Our first year of planting was 1973 and we planted 2-1/2 acres of Merlot, 4 acres of Zinfandel and 3-1/2 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. The next major planting was 1975 with 2-1/2 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, 2 acres of Chardonnay, and 1/2 acre of Flora. In 1975 we also made our first Barbera from a small experimental vineyard in Placer called Bald Hill. This ignited our love affair with what would eventually become our flagship wine.
5) Which grape variety, of the over thirty types you've grown and worked with, would you say is the "best" for this specific property and why?
It's difficult to select any one variety as "the best" for this property since so many do well at this location given its multiple micro-climates, slopes and exposures. But if pressed I would be inclined to prefer the Italian varieties which would include Barbera, Primitivo, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Aglianico all of which have performed well and have made intense, flavorful wines. In terms of a white variety, Sauvignon Blanc has been the most impressive.
6) Who have been the most helpful, or influential people, in your 45 years in business and why?
Another difficult question, but without a doubt the single most influential person in my 45 years of business has been my wife, Susan, without whose wise counsel and grounded economics, we would never have succeeded. I guess the reason is that we each had our own field of expertise; mine in the ability to farm, have a vision of what I wanted to do in my life- which was to grow grapes and make wine. Sue had the ability to rationally analyze whether what we were doing made economic sense, and if it did she developed a plan to see that it worked. Although her academic background was Philosophy, she had prior practical experience running her father's physicians office. Accounting and cash flow were second nature to her. In fact, after running the ranch for a few years, she realized we were still in the red (financially) and she decided to go back to college at Sac State and take classes for a Master's degree in Business and Finance and used our business as a model for her research paper. What she found out was that our experience was perfectly normal for a start up agricultural operation--they usually didn't get into the black for 5-7 years. And then she instituted sound financial accounting practices, computerized the business, established the tasting room as well as setting up a wine distribution system for both a local and a national sales network. This was followed up by wine promotions, sales events, office staffing, and all the other details of running the business side of the winery. And all this while raising two irascible children.
My father was another important person in the first 10 years of starting the winery. He was a master mechanic, engineer, and designer. He spent days repairing tractors, improving the farm equipment, building fence pulleys and tighteners. The most impressive project he tackled was to design and build our first wooden barrel racks. They were a marvel of design and engineering: both aesthetic and practical, designed to carry the load of hundreds of wine barrels and to withstand the forces of a potential earthquake. These are still in use today and are a focal point of the wine storage area. Using his carpentry skills he designed and built our first tasting room bar as well as reinforced the whole structure of the old cellar.
It goes without saying that Ed Delfino, besides initially getting us to establish in El Dorado, was a continuing source of help and assistance in both the regulatory and political realm in the County. He was instrumental in having wineries become a part of Apple Hill going so far as to expand the boundaries of the region to include us. He also encouraged me to become a member of the Agricultural Commission, an appointed body that is advisory to the Board of Supervisors as well as helping form an agricultural coalition to lobby the Board on all aspects of agriculture. He encouraged the formation of El Dorado Winegrape Growers Association as well as the El Dorado Winery Association. He was also was key to the establishment of seven Agricultural Districts throughout the County based on current agricultural operations, soils mapping, and the potential for future growth. In these districts minimum parcel sizes of 20 acres were created as well as a 200' setbacks from conflicting uses and minimum 10 acre buffer parcels surrounding any agricultural zoned lands. His goal was to promote and protect Agriculture and this he did to the benefit of the whole County. The fact that you can drive through beautiful, bucolic, largely contiguous agricultural zones that are not broken up with commercial development is the direct result of his work.