By Kara Busselen
You think your baby is cute. Okay, cuter than cute– maybe the cutest baby in the world. You realize you might be biased, but you’ve looked at other babies, and yep, yours is pretty damn cute. Then let’s say someone comes along who knows all about babies and has seen many over the years. And this person stops and looks, and then confirms what you’ve always suspected: your baby is actually one of the cutest babies in the world.
This is how we felt when two people who really know wine said to us that our vineyard is producing cabernet that could be– and I’m quoting directly here– “world class.”
It was a cold, clear day a few weeks ago. Here are the players:
Tyler: Vineyard Manager Extraordinaire. He planted (and in some cases replanted) all 28,000+ vines on our farm and has nurtured them from their infancy. He knows this vineyard better than anyone. He manages many vineyards for others in Sonoma County and knows his way around wine.
Rob: Winemaker & Triathlon Addict. He made wine for a very well-known Sonoma County winery for 40 years, and has recently retired. He has tasted more wine than I can even imagine. He is well-versed in French wine, Napa wine, Sonoma wine, Italian wine… the man knows what tastes good and what doesn’t. He is helping us for free, which means he doesn’t have to be nice to us. At all.
Michael: Owner and Chief Lightbulb Officer at Woodhawk Vineyards. He recently retired from his high-stress Silicon Valley job and has put ALL of his energy into making the property fantastic. In addition to being an all-around handy guy, he drives meetings with our vineyard team to make sure we’re all on the same page, he pressure washes the patio, he oversees the pool remodel… and he changes a lot of lightbulbs.
Kara: Owner and Chief Hospitality Officer at Woodhawk Vineyards. I’m learning how to really taste wine and how to pick out flavors and tell what kind of oak the wine has seen. But really, I was just there that day to a) see if these guys thought wine made from our grapes would be good quality, and b) because it was sanctioned day drinking.
This was our first professional tasting at Woodhawk. Having completed the UC Davis and Masterclass on tastings, Michael spent the hour prior arranging a white table cloth (so you can accurately see the color of the wine), getting the lighting right, arranging glasses, spit cups, chlorine-free water, and neutral palate cleansing snacks (a fancy way to say crackers). And a nice fire in the fireplace.
We were fortunate that Silver Oak had bottled samples of wine made from our vineyard each year since 2011. These samples are of wine that has been fermented in stainless steel but not put in any barrel, so you can really taste what’s going on with the grapes. Since we only have one bottle for each year, we pulled out the Coravin, Michael’s fancy wine tool with which you can pull out a taste of a wine without actually opening the bottle, and got to work.
2011-2013 were solid. 2014 saw a drop in quality, and Tyler told us that was the year the vineyard got Red Blotch and they had to tear out all the vines and start over. The vineyard was replanted in 2015, and from there, the quality of the wine we were tasting was improving year after year. Tyler and Rob were very professional with their sipping and spitting, taking notes, and talking about soil drainage and sediment layers. Michael and I sipped quietly (confession: we didn’t spit much) and occasionally asked a question or offered input. But Rob the Winemaker was running the show, and he had lots of insight into each vintage and how it differed from its predecessors.
When we finally poured a taste of the 2021 vintage into our glasses, Michael and I held our breath. This was the first vintage under our ownership, and we really wanted Rob to tell us it was good, and that we would be on track to start making our own estate wine. If it wasn’t high quality, Rob is the kind of guy who would tell you your baby is ugly.
Rob and Tyler took their first sips of the 2021. The room was quiet as they looked at each other.
“This,” Rob said, “is amazing! I always knew your vineyard must be producing great grapes just because of the orientation and the hillside drainage. But this is actually more incredible than I thought.”
“This rivals First Growth Bordeauxs. You could make a world-class wine from your grapes.”
He went on to explain that we would barely need any oak to influence the flavor, that it was almost perfect on its own, and that he was excited to get to work with us and handle these grapes. Tyler concurred, and humbly accepted the praise from this master winemaker complimenting the vineyard he had cared for all these years.
When they left for the evening, Michael and I looked at each and literally started high fiving and fist bumping. Our vineyard! World-class!
Granted, Michael and I are only the most recent additions to this party. We didn’t find the land, determine if it was fit for grapevines, or plant the vines. That work all happened long before we became the owners. That we found a property for sale that was producing high-quality cabernet, that we crazily decided to buy it, that it turned out to be more amazing than we ever dreamed– that was pure luck. We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the long history of the property and all the hard work of those who came before us to make this vineyard what it is today.
We have switched into high gear (and truly, for those of you who know Michael, it was not a big leap) and are currently procuring stainless steel tanks, barrels, pumps, hoses, bins, and the thousands of other things we’ll need to turn these beauties into Woodhawk Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
But wine is a slow process– we’ll all have to wait until at least 2025 to have our first taste, but if this meeting is any indication, it’s going to be absolutely fantastic.