or do you have a vineyard team that does that for you?
Although officially “retired,” I’m still consulting as a civil engineer specializing in coastal, port and harbor, riverine, and water resources engineering. When not working on an engineering project, I wander the vineyard and marvel at its beauty. Clendenen Vineyard Management developed the vineyard for us and we used them to manage the property until about a year ago, when we hired Atlas Vineyard Management to take over.
What impact has the wind in the Petaluma Gap had on your vineyard?
I’m a sailor, so I love the wind and understand its benefits. This land is naturally perfect for growing grapes, especially Pinot Noir, due to the wind created by the cool Pacific air and the gaps in the coastal hillsides. The gaps create a “wind tunnel” that cause the yields to be smaller and the grapes to ripen later. It also thickens the skins on the berries and the fog helps to extend the growing season by keeping the surrounding air cool. The combination of wind and fog allows the grapes to reach their full potential and is the secret to growing some of the best Pinot Noir grapes in the world.
To whom do you sell your grapes and what is the highest rating that has been received?
We have sold our grapes to seven different winemakers. This has included MacRostie, Joseph Phelps, Three Sticks Wines and Taft Winery.
What is on your personal highlight reel of being a vineyard owner in PGap?
My personal highlight was seeing the Petaluma Gap become an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) two years ago, and now being able to promote our grapes and the resulting wines as coming from the Gap.
What is your favorite grape variety (to grow and to drink) and why?
Yun and I prefer Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which is what we are making. Our vineyard is exclusively Pinot, and we purchase chardonnay grapes from Steiner Vineyard and Dinner Vineyards in Sonoma Mountain AVA. We also purchased Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in 2019 from Oakville.
Did you purposefully pursue owning a vineyard as a way to have a career in the wine industry? Was this your first role or have you had others along the way?
This is my first role in the wine industry, though I have dreamed about making wine since my early 20’s. As the years went by this interest intensified. I witnessed a close friend, the late Orville Magoon, develop the world-class Guenoc Estate Vineyards and Langtry Estate Vineyards up in Lake County. He inspired me and I knew I could follow this path as well. It would just take time.
Can you tell us about your “we made it” moment? What was achieved and how did you feel?
Our first “made it” moment was when we sold our first crop of grapes. But the big moment was when we launched our own label, Ron Noble Wines, and released our first wine — the 2018 Estate Pinot Noir — labeled as Petaluma Gap. It’s amazing to be taking our first orders for wine this week from people we have met along the way. Megan Baccitich is our winemaker; she honed her winemaking skills working for Paul Hobbs and recently signed on to develop our winery. We’re off and running as we complete the dream – growing, making and selling top quality wines.