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WS: (con'd) So, while I manage the business on a daily basis, I also assist Luc in the winemaking. But we're such a small team that we both also help Alyssa out with what she does with Sales and Hospitality, and she helps us in the cellar, too. We want to maintain the size we are, right about 1500-1800 cases of the current lineup. As we continue to develop our vineyards, we might grow to around 3000 cases, but not much more than that. We want to maintain that sense of being an artisan producer and don't want to lose that ability to cross into each other's worlds. It's nice. The ability to go from working in the vineyard to working in the cellar to getting out on the road and meeting clients at the different events that we go to is important for the business structure that we're trying to create.
NM: You have an interesting background that led you to this, beginning with your work as a chef and eventually a cellar rat…
"It was my version of going to winemaking school, to learn on-hand with a producer like Harlan."
WS: That's right. After I graduated from college back east, I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. While doing my studies there, I was lucky enough to get an internship at the French Laundry out here, where I spent about five months. When I went back to the CIA to finish the program, I kept in touch with Chef [Thomas] Keller and we maintained a great relationship. After finishing culinary school, he asked if I'd come back to his restaurant, which I did and then worked there for almost another year. Right about the same time, although I wasn't directly involved in any of it, my family was starting to entertain the idea of constructing our own winery facility on this property. At that point, a winemaker buddy of mine asked if I'd thought about getting into the wine industry, especially given that my family had this project going. Since a couple of other chefs in the kitchen at the French Laundry were taking sabbaticals to learn about wine and really round out their training, I decided to do the same thing, but without any real intention as to where I was going to go from there (including no commitment to go work for my family). So, I got a harvest position at Harlan [Estate]. The winemaker there, Bob Levy, told me at the time that he had space for me for only a couple of months, just for harvest, and that it was 'bit of a demotion' from what I was doing at the French Laundry, since I'd be dragging hoses and cleaning up the cellar. But I said, "Great! Sign me up! I'd love to see it all from the ground floor." Long story, short, I shook his hand four year later and told him I felt it was time for me to go work for my family [at the new winery]. So, in retrospect, I definitely got a great experience there, seeing two vintages coming in as grapes and leaving as bottles. Starting as a harvest intern and leaving as their cellar master was an incredible education — it was my version of going to winemaking school, to learn on-hand with a producer like Harlan.
NM: And how did Vineyard 7 & 8 then evolve into a bona fide winery, with Luc as winemaker?
After leaving Harlan, I came up here in 2006 to get thing going with the winery. I did one harvest with our team of two winemaking consultants who were here prior to Luc. One was a gentleman from France, Christian LeSommer, who had been the director of winemaking at Chateau Latour and then became an international consultant for some Lafite properties. He came on in the beginning stages. At that point, we really didn't have a need for a full winemaking team; we were making our wines at Monticello Cellars in Napa, and they, of course, had their own winemaking team. Christian, along with our local winemaker, Larry Langbehn, were basically here to direct and ensure the team at Monticello was crafting the wines the way that we wanted. And so, after that first harvest in 2006 — a couple of days before which we completed construction on the winery — we sat down and discussed what our needs were and how we were going to proceed into the future. It was at that point that we decided we needed a full time, local winemaker here to make the day-to-day decisions necessary to take the wines to the next level. We had a couple of names in mind. When we were introduced to Luc, he presented some of the wines he made at Peter Michael, and then my father and I presented some of the wines that we'd previously made at 7 & 8. Then after talking, we realized our philosophies were right together and that this would work.