Tuesday, February 12, 2008

San Diego Union Tribune Article

Winemaker finds profitable sideline selling grapes to hobbyists

CARLSBAD – Having a winery is a great way to make a small fortune out of a large one, according to a well-known industry adage.

For Carlsbad winemaker Christopher Van Alyea, the money and the wine come from one source: the grape.

The budding winemaker, whose creations are gaining a foothold in North County, supplemented his income last fall by selling surplus grapes from the family's Sonoma County vineyards to wine hobbyists.

With the grapes priced from $1,800 to $2,400 per ton (depending on the variety) 20 area winemakers bought Van Alyea's entire stock of more than 9 tons of grapes. At least one Oceanside wine hobbyist said he is hoping to buy more this season.

Christopher Cameron Vineyard wines

Winemaker: Christopher Van Alyea

Locale: Made in Carlsbad since 2006

Varietals: Merlot, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, petite sirah, chardonnay

Available: Sold at several restaurants and retail outlets in North County

Information: (760) 579-2800; ccvwines.com

“The response was phenomenal,” Van Alyea said. “It could be a better business than winemaking. ... But if I really wanted to make money, I wouldn't be making wine. I'd be into making widgets.”

Van Alyea said he got the idea to sell the grapes in Southern California when he got word from his father, Peter, that 6 tons of cabernet sauvignon grapes and a half-ton of merlot grapes remained out of a total harvest of about 200 tons. Although Van Alyea's father typically sells all of his grapes to Sonoma County winemakers, such as Clos du Bois, a glut had hit the market.

Van Alyea added 3 tons of zinfandel grapes from Sonoma he had bought for his own winemaking, and he put the word out to home winemakers through the San Diego Amateur Winemaking Society and the Orange County Wine Society.

“I got 15 responses in two days,” Van Alyea said. “My phone was literally ringing off the hook. They would say, 'Grapes from Sonoma? I'm in.' A lot of these people have jobs and don't have time to make a run to Sonoma in their little trucks.”

Bob Johnson has been making wines at his Oceanside home since 2005, buying his grapes from Temecula vineyards. When he heard of Van Alyea's offer, he said he bought a half-ton, enough to produce 80 cases of wine, even though the Sonoma grapes were about 25 percent more expensive.

“I felt like it was great deal because of the renowned quality of the fruit,” Johnson said. “I figured it would be fun to give it a try and step up with the big boys up north.”

The grape sale was so successful that Van Alyea wants to expand his operation for next fall's harvest.

His father is planning to dedicate a portion of the harvest to San Diego County sales, and Van Alyea said he is meeting with a vineyard manager from Sonoma County next month to explore the possibility of selling that vine yard's grapes as well.

Meanwhile Van Alyea's wines are becoming increasingly popular in North County. Carrying the Christopher Cameron Vineyard label, the merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah are available at select restaurants and retail outlets, Van Alyea said.

North County Wines, a retail store in San Marcos, has been selling about five cases of Christopher Cameron Vineyard wines every two weeks during the past few months, store owner James Allyn said. He said people ask for the wine by name, having tried it at restaurants, such as Market Street Cafe or Friars Folly Bistro in San Marcos' Old California Restaurant Row.

“I just got an e-mail from North Carolina asking about Christopher Cameron Vineyard wines,” Allyn said. “His name is getting around. I tell people that his is the best $30 bottle of wine you can get for $21. It has the care and taste of a more expensive wine.”

Allyn added that he plans to introduce a house wine produced by Van Alyea this summer.

Van Alyea, 35, a Bay Area native, began experimenting with wines a few years after his father bought a 45-acre estate in the Dry Creek area of Sonoma County in 1994. Van Alyea produced his first 40 cases of chardonnay in 1998.

“It looked brownish in the barrel, but when I pulled it out and poured it, the wine was clear,” Van Alyea said. “It turned out really good. That's when it hit me.”

He made his first commercial batch – a merlot – for his father's vineyards in 2002, and he's been creating wines ever since.

Van Alyea, who moved to Encinitas about five years ago, has been operating out of the Witch Creek Winery in downtown Carlsbad since 2006. An avid surfer, Van Alyea said he became aware of the North County coastal area during surfing trips to Baja California.

“I saw people in shorts riding waves when it was 48 degrees back home,” Van Alyea said. “I fell in love with it.”

Van Alyea leases space and equipment from Witch Creek. He said he has hit capacity with his 70 barrels of wine.

He is scouting for a larger location but said he is committed to staying in the area.

“In San Diego, there just isn't the number of winemakers as there is in the Central Coast,” Van Alyea said. “If I can offer advice or cabernet grapes, I'll do it.

“There's a community feel here, a general sharing. You don't see that in Sonoma County. There, everyone has this secret they have to keep. In San Diego, it's a we-all-got-to-stick-together attitude. I've seen it with winemakers and vineyards.”

Article is from the San Diego Union Tribune and can be seen at: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/northcounty/20080131-9999-lz1mc31wine.html

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Gold Medals

Christopher Cameron Vineyards

"Lambert Bridge Vineyard"
Dry Creek Valley,

Gold Medal
Orange County Fair Wine Competiton
Gold Medal San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Christopher Cameron Vineyards
Cabernet Sauvignon

"Lambert Bridge Vineyard"
Dry Creek Valley
, 2003

Silver Medal Orange County Fair Wine Competition
Bronze Medal
San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

This past year we entered these 2 wines in these two competitions and were elated with these accolades. It is in our opinion that these are the 2 most prestigious competitions because of the amount of wines that are entered, double blind tasting format, and the credentials of the judges.


Friday, February 1, 2008

2007 Crush Report

Another Vintage has come and gone, whewwww! 60+ hour weeks of gruelling work has come to an end as the last wines were put in barrel.

This vintage; I crushed 5 tons of Merlot, 5 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 tons of Petite Sirah, and 3 tons of Zinfandel. All of the grapes were just destemmed with very minimal crushing as I was looking for more fruit forward wines. This type of fermentation is called Carbonic Maceration (it sounds real technical, but isn't!) All of the grapes were from my family's "Lambert Bridge Vineyard" except for the Zinfandel which came from Alexander Valley.

I would have to say that so far I am most impressed with the Petite Sirah. Two Rhone yeasts were used on this wine and the lots were blended together and put in French and American Oak barrels. This wine has the classic deep ruby color and is already well balanced with tannins and acidity. Tons of ripe blackberry fruit, and earth. This wine has an alcohol of 15.4%, PH 3.7, and a TA .62.

This Merlot should be a good one as it has concentrated flavors and bright natural acidity. It is tasting youthful at the moment, but as with the Merlot last year it should improve with 15-20 months in the barrel. I used two different yeasts this year, including my favorite which is called BM45. One of its main attributes is polysacharides which is mouthfeel in layman's terms. Who doesn't like a red wine with mouthfeel?

The Alexander Valley Zinfandel- Ohhhh where do I begin...... This wine is actually still fermenting as I type this and it is February. I think it is going to be called the "112 Day" Zin although at this rate it could be the 200+ The finishing alcohol on this wine could pack more punch than a long island ice tea but even at this stage (near dryness) I am not getting a ton of alcohol on it. I plan on blending a little Petite Sirah with it but will do this in roughly a year.

The Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be even more fruit driven than last year which is an anomaly for a cab and I am not complaining. I used the same yeasts as last year and also am happy with the results. I think it will be a good vintage but would be surprised if it is better than the 2006.