Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path.
We are approaching four years of being open, and will celebrate with a party on June 20th. Its hard to write the highlights of four years, the time spent in pursuing an undergraduate degree, in a few short paragraphs but these are the highlights.
It has gone quickly from about 150 cases when we first opened on the third Saturday in June of 2011 under a 10x10 canopy out between the vineyard blocks. Jane and I sat out behind a small bar and waited to see who would stop in. One of our first customers was Steve Beck who was gracious and complementary and lead to our first commercial placement. We got over our nervousness, learned to give good customer service and to welcome feedback. The first time Dan Rocca stopped by, we knew we had "made it" and having our wines on the shelf at Rocca's Market has been a point of pride. Attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival as a wine tent participant was memorable.
With the spring of 2012, we had our tasting patio poured to match our driveway, and hosted our first WSCV mixer at our new bar. We were involved in the local wine walks and had our wines at Rosie's at the Beach. Our vineyard management program picked up with the Athena's Vineyard and Soli Deo Gloria vineyards. Traveling in Provence we decided to make a Rose for 2012, and crafted our Enchante from Rose we harvested from the Athena's vineyard. Noah and Joan made the first meads and we introduced them to our customers.
Over the next years, we cellared and vinted our vintages, learning from each one and expanding our volume and the varietals along the way as we expanded our vineyard portfolio. We decided to be open both first and third weekends, and have built a loyal following, leading to this spring being open every weekend.
We've met many good people, have developed staff and colleagues who have helped us and have continued to upgrae our facility with recent renovations to our patio cover and expanded bar. We look forward to the future.
Its been quite a ride so far, from just about 3 yrs ago deciding to start a winery, after making a few gallons of estate Chardonnay, to crushing 23 tons from 7 vineyards this season. As we have tried, erred and learned we have made better wines, better decisions and had improved results, though some lessons had to be learned twice.
Since this is the season when it is traditional to reflect upon your blessings, and to express thanks, in keeping with that, I'll give it a shot.
I am thankful first, continually and ultimately for my partner Jane. Her warmth and serenity coupled with dogged determination have been critical factors in our decision to initiate, and continue Lightheart Cellars. She embodies the brand, her approach to life and people is what we have tried to capture in our wine, simply put by our tag line: "good wine, good times".
After Jane, comes the family support, from Noah and Joan with the meadmaking and assistance during crush and tasting hours, to our granddaughter Casandra who has manned the corker and helped shovel tons of grapes while a petite "slip of a girl". Their help has been key to making our wines and presenting them.
Our east coast family has been supportive and as they have been able, physically helpful, our two younger sons Matt and Carl and Amy have all lent their help as they could.
We have had the benefit of good work from our field crew Alex and Derek, who are learning the value of reliable labor the hard way, most of the time cheerfully, and our pickers, Miguel, Antonio, Lasaro, Angel, Hugo, and the others who brought in the crop, sometimes in >100F weather and were smiling at the end of the 9 hr days.
Our competitors have been more collegial then competitive, offering help, tools and advice as needed and supporting us by referring people to our wines when they might be a better fit. We appreciate their support as that of our trade customers, Rocca's Market, Rosy's at the Beach, the Ladera and Westside Grills.
Most recently we have reason to appreciate our new representative Darlene, of ClassicArtisanWines, whom we are hoping will take our sales upwards on our path of growth.
Our many vendors who have patiently worked to educate and serve us deserve recognition as well, Nancy of Bryan Equipment, Mike of C & N Tractors and the glass, cork and label suppliers who have helped us get our product to you.
And finally our customers, who started with us in a 10x10ft tent, and have stayed as we have grown, supporting us with their purchases and positive appreciation for our wines. We wouldn't and won't make it without you, and we appreciate your choice to share your table with us.
Its been nearly a year since Lightheart Cellars opened quietly on June 18th, 2011 with 160 cases of inventory. We simply put out signs on Monterey Highway and waited for the crowds. The steady business since has been gratifying, some weekends more than others as weather and calendar progressed. Participating in the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Morgan Hill Wine Stroll and getting more requests for donations, we are feeling like we have arrived.
PHysically we have gone from tasting in a 10x12 canopy, to a 10x20 fabric enclosure over the winter and now have a 50x25' stamped concrete patio, where we are building a 16x20 hard shade structure over the bar this week to get ready for the anniversary and Pinot Release party. This year we've bottled 380 cases, added Alderin's Mead to our offerings and have expanded our vineyard management from 1 1/2 to 13 1/2 acres. Thats a lot of growth to manage and we've been working hard to keep up with it.
Jane and I took three weeks off in May to visit vineyards and wineries in Europe, partly as a long overdue vacation, and partly to see how the "old world" vineyards are run with the same varietals we have. It was very interesting, and we've some ideas of what we want to do in our practice. Coming home to the winery running smoothly by Jane's son Noah and his friend Joan was gratifying.
We are looking forward to releasing more wines this year, harvesting a lot more grapes, and to building our brand and business, further serving our community.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2). Perhaps Shakespeare's famous quote is true, and yet there's power and value in a name. Nothing is more intrinsically defining than a name, which is why parents invest a lot of energy in selecting names for children.
Our winery is the result of both planning and serendipity, and the choice of a name was a bit of both. We needed a name to file the business license and applications for county, state and federal alcohol permits, and as that would be on the label, it was important to have it right, to convey our values, aspirations, and dreams.
We wanted to imbue Lightheart Cellars with the attributes of abundance, joy, and spirit, and also to have a unique and memorable name that was mellifluous. We agreed on Light and Heart as aspects of those attributes, and concatenating them was obvious. Cellars is a classic expression of a winery, the place where grapes are converted to poetry.
Happenings: Our Journey
October 3, 2011
Good weekend for our first Passport, met lots of great people, hosted the debut of the band "Something Borrowed" and our friend Chef Eichelberger's private catering. Our Colombard went well with the sunny bright weather. We visited our Gilroy Cabernet and Petit Syrah and were relieved that the Brix was only 20, so we have a few weeks to go still. We hope to receive our Pinot from Carneros after the rains clear and our Chardonnay a few weeks afterwards.
September 27, 2011
We've started harvest already, with a half ton of Chardonnay from the mountain vineyard, and two tons of Colombard from Gilroy. A crew of five picked all weekend to bring it in, and Jane and Joan crushed and pressed it as soon as it got to the winery, with our new 180 L hydraulic bladder press. It's nice to be working at a bigger scale, as this press can handle a 1/4 ton of destemmed fruit in a single load.
We're getting setup for Passport, Oct 1&2 selected entertainment, arranged with Chef Eichelberger for food and setup a new canopy with side curtains to expand our tasting area for inclement weather over the winter.
August 23, 2011
Its been a very busy month, we've been open two weekends released another wine and had family in from the East Coast in between. Our Colombard has been selling well, it's crisp and light and pairs well with fruits and cheeses.
It was great to share our wine with Jane's kids and sisters, and see their enthusiasm. We placed our Cabernet at Rosy's at the Beach in Morgan Hill, and will have our Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and Pinot at Rocca's Market in San Martin, a local landmark since 1927. We are exploring placements at other fine local restaurants, if you have any suggestions, please let their management know or send us an email.
We took delivery of two new Stainless tanks, and signed a doubled Carneros contract to handle expansion of our Pinot and Chardonnay with Thomson vineyards.
Locally, we are getting ready to net the three vineyards, and waiting for our new bladder press to be delivered. The Colombard, mountain Chardonnay and Merlot look great and we're confirming our Cienega Valley Cab order.
We will be open Sat and Sun of Labor Day weekend.
August 4, 2011
We've had a great first full month, open two weekends in July and then pouring at the Gilroy Garlic Festival the last weekend.
Our wines are being well received, and we expect a busy weekend coming up as many of the people we met told us they were coming. We also bottled our 2010 Santa Clara Valley Colombard, and are letting it rest, with an expected release date this fall. Its crisp and floral and complements the Chardonnay's more subtle flavor. Our 2010 Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir are maturing nicely, and we hope to be bottling within a year. We arranged contracts to double our Chardonnay and Pinot production, bought new tanks for expanding our whites and have been managing two vineyards as well as the estate, giving us additional whites and a mountain Merlot.
This is the Los Altos Vineyard, where we have Santa Cruz Mountain AVA Chardonnay and Merlot
In between all of that activity we've been getting the winery ready for the fall "crush" with a new driveway/crushpad by local concrete artist Patrick Meyer. Patrick has given us a stunning design which features our logo cast in concrete and a large Sun motif that's on the welcome screen.
June 25, 2011
We're open on first and third weekends. Our soft opening June 18th-19th went well, we had over 60 people stop by to taste and were quite content with the first weekends's results. Biggest problem was that on Sunday the high winds blew over our signs, so we need to ballast them for the future. The Pinot, Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay were well received. We are cellaring our 2010 reds and the Colombard for future release, and looking towards crush season when we expect to process 12 tons, or twice last year's fruit.
June 11, 2011
Wow, almost a year has got behind us since the last update. We got busy with harvest, crush and cellaring then poof it's a week till opening. The wind turbine is up and generating a part of our power, four wines are bottled and ready to sell. We're going sailing today on Lioness, and then final preparations tomorrow; building tables and signboards to place in the neighborhood so people can find us next weekend.
August 27, 2010
It has been a bust few months gearing up for our Grand Opening in 2011.
May- 350 vines were planted to round out the estate vineyard. All of the forms were filled out, checks were written for both the wind turbine and our Federal winery license.
June- Winery license obtained, working towards our State permit and ABC license. Spent 10 days in Japan, lovely country.
July- A very cool summer- we found growers to work with and contracted for fruit this Fall. Started working with a designer for Lightheart Cellars' logo. Ordered parts for the wind turbine, and bought barrels in anticipation of fruit this Fall
August- Reapplied to the county zoning commission to be able to provide tasting. Finalizing the logo design, continued work on bases for the wind turbine. Started planning the tasting area. New vines are doing great! Getting line posts in place and stringing trellis wires.
April 4th, 2010
In contact with the TTB, we hope to have our permit interview soon. Racked our test lots, and were quite happy with the feedback we had at a meetup of the wineberserkers forum in Lompoc on our Chardonnay. The winery is even closer to done, being used to store the barrels, and a work surface and cabinets available. The estate vines are leafing out, and we are currently entertaining 2 cows from a neighbor who are turning the remainder of the plot's cover crop into fertilizer. We'll till on the 11 and then layout our for the balance of our vines. "Meritage" gets painted later this month, and Jane's on call for Grandmother duty in Virginia, so it will be a busy month.
February 17, 2010
The winery is almost done, floor is painted, walls and ceiling are up and all the wiring and lights in place. Federal paperwork is in progress, we have the CA ABC stuff ready to go and we are getting ready to bottle our 2009 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay test lots. We attended the Unified Symposium and got some good ideas for marketing and admired the shiny equipment thats a few years down the road.
We are arranging our vineyard to plant out the remaining space as the wind Turbine gets approved and we are done with excavation. Met with the Sustainable fertilizer/soil amendment folks and have a sample off to the lab soon to get an update on our trace elements.
on a related note:
Jane bought a Merit 25 Sailboat which we are naming Meritage, so we will probably have to make one and put the boat on the label, It will be painted a nice burgundy color and be raced out of Oakland Yacht Club on the Alameda Estuary.
December 21 2009
Been a long slow month, putting together the paperworkt, while distracted by other things. We've been completing the winery space, have a half ceiling up. Our yeast trial lots are aging nicely, and we are setting up the accounting systems for taxes.
November 18 2009
Jane is negotiating the winery bond, and Sheldon just received approval from Santa Clara County Planning Dept for site usage. We will still have to go and re-apply for tasting room usage permit when we are ready, having fulfilled all the fire and environmental requirements to have the public on site in 2011. In the mean time we are working to get our Federal and state licenses in time for 2010 harvest.
We are doing yeast trials on the estate Cabernet, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, as well as a Pinot Noir from Summit Rd Los Gatos, and have local San Martin Merlot and ZInfandel lots aging in a mix of French and American oak. Selecting the varietals for the remaining vines has been done, and we expect to plant in February after the winter rains have softened our hard clay soil.
The winery production space is partially built and we are discussing final layouts for crush, cellaring and bottling to hold our inventory. Designing the outdoor tasting area will be our over the winter activity as we debate the features and style that are most appropriate, along with the logo and colors we will use on our labels.
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