It might be tempting to write me off as someone saying they “had a whole lot of passion” and wanted to put it to work. It wasn’t that. I wanted to learn about wine, the history and language of it, and to breathe it in completely. And I honestly felt that I couldn’t do that by selling someone else’s wine, or running a tasting room, or do marketing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those aspects but I had an urge, an unrelenting obsession, to go from working in finance to getting dirty and making wine.
I didn’t know that I was throwing myself into the deep end. Ed Kurtzman decided to bless me with the opportunity to come in at Freeman Winery and learn the ropes. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I literally couldn’t put a hose back the right way until Eric Buffington showed me several times. I viewed them from that moment on, until this day, as God sent for having taken me under their wings. Not once did they laugh at me, or make me feel as though I couldn’t do it. They believed in me, and I will forever be grateful of their help, along with the Freemans.
After learning a little less than the basics, overfilling barrels nearly every time I was given the chance to, basically breaking every piece of lab equipment, and generally trying my best to not screw up too much, I decided I knew enough to move on and make some wine. Sonoma would be a great start, but my eyes were set on reaching Burgundy within ten years.
I first attempted to buy grapes locally in Sonoma County and was rejected since I was inexperienced. I opened up my search by looking for other grapes that I frankly had rarely if ever tasted a bottle of, all in the pursuit of getting after it and changing my life into one of a winemaker. I was rejected countless times.
It wasn’t until speaking with Becky Wasserman about finding a position in Burgundy at a winery, only to be told as a joke that it would be easier to start my own winery, that I knew just how to make it all work. Naive. I know. Ridiculous. I know. But, what other option did I have? She, as well as Alex Gambal provided my cheat sheets into starting a winery in Burgundy.
I went from seeking the most modest grapes in Burgundy to getting lucky with finding grapes from two Grand Crus, and one Premier Cru. This was beyond anything I’d hope for. I made sure to not even tell many people about it since I thought the idea was such a fragile one that the possible scrutiny from someone might cause the whole thing to deflate and disappear.
I actually had no idea what I was doing. My plan was to simply buy grapes, and make wine. I sketched out the winery on post-it notes showing what the essentials might be and built out around that idea of simplicity. Winemaking? Well, I figured that much of what was being done nowadays was potentially superfluous. People had made wine, great wine, for centuries. They didn’t have electricity, stainless steel, concentrators, and many other things that seem to be standard at most wineries. Most folks will tell you that they are hands off with their winemaking, but make a visit behind the scenes and you’ll see something quite different. But what if you stripped everything down to the basics, could the wine be good? Might the wine be easier to understand without all of the technology?
And what about the entry point to a winery? You know, the people that make the wines. The culture in California was to have open doors. This led to opportunities for me to pick the brains of winemakers and vineyard owners, to come and lend a hand or to bother them with unending questions. In Europe, the prevailing culture was one of closed doors. Information was generally provided by importers to consumers, with outdated websites that gave little to no insight into who was making the wines or how they were doing it.
Things would be different for me. I would make my wines from intuition, using common sense, keeping my fingers crossed that I didn’t destroy these grapes that I was being blessed with. At the time, I was going through severe issues at home. I wanted France to be a new beginning for me. (More on that soon enough). I didn’t know what to expect from France but I wanted to do the best that I could.
What I found in Burgundy, France was an open book, a place where I could apply my curiosity, learn a new skill and walk in a place that I had only known from stories that read as fantasy for someone coming from Oakland, California. There was a lot to learn. I considered the path would be a difficult one. But I had no way to guess towards exactly how challenging my next steps would be.