I have the good fortune of meeting lots of winemakers. I have met some of the icons in the industry, people who helped establish their regions and set trends. But, when I was in the Willamette Valley as part of the Wine Writers Educational Tour, we attended a seminar with the Willamette Valley wine pioneers. This was not just a discussion of the people or a tasting of their wines but they, the original wine pioneers of the Willamette Valley, were there. It was not lost on me how legendary this panel was. These are the people who built the Willamette Valley and they shared their stories which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and you can read here.
“It takes a village to raise a child. This is my village and I am the kid,” declared Jason Lett as he welcomed a group of wine writers to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Jason’s father, David Lett, first saw the potential of Pinot Noir in Oregon.
A Utah native, David Lett moved to San Francisco for dental school in 1963 and was introduced to Napa Valley. He decided instead to study viticulture at UC Davis and after graduating, he moved to Oregon. According to Willamette Valley Wine, Pinot Noir was the first post-Prohibition vitis vinifera variety planted in the north Willamette Valley and the reason Lett came to Oregon. After studying the geography and climate of western Oregon, he had an idea of what would do well in the cool climate. Lett planted his vines in the Dundee Hills, establishing the Eyrie Vineyard, and produced his first wine in 1970.
As Jason spoke about his father, he sat alongside Richard and Nancy Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Harry Peterson-Nedry and Susan Sokol-Blosser.
If you like to find the unknown winery, the small production winery or just meet new winemakers, then the Garagiste Festival is for you. Throughout the year, Garagiste Festival takes place in Paso Robles, Solvang, Los Angeles and now Sonoma. For the second time, Garagiste Festival returns to Sonoma on April 13th and I wrote about what you might and why you might want to go in my recent column in the Napa Valley Register which you can read here.
Everyone knows the riddle: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine industry? Start with a large one.”
The dream to own a winery and make wine can seem like a fantasy. Land costs in Napa and Sonoma are prohibitive when a vineyard in Napa will cost anywhere from $120,000 to more than $370,000 per acre and a vineyard in Sonoma can cost $70,000 to more than $150,000 per acre.
Even if you do not own a vineyard, buying quality fruit in Napa and Sonoma can be costly. In 2016, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon averaged $6,829 per ton and Sonoma Pinot Noir averaged $3,678 per ton. But, despite these costs, there are small winemakers out there who are striving to make the best wines possible, even without a venture capitalist behind them.