Our winery project began in the early 1990s with our own equipment in other people's wineries. In the early years we made three wines: our "Meritage" Cabernet Sauvignon blend, our early experiments with Port, and our Pinot Blanc. A few of these wines are still available in our "Library." We were blessed in these early vintages with the efforts and careful attention of a famous young winemaker here in St. Helena, Cathy Corison. With Cathy's help we learned a lot about our grape varieties and I am extremely proud of those early wines, especially the Cabernets (labeled "Meritage" to indicate that they are blends of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdota blend typical of the famous wines of the Bordeaux region of France).
Then, in 2000, I built a tiny winery in San Francisco, just across the street from the Anchor Brewery and moved our equipment down from Napa. For nearly 40 years I had been a student of modern winemaking, and so, with considerable trepidation and much advice from colleagues in the industry, I began making our wines myself. Being my own winemaker was thrilling, and gave me the luxury of making many experimental lots. For years I had said that someday I would have a winery of my own, and when I did that it would be a "Grower's Winery." By this I meant that I would make many small experimental batches, attempting to learn about each grape variety, exploring our many different soils, the different exposures, the different clones. Like Thoreau who wanted to know his beans, I wanted to know my grapes.
In order to make small and carefully controlled lots of wine, I designed ten little open fermentation tanks, each with a jacket for temperature control, and with special lids that allow them to be tightly sealed for extended maceration or other purposes. Each of these can comfortably hold about 11/2 tons of grapes, yielding about four barrels of wineabout 100 cases of finished wine. These little tanks are the heart of our "Grower's Winery" character, and are wonderfully flexible. We can "punch down" the cap, in the traditional method for red wine, or we can "pump over" in the more modern way. And with these little open tanks we can see, feel, smell, and taste our wines as they develop. On a busy day in October, all ten of these may be full, and a few of our larger tanks as well. When conditions are just right we take pomace from a pressed batch of wine to the Anchor Distillery across the street, where we make a traditional grappa, to be released in the fall of 2004. And our Port is made with our own brandy from our own grapes, although we are not allowed to say so on the label. If anyone reading this is in San Francisco during October, for heaven's sake do come by the winery. It is a wonderfully exciting time, and you would be very welcome. Just give us a call.
Our barrel room is partially underground, and with a little supplemental cooling we are proving again that San Francisco is indeed a wonderful place for aging wine. The temperature here is nearly perfect most days. We use mostly French oak from several coopers, and also some American oak of fine quality. Beginning with the 2000 harvest I have had the patient and enthusiastic help of Tom Holmes as my assistant winemaker. Tom had been a fine brewer at Anchor for several years while earning his B.A. and then his M.B.A. In 2000, Tom was about to fly the Anchor coop when I managed to tempt him with the offer of being my assistant winemaker, and he has been a wonderful help. Tom was raised in Hopland, in the heart of the North Coast wine region, and so with that and his brewing background he was well qualified.