Ξ March 4th, 2008 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Winemakers, Wineries |
This is the first in a series of interviews I’ll be conducting with winemakers of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
Was wine a common drink in your family’s household?
Michael I grew up in England during the 50’s and 60’s when table wines were not as popular as they are today. Far more beer was drunk in those days. In my family wine was regarded as a bit of luxury. We had wine for dinner only on special occasions and then it was usually a white wine. But there was always sherry or port in the liquor cabinet. My mother would have a little glass of sherry on occasion in the evening.
When did you begin making wine? What was your initial inspiration?
Michael I really got into making wine when I was at UC Davis during the early nineties. But before that I had made hard cider when I was at art college in the UK and messed around with getting all manner of things to ferment. In England you can drink alcohol by the time you are 18, so at college, Mateus Rose was one the tipples of choice. Also my uncle had a pub, The Wagon and Horses, in Chorley, Lancashire, and he used to let me help him tap the oak barrels in the cellar. A year after I finished art college, studying photography, I started working on cruise ships as a social photographer. Ships are like floating hotels, and wine and food are very much part of the ambience the cruise ship. In this environment, I began to develop an interest in wine. Also we were visiting many of the wine producing areas of the world. This is when I began to take note of the various wine regions of the world. So when it became time to swallow the anchor (to settle ashore), I was ready to do something different. At that time I was visiting California, and the wine business seemed like a very attractive profession to be involved with.
Could you tell us about your wines?
Michael With Sones Cellars we are focusing on only a few varietals, mainly Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. The reason for this is that we like these varietals ourselves; we want to make wines we enjoy drinking. For sale this year, we will have three Petites and a couple of Zins. Our aim is to produce vineyard designated wines of the two varietals showing off the grape and appellation. California is the natural home to Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, with both varietals having been heavily planted here since the late 1800s. Our goal is to produce quintessentially Californian wines, and both Zin and Petite thrive here. Why imitate Burgundy? Let the Burgundians do what they already do well. For the last couple of vintages we have also made a white wine blend, which we call La Sirena. This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Viognier and a little Sauvignon Blanc. Here our goal is to produce something that is different from the mainstream white wines.
Having worked at number of different Santa Cruz Mountain wineries I have been exposed many and varied styles of winemaking. It has been a good experience which has led me to believe that least intervention in the wine making process as possible is the best way to go. I like making wine without the use of some the modern processing techniques, such micro oxygenation or de-alcoholization. These techniques are used to produce wines that fill the marketing parameters set by a winery sales team. A lot of the wines you find in the shops nowadays is made this way. With our wines we make them to the best of our abilities and then let the customer decide whether they like them or not. Hopefully we will have enough people who like our wines and buy them, that will allow us to make a livelihood out of being winemakers.
How much do you produce, and what are your growth projections?
Michael We started off very small, producing only 350 cases for our first 2003 vintage. In 2007 we produced around 800 cases and for this year we hope to break the 1,000 case level. Lois and I want to keep Sones Cellars a small family winery that we can manage ourselves, so we plan to grow to about 2,500 cases and stop there. Though it sounds big to us now, that is still small in the winery scheme of things.
What projects are you working on now?
Michael Well, the next thing for Sones Cellars is to move into to our new little winery. Lois and I started making our own wine in 2003 at Byington winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Since then we have been itinerant wine makers, fermenting and cellaring our wines at other wineries in the Santa Cruz area. Finally some time in May of this year we will be able to put Sones Cellars and all our wine paraphernalia under one roof on the west side of Santa Cruz on Ingalls street.
Any advice for someone thinking of beginning their own label?
Michael Well, there’s a question. The wine business is something that prospective wine makers should think long and hard about before venturing into. It is relatively easy to make good wine; it is a lot harder to sell it. There is so much competition nowadays, and on all levels of quality. For a number of years you invest a lot money before you have even sold a single bottle. It is the nature of the business; you buy the grapes, cellar the wine for a year or two, bottle the wine and it is only then that you see any return. As they say “To make a small fortune with a winery start with a large one.”
Where can we find your wines?
Michael We have just started this past year in getting our wines into shops and restaurants. Locally in Santa Cruz, Vino Cruz and Shopper’s Corner carry our wines. Or you can get them directly from us if you live in California. Until we get our winery established, we are limited to Californian customers only.
Thank you, Michael.