There is a joke that circulates amongst my colleagues: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Start with a big one.” And it’s true, being in the wine business is a labor of love, not a fortune builder. Yet here I am, and I love it, including the everyday challenges. Why? Because learning about and loving wine is a never-ending quest. I could go in to all the reasons why that’s true, but one aspect is that there’s a really strong community around wine and winemaking that allows me to surround myself with people that know more than I do. At the risk of being annoying, I will track down these people, so I can learn more, uncover hidden gems and constantly expand the offers for my clients. One of the ways I do this is by reading. A LOT. And last week I came across a piece in The New York Times, The Pour - The Art of Winemaking on the Cheapby Eric Asimov, one of the most respected wine writers in the US. I was extremely excited (and somewhat vindicated) by the article. Because the article was about my friend, John Lockwood and his Enfield Wine Co. John, and a growing number of others, face a set of business dynamics that make it nearly impossible to produce wine in America, but they do so against stacked odds. They have to hustle like crazy to produce their stellar wines and how they do it isn’t widely discussed outside of farming communities. So, fist pump to the NYT for bringing this into the light.
NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE
”The Art of Winemaking on the Cheap” by Eric Asimov.
I met John in the spring of 2014, but 24 hours before that I had never heard of him. During a flight to San Francisco, I was planning my scouting rounds and I ran across an article in Punch Drinkthat praised a rare cabernet by a relatively new winemaker on the scene in Sonoma: John Lockwood. The writer, Tess Bryant, was featuring Enfield Wine Co. and quotes John saying, “I’m just a lucky asshole to have stumbled across this vineyard.” I thought, “who’s swearing in a national publication? I’ve got to meet this guy.” So, after a bit of netlurking, I dug up an email address and wrote him while I was en route to California. To my complete astonishment by the time I landed I had an appointment set up for the next morning with John and his buddy, who just happened to be Hardy Wallace of Dirty & Rowdy acclaim. The meeting was in a warehouse outside of Santa Rosa. The warehouse was Punchdown Cellars.
The tasting changed the way I looked at winemaking in America. It changed the way I looked at growers in California. And it changed the way I looked at these winemakers’ businesses. The New York Timespiece reveals the level of hustle, stamina and persistence these producers need to simply stay afloat, much less be profitable. Land prices in California are insane and small winemakers, like John and many others, will likely never be able to acquire vineyards themselves. Lease deals or buying fruit by the ton is all that is possible. But they treat this as if they own the land themselves, tending to it as a farmer directly or working closely with the owners to manage the vineyard to exacting standards. John’s true gift is finding the best vines, literally sometimes a single row of vines in a vineyard. This means that his weeks are filled travelling from vineyard to vineyard tending his vines, sometimes driving 4 hours between sites. This is dedication and insanity that shows in every drop of wine he produces at Punchdown Cellars. Punchdown is a facility at the center of the ecosystem enabling people like Lockwood and Wallace to make wine without the backing of a family fortune. It is a unique custom crush facility that allows John to sign out equipment and rent space to produce his wines alongside many other winemakers in a shared space.
Now four years later my annual trip out west wouldn't be complete if I didn't meet up with John and walk his vineyards and visit Punchdown Cellars with him.
During his last trip to Cincinnati, John was our house guest and we packed his schedule with public tastings and commercial market visits. But also, we talked into the wee hours each night sharing our stories of the daily hustle and discussing ideas for next steps for his business and mine. We chatted about our dreams, ambitions, and the fears and challenges we have to face. Neither John nor myself have a fallback plan. We have put our lives into our little businesses, trying to do things at the highest level we can and working as hard as possible to make our dreams a reality. Which is why it really is thrilling to see my friend get such love from The New York Times. So, cheers to John and to his hustle.
ENFIELD WINE CO. WINES
Some of these bottles are insanely rare and sold out across the US, as you will see with total production listed with each wine.
CITRINE $35 BTL
Chardonnay 2016 Sierra Foothills - 9 Barrels
ANTLE VINEYARD $45 BTL
Pinot Noir 2015 Chalone - 4 Puncheon Barrels
HERON LAKE $50 BTL
Pinot Noir 2016 Wild Horse - 2 Hogsheads “70cs”
BROSSEAU $45 BTL
Syrah 2014 Chalone - 4 Barrels
HAYNES VINEYARD $50 BTL
Syrah 2014 Coombsville, Napa - 6 Barrels
WATERHORSE RIDGE $75 BTL
Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Fort Ross-Seaview - 10 Barrels
ASSORTED 6 PACK $300 SET
One bottle of each of the above wines. A great way to get to understand Johns hand as a winemaker and farmer.
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