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from coterie to cuvée Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Coterie Pinot What's interesting is that when we started working with those other wineries, we didn't realize that it was possible to combine our excitement for food and wine with actually producing wines of our own.  And what we came to find out, as we learned from these other winemakers and started getting exposed to new wines, is that not only can you it, but you can do it well, at this [small] level.  In fact, in some ways and in some cases, you can do it better than larger wineries, because you've got some things you can do as a small winery that big wineries can't do.  And, of course, there are trade-offs — there are advantages, as well, to producing at a large winery.  You can produce great wines at both ends of the scale.  But it's nice to know that you absolutely can produce world-class wines, really, at a very small scale as well.  And that realization was really exciting to us and is what drove us to do this.  The other thing that's influenced us is that Shala and I have done a fair amount of traveling in wine producing regions.  Shala actually has family in northern Italy, so we've spent time with them over five or six trips we've taken in the last few years together to Italy.  Her grandfather was actually a cooper, a barrel-maker.

NM:  Okay, let's take it a step further.  Here you've got a winery in the unlikeliest of places: just a short way's from downtown San Jose and in a region known far more for its industry in technology rather than in wine.  Not to mention, you're on the complete opposite end of the San Francisco Bay from where a considerable piece of the wine industry resides, both in grape growing and in wine production.  Tell me about this choice to set up your winery here in this warehouse in San Jose — what led up to it and what is it like producing wine here?

KL:  You're right, this area is certainly not wine country.  In fact, we like to think that we're taking the 'country' out of wine country!  But it is an area with tremendous interest in wine.  One of the great things about being located here is that Shala and I live only ten minutes away, so we're really making wine in the community that we're a part of.  We're able to be right here, near the winery, giving the wines attention whenever needed.  There are many small wineries like us that are custom crush clients (they have somebody else produce wines for them).  It may be that those winemakers are still very involved with their wine, but it's in another facility.  Or it may be that they're not that involved in the production at all; they have someone else doing a lot of the production to their specs.  What you see here is done 100% with our own hands and those of our helpers — from the 80% of the wine business that people don't talk about, the cleaning, sanitation, and all the things that you have to do to be a good winemaker, to the 20% that's the more romantic stuff that people do want to hear about.

Another thing about being in this area is that even though we're not in wine country per se, we're within reach — two or three hours — of all the vineyards that we work with: Saralee's Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, Casatierra Vineyard in the Fiddletown area [Sierra Foothills], and Fairview Road Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands.  That means we can make as many trips as we need throughout the summer and again throughout the fall when we get close to harvest time.  And then on the day of harvest [for each vineyard] we go in the middle of the night, pick early in the morning with the growers — we're always there for the picks — then we bring the fruit back and start the fruit on its way to wine that very same day.  So, not being in wine country really doesn't have that much of a disadvantage for us, other than the fact that sometimes consumers want to go to wine country to taste a bunch of wines with other wineries.  We don't have as much of that sort of community down here yet, but I think it's actually going to develop as more and more interest starts to form around these small wineries.

NM:  You're sourcing your grapes, and therefore have quite a range of choice in the varietals you choose to vinify.  This, of course, is very much unlike an estate winery established on a plot of land whose terroir might have a direct influence on which varietal(s) you would plant and therefore make into wine.  Given that you had that range of choice, how did you settle on the actual varietals you've chosen?

KL:  There are several things I could mention.  One influence came from the vineyards we knew and had experience with, so that we were able to have witnessed very closely for several years what those vineyards were about.  You really never understand a vineyard as well until you work with it yourself — actually either working right beside, producing a wine, and seeing what happens from that.  So, all that definitely went into the decision to choose some of the varietals we did.  Overall, though, why certain varietals?  Personally, we really like Pinot Noir.  We think that the vineyard in the Russian River Valley is very distinctive for that area.  As is the vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, which is right in between Gary's Vineyard and Rosella's Vineyard, a great location.  Both of those vineyards express Pinot in very different ways, and we love that fact!



 

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