Zepaltas Wines

About Zepaltas Wines

Ryan Zepaltas Winemaker

I’m not quite sure how or why this is happening. How did I end up deciding that I need to make some wine of my own? I guess maybe there were epiphanies along the way, but I can’t pinpoint any certain moment in time. I guess it maybe is a passion that snowballed over time, and I just decided one day to make wines that I thought could be possibly done in the style I envisioned.

I grew up in Wisconsin drinking beer, and can’t recall wine ever being part of my family culture. Western Wisconsin is populated by people mostly of Eastern European, German and Scandinavian descent. All the adults in my life would be sipping brandy Manhattans, Old Fashioneds or drinking the local brews. The first time I ever noticed wine was when dining with our next-door neighbors “up north” at the cabin. The retired teacher, Mr. Sutherland would keep a jug of Carlo Rossi Burgundy on the floor at the head of the table where he sat. I just remember him reaching down and filling his and my parents’ tumblers through out dinner while eating some walleyes from the lake, or some steaks off the grill. It was a very meat and potatoes kind of cuisine, and never did I ever believe that I would grow up to be yapping about my favorite Burgundy producers over dinner with duck confit.

Fast forward to Russian River Valley summer 1998. I had just moved to Sebastopol to live with my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Paul. I had just finished college studying Sales and Marketing, but was more interested in feeding my skateboarding addiction. At the time there was no better place than the San Francisco Bay area to do that. I figured I give it a couple years, and try to maybe “make-it” in skateboarding. Of course, I was broke within a couple weeks and realized that maybe I should, you know….get a job? I had made few friends with some wine industry folks, one guy in particular, Mike Mendenhall, the then cellar master at La Crema. He was a charming man (Hi Mike-just messing with you as usual.) who basically said “you need a job, come work for me. You know, I am a real jerk to work for by the way.” Great! Where do I sign up? So I said, “fine, working in a winery sounds fun, you make some booze, get drunk all day. Sounds cool.”

Well it wasn’t exactly like that, but gradually I found the winemaking process and the work more interesting. I stayed on for a couple harvests and soon found out about harvest jobs in other countries. “You me I can go all the way to New Zealand to do pumpovers and clean presses! Hell yeah-sign me up for that.” Secretly, it was just a way to travel without saving up much money. I figured I’d go a month early to do some skateboarding and partying and then buckle down for harvest. Something happened during that harvest that caused a change in my mindset. I realized that I kind of liked this whole winemaking thing. I learned a lot that harvest at Villa Maria working under Michelle Richardson and her staff. They gave me a lot of responsibility, and it was very rewarding work. I then decided that I would actually start taking this winemaking thing seriously. I decided that, when I came back to the states, I would try and get a job at small winery. I figured that they most likely would be focused on quality wines, and that that would give me a chance to learn all aspects of the winemaking. I spent that summer in Sonoma County doing whatever cellar work was available. I had been signed up with a temp agency that was finding me winery work, and one day they told me about a harvest opportunity at a winery called Siduri. Never heard of it (at that time I was not a full-fledged wine geek. I didn’t really follow producers or read the magazines.) They asked me to show up for an interview. I went and met with Adam and Dianna Lee. They told me that they were making Pinot Noir, and were starting to make Syrah under the label Novy Family Wines. It seemed like a good match, and the interview went well. After a couple days in suspense, they called me to tell me I got the job.

I have been at Siduri since that day. We have made a ton of great wines, and it has been a blast the whole time(and it still is today.) So all of a sudden I got this little project going on the side…can’t explain it really.

Winemaker -Ryan Zepaltas!


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