Can't do the barn, it's the wrong zoning - the result of Santa Rosa pimping itself out to the Metropolitan Transit Agency and Redevelopment funds that never came to pass. So the perfect site isn't available. A crushing disappointment - back to the drawing board on finding a place to call 'home'.
We bottled what may be the best 4 wines we've ever made last week.
Pat Sullivan and Chris Bowland and I sat down last night and tasted through them a long with a few other wines including Rochioli's best Sauv Blanc and a couple of Rudd. We ordered a 'heart stopper' pizza and work to work.
The 2011 Naricssa, our new barrel aged Sauvignon Blanc is remarkable. Really one of the best wines I've ever had. The only wine that was better was the 2006 Rosemary's Block I opened to show them what it had done over time. That wine has aged beautifully and has transformed into a honeyed, luscious, sexy wine.
But close on their heels was the 2010 El Jefe Grenache we bottled. Our first standalone Grenache in a long time. A big Grenache, this is a great Grenache.
Next in line was the 2010 The Muldoon Syrah Grenache. Always very tight on opening, this wine shows all the elements of it's ancestors. Big, bold, textured and lush. It will take a long time before this one is ready to drink.
The surprise to me, and Pat's favorite wine of the evening, was the 2010 The Narcissist which typically gets very cranky when bottling, was simply stunning. Another great Syrah in the Narcissist tradition.
One of the biggest aspects of realigning the business was deal with my parent's desire to get out of the vineyard business. Not be able to support the vineyards on my own, this forced me to put both vineyards on the market and over the weekend, Greywacke Vineyard went into escrow. Although a necessary step for moving forward, it is a very sad day to be saying good bye to this really exceptional piece of grape ground.
But, with the sale of Greywacke, Bennett Valley Vineyards (the entity that owns the vineyards) will eliminate all its debt and I will be one big step closer to finalizing my divorce and to having the freedom to move Grey Stack forward.
I hesitate to mention my divorce here, because it nothing to do with making wine, but getting our finances separated does have everything to do my ability to move forward.
In the process of sorting through the various dilapidated and run down buildings around Railroad Square, I was directed to look at the old 'red' building. It's wasn't actually red, but the 100 year old tin roof was so rusted that it appeared red. The building as actually a 100 year old barn, a cow barn with no floor and no foundation built out of old growth redwood smack in the middle of Railroad Square.
The barn was one of those things I could not get out of my head. It was spectacularly gorgeous. 1 x 10 redwood plank siding painted grey, a large three growing out of one corner, a large yard area on one side and a smaller yard on the other. It would be a spectacular winery building - iconic even.
And on the corner, owned by the same people, was the Treasure House. The Treasure House was a long narrow building - only 18' wide - in which the Treasure House antique store resided. It was perfect for a tasting room, for a small cafe.
Most people said I was crazy, but a few thought it was an interesting idea - actually only one. I figured it was at least worth figuring out what it would cost. I was already going to put a small fortune into a building, why shouldn't it be interesting? .
One of the biggest obstacles in getting a space in Railroad Square was the City of Santa Rosa. We wanted to be in Railroad Square because of the hotels, restaurants and tasting rooms that were already there. I wanted to be the first winery actually producing wine in Railroad Square.
But the zoning was in the way. I hired a woman who specializes in this kind of thing to help me out and I beat on my commercial real estate broker to figure something out. Between them I ended up in a meeting with a city planner. Turns out the city council had already recognized that they had locked wineries out of downtown and this guys job was to figure out how to fix it. It was going to take several months, but it was going to get done.
A good group of distributors around the country working to sell you wine is essential to any young winery. There are a few that have been able to avoid that path, and most of those are in Napa, but it's not clear if the kind of meteoric success that allowed those to rely solely on direct sales is possible in today's economy. Distributors provide the sales foundation a winery, allowing to depend on a certain amount of revenue and allowing it to grow as well.
I had gotten Grey Stack's first few distributors myself - Martin Scott in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, brokers in California, Avant Partir in Georgia, North Carolina, World Class Wines in Minnesota and South Tex in Texas.
Realizing I need help, I hired a local guy to be my national sales manager. He had a lot of experience in wine sales and distribution. We were going to open 3 states a year for the next 3 years. But after 2 years, all of the states he had added had either gone away or blown up in our faces. Beyond that, Martin Scott told us they couldn't give us the support we wanted and the people at South Tex got a divorce, crippling the company.
So, after 2 years, I was actually in worse shape than I had been when I started. I found a replacement for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, I changed our 2 brokers in California to a single distributor, but I knew I needed help. Then I remembered a guy I met while pouring wine at a Colorado distributors annual tasting. He was national sale manager for the brand next to me. She was happy, he seemed sophisticated.
So I called him, we met, he tasted the wines. He seemed perfect and we came to a verbal agreement, including his first year salary, as I headed off to North Carolina for a week. Then I got his contract. Wow, that put me back a few steps. I plugged the percentage into my forecast and saw what he was asking would cripple Grey Stack. So we negotiated, something I'm not very good at and arrived at a compromise that look survivable in the short term.
It was a big commitment. Two years, a lot of money, triple what I had ever paid anyone else. But I felt like I had no choice. The alternative was slow death.
One of the main reasons I started this blog was to document that process of getting into our own space from conception to putting the drains in to the first grapes arriving. My new camera just arrived and I'm planning on putting it to good use.
The idea of having my own winery has been banging around in the back of my head for as long as I've been making wine. I instinctively felt that it was critically important both from a quality control standpoint, but also from the sense of place it would provide. And it was the sense of place that was the most difficult thing to achieve. Bennett Valley, the most logical choice, but it was out because it would be very, very expensive and almost certainly involve a long fight with the neighbors which I have no stomach for.
The next options were Glen Ellen or Santa Rosa, and we looked at both. Both are bad compromises, but in the end, there were no options for production in the village of Glen Ellen. Turning towards Santa Rosa, we looked around the north west of town where a dozen other wineries had congregated like moons around Copain Custom Crush. But, the neighborhoods aren't very nice. Hardly the kind of spot you imagine when you go wine tasting.
So I moved my search to Railroad Square.When one building caught my eye in a great location, but was purchased to be a dance studio before I could get mobilized. Then the space next door opened up which was perfect in so many ways - right on the square, great tasting location and enough parking to just make things work. But they wouldn't sell, and I won't put $300,000 in a space I'm just renting. Next the historically very important Isac de Turk winery, in Railroad Square, but the owners there are uncooperative, Then a turn of the century flour mill that had also been a brewery and a winery, but the owners are completely unreasonable.
But all this was for not if we couldn't figure out a way around the City of Santa Rosa's ridiculous zoning in Railroad Square. It had all been changed in an effort to get state and federal funding to bring back passenger train service to Sonoma County. It was this combination residential/commercial/retail that is all the rage in a 'transit village'. Of course, that zoning didn't accommodate wineries and none of the buildings weren't suited to combination residential/ commercial. How do incorporate a residential component in a 60 year old warehouse?.
March 1st in many ways marked a new beginning for Grey Stack Cellars - although one I hope everyone but the readers of this blog will never notice. On March 1st I finally obtain 100% control of Grey Stack, the end of a long, protracted struggle that, I must admit, challenged my commitment to keeping Grey Stack going more than once.
And with full control, a year of uncertainty which prevented Grey Stack from moving forward as any small needs to move forward comes to an end and the long list of things to get done gets attacked.
First on the list was to get Grey Stack into its own winemaking facility with a tasting room. It is already too late to make it happen in 2012, but I am determined to be my own space by 2013. For me this THE next step for Grey Stack as a winery. We need the control over the winemaking process that only being in your own facility can provide and we need a tasting room so our customers have a place to visit and Grey Stack has a sense of place.
Second was to get our mess of a national sales program straightened out. That was going some help from a person that I hadn't found yet.
Third was to get Grey Stack on sound financial footing so that I could start paying Pat and myself a reasonable amount of money. I had the plan all laid out - it should work.....