In the spring of 2000 I was working as a winery grunt intern on the other side of the World, Margaret River in Western Australia to be exact...hand loading clusters of Estate grown Chardonnay, into an old Champagne press. I'd been working over 90 hours a week for as long as I could remember, eaten more Vegemite sandwiches than I could count, I was a bruised, bee-stung, sticky, & exhausted mess... Read more
In the spring of 2000 I was working as a winery grunt intern on the other side of the World, Margaret River in Western Australia to be exact...hand loading clusters of Estate grown Chardonnay, into an old Champagne press. I'd been working over 90 hours a week for as long as I could remember, eaten more Vegemite sandwiches than I could count, I was a bruised, bee-stung, sticky, & exhausted mess... I had an ear to ear grin through it all. After the last grapes were pressed, the crew was headed out on the town for a well deserved pint! "Oi!... there's a phone call for the Yank!" The tasting room staff shouted out. An old friend had tracked me down with a job offer. There was an opportunity to open a Wine Bar back in Carmel, California, with a side gig teaching wine appreciation classes, was I interested? After vintage I returned to the States and took up the offer. "Cepage" Wine Bar opened late in the Summer of 2000. "If you build it they will come..." Enter: Tobe Weatherly, a recent transplant to the area, after a decade of studying geology in Boise Idaho (and sneaking in 100+ days a year of skiing). Tobe became a regular at "Cepage", it was soon discovered that we shared a similar palate, and passion for itinerary-free travel. Just a few months after coming to the Monterey Peninsula she started talking about an extended trip. She knew I had worked overseas in wineries & came by regularly to ask questions. I thought this was a great idea for her, I gave it the hard sell...it worked so well I convinced myself too! We started planning our own separate trips to work vintage. I had sent out resumes' to New Zealand and had talked to Tobe about places she might want to visit, and how to get on as an intern at a winery. As we became better friends we talked about maybe meeting up somewhere in Australia, New Zealand, you know... if it happened to work out that way. My resume got passed around in New Zealand until it reached Gordon Russell @ Esk Valley Estate winery in Hawkes Bay. I was offered a position for the 2002 vintage, which I gladly accepted. I mentioned I had a friend looking for an intern position, and he said "sure thing, we can always use another set of hands!" So two separate trips became one. We shared a flat at the winery with the other crew members, and worked side by side for months under difficult conditions, often wet, cold, tired and hungry. We loved every minute of it, the barrel work, the crush work, monitoring the vineyards, all of it. And most importantly that we were doing the work with each other. Some would call it serendipity. Tobe and I were married on a sunny afternoon May 1st, 2002, surrounded by vines turning to brilliant fall colors, barefoot in the 'Terraces Vineyard' overlooking the winery at Hawkes Bay. The next 6 months were spent traveling and studying the wine producing regions through nearly a dozen countries. We returned to the States to start our own fledgling wine label, never mind that we didn't have a winery, or equipment, or grapes, or funding for any of it! The Universe seemed to conspire to help us along the way, we were able to lease an empty winery, & borrow an old basket press. We each worked two full time jobs, auctioned off the wine cellar, sold our cars, & pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down to fund the first vintage, which produced 420 cases from 2003. In 2004 we ramped up production to just over 700 cases, and in 2005 we broke into the 1,000 case mark. We'll be staying a small two person operation, to be able to know what's going on in every row of every vineyard we use, to sort each cluster by hand, to focus on the subtle nuance of every individual barrel. For us, winemaking is not about aggressive manipulation or beverage manufacturing. Winemaking is about building the aromas & flavors in the vineyards, then ushering them from grape to glass. In other words..."Get the best fruit possible, listen very carefully to what it has to say & don't screw it up!" And most importantly, to never forget, that we are Alive...Awake...Free...most likely delusional. Read less
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