Thursday, October 6, 2005
The old adage goes something like: “How do you end up with a million dollars in the wine business?” Answer: “Start with 10 million,” or some such thing. As with many businesses, the folks in it the longest are the biggest Doubting Thomases. They all have the scars, the nightmares and the horror stories from those years when it hailed a week before harvest and destroyed all the grapes, or there were heat spikes that cooked the grapes or not enough sun so the fruit didn’t ripen, or there was too much Brettanomyces in the used French barrels, or the corks they saved money on were riddled with Trichloroanisole and the bottles they sold are coming back like spoiled young-adult children…
Yet, each year, happy individuals follow their dreams or go through the process of finding a facility in which they can make wine, bottle it and sell it.
“He wanted to plant grapes because he’s crazy,” is how Lynn Sakasegawa recalls her husband Paul Stokes’ original plan for their Wines of Carmel operation out in the Valley, on the ridge above Talbott’s Diamond T vineyard.
“I have a biology degree from Davis, so I make the wine,” she says. “We’re doing about 600 to 700 cases of Chardonnay, bringing in some Cab and I’m doing a barrel of Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands this year.”
After all, wine lives in a glamorous world. Think of American wine elder statesman Robert Mondavi, who oversees an empire of good taste and regal living. Eating al fresco on your back patio on a warm summer afternoon overlooking rolling columns of green and gold grape canopy while quaffing delicious wines made in your own winery is about as cool as it gets.
Fortunately, for those of us whose relationship with wine is solely that of consumer, there are plenty of folks who want to follow in Mondavi’s footsteps.
Here in Monterey County, where behemoth operations like Kendall Jackson, Robert Mondavi, Gallo, Blackstone, Delicato and Mirassou share space with small to mid-level operations like Hahn Estates, Morgan, Talbott, Paraiso, etc., there is a steady upswing of small wineries, usually mom-and-pop style, affectionately referred to as boutique wineries. Names like Boyer, Pelerin, Manzoni, Escafeld, Marilyn-Remark, Parsonage, De Tierra, Chateau Christina, and Sheldon pop onto the Monterey Wine Registry with Champagne bubble frequency.
Bill Parsons, whose Parsonage Village Vineyard is on the north side of Carmel Valley Road a bit past the village, was “sitting around waiting for the fruit to ripen” when he said, “If it doesn’t rain hard or frost, I’m excited about the long hang time this year. It builds intensity of flavor into the grapes and I like the more ripened style for my wines,” which consist primarily of Syrah, Cab and Merlot. “I have David Coventry come in as a consultant because it’s a good thing to have someone who knows the wine chemistry.”
Coventry, a native of Monterey and onetime winemaker at Chalone and Morgan, now partners with Tom Russell in the boutique De Tierra Vineyards, located out at Corral De Tierra. Coventry believes in Monterey’s potential: “Monterey deserves to be on the world stage. I’m committed to make that happen.” That’s a lofty goal, but typical of the passion that drives boutique winemakers.
The great thing about these wineries, aside from the high quality of the wines, is that they are managing to sell their product. Marilyn-Remark Winery has enjoyed tremendous success. Its Rhone varietal wines have won numerous accolades throughout the industry and with the tasting room on River Road now open, the new problem might be keeping up with demand.
Parsons and neighbor John Saunders of Boete Winery are opening a joint tasting room near Quail Lodge, alongside the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Parsons said he was concerned about having enough product. Wines of Carmel are pretty much sold out of everything they made too, so it looks like our boutique buddies are doing pretty well.
These and other boutique producers are leading the charge
for the tiny hopefuls, including home winemakers, who dream of
that first commercial release, of overcoming everything Mother
Nature and Sister Sludge might throw at them, to see those
beautiful bottles with their own label on them. It’s not an