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An Interview of Coterie Cellars, an Urban Winery
There was a time when the term "urban winery" would have been considered an oxymoron. But for wine producers who source their fruit from growers, the lack of attachment to any particular vineyard allows for a great degree of choice regarding winery location. An increasing number of them are opting to set up shop in areas that may be a distance from the nearest grapevines, but which are conveniently located, both for themselves as well as potential customers living in more urban areas. One such winery is Coterie Cellars, a newly established micro-production facility located amidst the quasi-urban sprawl of San Jose. Though I'd briefly met the proprietors, Kyle and Shala Loudon, during the 2008 Pinot Days tasting event in San Francisco, I followed up with the domestic garagistes more recently during a visit to their rather compact winery, where I learned more about the evolution of their urban endeavor.
With its first commercial vintage in 2007, Coterie Cellars is a recent venture on the landscape of wine production. And with a total case output currently around 500, it's quite the small one as well. But the husband and wife team consider the size of their winery advantageous to their continuing exploration of winemaking, in a number of ways — not the least of which is their ability to house the entire operation within one small warehouse. Their size has also allowed them to divide the myriad of tasks typical of any winery in a way that's still manageable for the two of them, and to some degree matched to their respective skill sets. As chief cellarmaster, Kyle came into the wine industry with an already keen understanding of work process, thanks to his background in technical project work. This translated into a methodical and graduated approach in learning to make wine, starting with a period of mentoring with a 'coterie' of enthusiasts by some established winemakers. In the process of producing small amounts of wine under experienced guidance, the couple became intimately familiar with specific vineyards and their grape clones, ultimately empowering them to venture forth with their own brand. Kyle's collaborative, disarming, and open minded disposition has allowed him to strengthen existing relationships and forge new ones with a handful of quality-driven and reputable growers. His wife Shala, with her own client-focused experience in luxury retail, brings a good amount of marketing savvy to the winery's operations. In engaging the two, I found a compelling story on going from mere enthusiast to masterful entrepreneur.
NM: You have a successful career in the technology industry. So what got you interested in making wine, ultimately compelling you to do so commercially?
KL: It goes back to when I was four or five years old, believe it or not. Of course, I wasn't drinking wine at that age, but I had a real interest in food at a very early age. I had a family that really appreciated food, with grandparents that frequently cooked many interesting dishes for us. Even as a kid, I thought that someday I would love to own a restaurant; that was one of those things in the back of my mind that I might end up doing. Coupled with that interest in food, I definitely had a long standing interest in wine. But there's not a lot of opportunities to produce wine in Indiana. And when I moved out to California in 1992, I started spending time with some producers and growers out in this area. I really did not get the chance to start working with wine in any detail until after 2000. So, we started volunteering for a couple of wineries up in the East Bay — Eno Wines and Harrington Wines, small wineries that both produce really nice wines — and started producing wines with them. A lot of the influence in how we make wine came from those early producers that we worked with, and they themselves had been influenced by some small production winemakers as well — Ed Kurtzman, Brian Loring, Dan Kosta & Michael Browne, Adam & Dianna Lee.