Meet Ali Smith-Story and Eric Story of Smith Story Wine Cellars

Meet Ali Smith-Story and Eric Story of Smith Story Wine Cellars in Sonoma as part of a series of winemaker interviews I am doing for California Winery Advisor.

Six years ago, in 2014, Alison Smith-Story and Eric Story launched “Farmers First” on Kickstarter, and in 30 days they were fully funded to launch their winery, Smith Story Wine Cellars. Since then, they have made and sold over 20,000 cases of wine, survived two years of severe drought, four wildfire seasons, and a few floods.

Smith Story Wine Cellars was started by Eric Story and Ali Smith-Story. Eric and Ali met while working at K&L Wine Merchants in Northern California. Their friendship was born over wine as they would taste and discover wines from around the world. They married in 2013 on the Big Island of Hawaii where they dreamed of launching their own wine brand.

Ali and Eric settled in Sonoma County. They source fruit for Smith Story Wine Cellars from the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, Russian River, and Sonoma, as well as Germany. Each of these locations holds a special meaning to Ali and Eric and they work closely with the grape growers of the family-owned vineyards. Each of the wines from Smith Story Wine Cellars, from the Pinot Noirs to the Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon to the Sauvignon Blanc, taste of a sense of place.

Smith Story Wine Cellars are garnered a strong following over the past six years but even more famous is their adored Goldendoodle Lord Sandwich. Not only does he have his own Instagram page (@sandwichthedoodle) but is the namesake for the non-profit Ali founded, Socks for Sandwich, which donates new socks to the needy.

What made you choose the region you are in to make wine? 

We wanted to produce wines we loved to personally drink, as well as from the region closest to where we live because both the Anderson Valley and Sonoma County areas are magical.

Is there something specific that you love about the region you are in? 

The micro-climates and cooler areas. We also feel Sonoma County, and the Anderson Valley particularly, are family farmed vineyards and this is important to us.

What is your favorite wine variety? Why? 

Now, that is not an easy question. Our favorite variety is Riesling from Germany with Chenin Blanc from Loire, France being our second favorite. We equally love all the California varieties we produce. Our tiny production Sémillon is usually the most interesting, but our Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs sabotage anyone’s heart for good reason.

Is there a wine variety that intrigues you? Have you worked with it or do you have plans to? 

We have worked very hard at making sure we are in the best vineyards for our Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc here in Northern California. We would like to work with Muscadet or in Chinon possibly one day too with our Eric Story Selections imports. For now, we are very interested in finding more organically farmed white wine varieties in Mendocino County to dive into such grapes as Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

What are you drinking right now? 

LaRue Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay is on my desk about to be bathed in an ice bucket and opened with a fresh piece of local wild salmon caught off the Mendocino Coast and a Little Gem salad.

What was the moment or experience that piqued your interest in wine? 

For Eric, he caught the bug while backpacking Europe about 20 years ago then was hired by K&L Wine Merchants where he worked until 2016. My answer is not so romantic, I just loved to discover of wine in the mid-’90s while living in Dallas, lucky me that dear friends had a cellar of First Growths and California RRV Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that took my breath away! My hobby became a full-time career by 2003.

If you were not making wine, what would you be doing? 

Landscape design and vineyard management for me… oh hell,  I’d love to be a stay-at-home dog Mom.  Eric would be lost, this is his dream come true.

As a winery, how do you typically reach your customers? What are you doing to increase DTC sales outside the tasting room? 

Since we launched on Kickstarter in 2014, our online attention and growth are phenomenal. Our loyal support by the wine media and customers alike has allowed us to grow substantially.

We’re the smallest tasting room in the Anderson Valley so we must over exceed expectations with every guest. So far, it’s our guests who help spread the love of Smith Story. Even if they’ve never met us in person. Our emails, IG updates, and online shenanigans keep things real and wine lovers coming back for more. Our DTC is what has kept our lights on this year especially.

In the “new normal” of the COVID world, how are you doing? How are you adapting? What is working for you? 

We are steady as she goes. Our daily online sales have been strong since day 1, the thing that bites right now is the weather is too hot to ship. Our shipping costs are miserably high.  We say “we’ve been better, we’ve been worse, but the show must go on”.  Not much adapting other than thanking our lucky stars that we have the ability to pivot on a second’s notice since we are the boss!

Our Bay Area Porch Deliveries in the spring were a huge hit, I think we delivered in person (masks on!) nearly 500 orders. We would like to continue this, but we are just two people and haven’t taken much time off this year, exhaustion and uncertainty of 2020 have set in early due to the NorCal fires.

We are hoping for a very successful Fall Wine Release which includes 2 of our very top-selling wines, 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, and 2018 Helluva Vineyard Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley.  Both or sexy and complex wines. After a hard day (like every day it seems now), we often smile and look at each other and say “thank GOD for great wine!”, we are honored to be making wine of this caliber!

What is the one tip you would give the average wine buyer about finding great value wines? 

Look for the independent and family-owned wines.  If you buy most of your wine at Trader Joe’s you are not really helping family winemakers.

I believe a great wine from Europe can be found around $14 but due to the financial landscape in California, it’s worth spending more on a wine that is given the attention that Smith Story gives.  Many consider our Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Mountain a great value at $75 a bottle compared to mass-produced Napa Valley Cabs these days.

Read the original story in California Winery Advisor.