How finding your element can change everything.
"It is easy to fall into natural, everyday patterns, and everybody tends to do so. But whenever anybody asks me how it really started, I recall our great journey that has brought us to where we are today. And every time I am asked, I am filled with pride and fulfillment—the fact that we actually dared to throw ourselves into something completely new and thrilling is fantastic," says Katarina Bonde, co-founder at the West Wines winery.
West Wines is nestled in the beautiful Dry Creek Valley in the heart of the Sonoma County wine area. Dry Creek is well known for having ideal grape growing conditions. Since 1996, Swedes Katarina Bonde and her husband Bengt Ĺkerlind have been running the winery together with their crew, a team of experienced wine people.
West Wines is a small producer and embraces the privilege of creating fine wines. "Since we have chosen to focus on quality instead of quantity we are very satisfied with our current clientele." When talking about these vintners, two specific facts seem to draw extra attention: Why did two Swedes end up in Sonoma as winemakers? And why has such a small winery reached such widespread notice?
Katarina and Bengt left Sweden in 1992 to work in the technology sector in Seattle. They brought with them their children, a newborn daughter and their 4-year-old son. In 1996, Katarina received an invitation from a former colleague to visit their vineyard in Healdsburg, Sonoma. The minute they arrived, Katarina and Bengt fell in love with the beautiful nature and the authenticity of the countryside. "Immediately we started looking for our own estate and quite soon we found a great vineyard and decided to buy it. We had absolutely no idea at all of what we were throwing ourselves into, but at least, and most importantly, we were agreed."
At that time both Katarina and Bengt were interested in wine, but only as consumers drinking wine. "Sometimes in life opportunities to finding yourself in your true element come to you when you least expect it. Moving to Seattle for work in what we then were convinced was 'our field,’ opened another yet unexplored door to our true passions for both of us."
Starting from scratch
When Katarina and Bengt bought the vineyard, they started building their businesses from scratch in collaboration with the skilled vineyard manager, Duff Bevill. He taught them about wines and all their various dimensions. After a while they extended their lands and finished producing their first bottled wines in 1999.
Bevill is still the vineyard manager at West Wines and is both a great mentor and a source of inspiration within the company. The other biggest influence is the very experienced consulting winemaker Phyllis Zouzounis who works with Katarina on the many aspects of creating great wines. Phyllis has spent three decades as a winemaker at top wineries in Sonoma.
It took many years of learning, practicing and patience before Katarina and Bengt finally reached the place where they are standing today, successful in the market.
"We also export our wines to foreign suppliers and restaurants, for example to our dear native Sweden. The interest for wine is huge in Sweden—that is something I know for sure," says Katarina. They also felt exceptionally honored when the Swedish Nobel Committee chose to serve West Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve at the Nobel Awards banquet, in December 2010.
Katarina is very confident in and proud of her profession; there is no doubt that she is an expert about her wines, describing them and their remarkable development processes. When producing wine one does it either for immediate consumption or for it to mature before it is to be served. The majority of vineyards produce table wines ready to serve, a less expensive option. Of course it costs more to produce mature wines with a slower production process. West Wines has chosen to manufacture their wine according to the second, more costly methods for it to ripen longer. The wine they harvest today has to mature in the winery's French oak barrels for two years, and then it is bottled for resting for a further five years. This means that today's harvest will not be ready for serving before 2020 at the earliest.
By using French grapes for their cabernet sauvignon, West Wines produces Bordeaux wines. A well-made and well-stored Bordeaux wine will gradually develop new flavors, colors and fragrances as it matures. This development is only possible if the wine is robust enough to be stored longer. The flavor evolves from being fruity when young through phases of more earthiness, cedar tones, olive, smokiness and figs and will culminate into more warm tones of burnt caramel.
Younger wines contain loads of tannins, a preservative that occurs naturally in all wines. Wine with more of these substances, such as our Bordeaux, can therefore be stored longer, achieving new flavors and fragrances. A young Bordeaux wine is packed with tannins and has a rough and dry taste but will soften over time and then become tasteful and delicious. It is crucial to know when the wine has reached its top, the optimal point before turning into phases where it loses elasticity and becomes less flavorful. One of Katarina and Bengt's main missions is to find that very peak before it culminates. This is the moment when you ought to drink the wine, because that is when it is at its very best.
Katarina concludes by saying that they are not yet finished with their incredible journey. "Our first wines were produced in 1999 and they are absolutely amazing now; it is actually just getting better and better."
To find out more information about West Wines and directions to visit the winery, visit www.westwines.com.
West Wines' upcoming events:
Annual Winter WINEland
Jan 18-19, 2014
West Wines will focus on their red wines and provide a 20 percent discount. In collaboration with other wineries on the Wine Road in Sonoma.
Barrel Tasting Weekends
February 28-March 2 and March 7-9, 2014
You will get to sample wine that has not yet been bottled, straight from French oak barrels. In collaboration with other wineries on the Wine Road in Sonoma.
Exclusive wine tasting
March 7-8, 2014
West Wines has an exclusive tasting of early release Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (1999, 2000, 2002 and some current releases for comparison) with a 3-course dinner following for Wine Club members. Nordstjernan readers are also welcome——mention this article when contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an intimate dinner seating so few tickets will be available. www.westwines.com / phone: 707-583-3331
SACC San Francisco