POET, publisher, lawyer, engineer, psychologist.
Whatever their profession, they all heard a common call to own a vineyard--whether totally or in part--and to taste the wines which they played a role in making.
The publisher, lawyer and engineer are all limited partners in separate Napa Valley wineries. The poet and the psychologist own their own wineries, small ones to be sure, in Virginia and Maryland, respectively.
All five are enthusiastic about their investments, although all realize that they could get far better returns on their money in a number of other ways. The two who run their own wineries also speak of long hours and backbreaking labor.
Why do they do it?
Austin Kiplinger, publisher of the Washington newsletter that bears his name, always wanted to plant a vineyard at his farm in Seneca, Md. He still does.
In the meantime, he has become a limited partner in a new winery in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley. Chateau Bouchaine, as the joint venture is called, will not be releasing its first wines until 1984.
"I had been thinking for 20 years about putting in a small vineyard of my own, as several of my neighbors in the area have," Kiplinger says. "I was going to take this one slope of my farm and plant it in grapes, but my biggest problem is time. You don't have to slave over grapes, but you do have to work them at the right time. If they need to be sprayed, you can't wait until the next day."
Three years ago, the son of a college classmate was looking for investors interested in buying an old winery and vineyard owned by Beringer and situated at the foot of Napa Valley. The winery See WINE, D8, Col. 1 These Are -The Men --Who Make The Wine -WINE, From D1 would custom crush and process grapes for other winemakers while waiting to get its own production on stream.
"It was the perfect blend for me," Kiplinger says, "to have fun vicariously and do it well. It's been a pleasure so far. Napa growers had exceeded the capacity available for crushing, fermenting and aging. Fortunately, we had all three."
So in 1980, Kiplinger and a handful of others--including the owners of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and a member of the DuPont family of Delaware--became limited partners in Chateau Bouchaine. One of the first major coups of the fledging winery was to sign up such diverse crushing accounts as William Hill, Quail Ridge and Sebastiani. The second was to sign winemaker Jerry Luper from Chateau Montelena as a partner.
"I've visited the winery twice," Kiplinger says. "It's a very progressive operation. We have 30 acres in chardonnay--some from Domaine Chandon--and we're planting pinot noir. We see a need for an increase in high-quality California pinot noir."
Kiplinger says he doesn't plan to get any further involved with California winemaking: "My editing and publishing is a full-time job--but I still intend to plant that slope on my farm some day."
Lawyer John Wintrol was just another serious wine drinker until he was asked to represent a major wine and liquor distributing company in litigation in California.
"We hired as a consultant Dan Duckhorn, and I got to know him well," the Bethesda attorney says. "Dan had been involved for some time in vineyard operation, so when he started to put together a small group of investors for his own winery, we decided to throw in our lot as one of the 10 owners."
The other part of the "we" is his wife, Janet, who works for the Montgomery County Schools.
"If I had put the same money in treasury bills a few years ago, I would have had a good return on my investment," Wintrol says with a laugh, recognizing that many people who go into the wine business do not expect to make money at it for several years, if ever. "It's been a minor financial advantage for income tax--a small loss."
The benefit the couple does receive is "the opportunity to be involved in an industry that my wife and I find is of great interest. We love wines, and we love the Napa Valley. It's given us a sense of excitement and adventure."
"And my business gets me out there two or three times a year," he says. During these visits, he has been involved in blending, label design and the financial end of the 12,000-case winery located on the east side of the valley near St. Helena.
And, like a playwright on opening night, Wintrol had to sweat out the reviews of the winery's first effort--the 1978 Duckhorn "Three Palms Vineyard" Napa Valley Merlot, which was released in mid-1980. "I tasted the wine in March of '79, and even then I thought it was going to be an incredible wine in a great year. Still, I was surprised it hit as big as it did and as quickly as it did."
The overwhelmingly favorable reception by writers and consumers has meant that Duckhorn wines quickly sell out after release.
Still, there must be plenty of wine for the owners.
Another Wintrol laugh. "In a word, being an owner gets us nothing except the option to purchase three cases a year at wholesale price. And we have to pay tax on that."
But Wintrol happily buys his three cases annually, and he plans to invest more money in Duckhorn when the next offering is made. The T bills will have to wait.
Dr. Hamilton Mowbray did not get into the winery business casually. Nor has success come quickly. Today, Mowbray's name is well known in Washington wine circles for his exquisite whites and an occasional red made of Maryland grapes and labeled after his ancestral family name--Montbray.
This fame was some years off when he opened his Silver Run winery in 1966. At that time he was a clinical psychologist in Baltimore and a successful amateur winemaker.
"The winery started as a part-time venture," Mowbray says between puffs on an ever-present cigarette, "and, in my case, starting a winery was mainly an investment of time.
"Some people would have put a lot of capital out front for a modest-sized winery. I put out the money gradually over a period of time, because I didn't have the money out front," he says.
Borrowing when necessary, Mowbray planted the acres around his rural winery and bought equipment as he could afford it.
Though he had expected that a winery would be a drain both on his financial resources and his energy, Mowbray did not anticipate the public's initial apathy to his wines.
"I was naive enough to assume that if I made a good wine at a reasonable price, people would come knocking at my door," he says. "They didn't. It's very competitive, and I had to spend a lot more time in marketing than I had ever expected."
Today Montbray wines are critically accepted, and his elegant seyve villards and rieslings are on the wine lists of major area restaurants and on racks of better wine stores. Still, his financial return has been lean, and Mowbray is now thinking about going public by setting up a limited partnership in order to raise the capital necessary to expand the winery beyond its present 2,000-case capacity.
But after 16 years of living on the margin, Mowbray is far from bitter or even seriously disillusioned.
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," he says. "It's been a pleasure to have been involved in a pioneering venture and having my wines accepted. It doesn't build a winery, but it certainly builds the ego."
Mike Komes, who is with a multinational engineering firm in Gaithersburg, and his wife, Rose, grew up in San Francisco, just south of California's major wine-growing area. Thus they were not strangers to wine when the Komes family decided to start Flora Springs.
"I'm from an Italian background," Rose explains, "and my grandfather made wine, although it was a little on the vinegary side."
A search for Napa Valley retirement property became a search for a vineyard. The Komes, along with his brother, John, and sister, Julie Komes Garvey, combined to make the venture a family winery.
"At first, John just wanted to crush for family consumption," Rose Komes says, "but with the three children and their families and my mother- and father-in-law, we decided to start a little family boutique winery. Now, we all own a piece."
With the decision to switch from a vineyard operation to a winery made, Flora Springs was bonded in 1979. Initially, John, who is in the construction business in Oakland, served as winemaker while Julie worked in the cellars. Then Ken Deis was hired to finish the 1979 chardonnay, which was already aging in oak. As it turned out, the combination of amateur and professional winemaking talent won a gold medal at the Los Angeles County Fair.
"Julie and John are a lot closer to the business than we are," Rose says. "At first Mike and I helped in the crush, but the winery got large enough that we needed more hands. We miss the activity in September."
Although the output is still relatively small--10,000 cases--the acreage is large: more than 300 acres of the old Louis Martini property near St. Helena on West Zinfandel Lane and another 110 near Oakville. Not all is planted in vines, and most of the grapes are sold to other winemakers.
Financially, says Komes, Flora Springs "should be in the black soon." The winery currently makes three varietals--chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon--which, like Duckhorn, is sold in limited quantities in the Washington area.
In a few short years, Flora Springs has become the Komes "family business," and Rose hopes that her children--Michelle, Jeannine, Lisa and Nadine--will "pick it up when they get older."
After all, it's the way the Mondavis, Martinis and Sebastianis got their start.
Farmville, Va. is a long way from Napa Valley, and it is not on any wine maps of places to tour.
But Tom O'Grady is a poet, and poets have their visions.
When the Baltimore native is not teaching rhyme and reason at Hampden-Sydney College, or translating Czechoslovakian, or writing elegies about Farmville, O'Grady's mind, heart and body are in the vineyard.
His vineyard is called Rose Bower, and from it he makes about 1,000 cases of wine for local sale.
"I've been interested in wine for at least 15 years," he says, "and when I was living in Baltimore I was across the street from a little wine shop. Every three or four days I would try a new wine. Then I traveled and taught in Europe and visited the vineyards there."
He started his own vineyard in 1974, partly as a way to make some extra money--which it has not--on his just-purchased Farmville farm. But mostly, insists O'Grady, "the appeal was simply the beauty of the vineyard, a piece of sculpture across the land."
As O'Grady's "sculpture" has grown over the years, he and his wife, Bronwyn (who also works at the college), have learned to live on one salary while the other is spent on the vineyard. Any money realized has been plowed back into the Rose Bower.
Progress has moved along in clockwork order: 1,000 hybrid vines in '74, vinifera planted in '76, a cellar dug for the growing winery in '77, the first wine--a chancellor noir--in '78, which O'Grady thinks might have been his best to date.
The Virginia weather, however, has not been kind. The classic vinifera (of which 40 percent of his land is planted) has been particularly susceptible to frost. This has meant more labor, as trees had to be cleared for better air circulation, and more capital, as a sprinkler system was installed.
Still, there are results in the form of a "claret blend" called Hampden Forest, a nouveau foch, a johannisberg riesling and a chardonnay. Next year, O'Grady hopes to have Rose Bower wines in a handful of stores in Washington and Northern Virginia.
By then, he will have begun to "back out of teaching," although he wants to continue to edit the Hampden-Sydney poetry review, do his translations and write poetry. O'Grady figures that he has already spent a quarter of a million dollars on Rose Bower, not to mention 60-hour work weeks. By the time it is 15 years old, O'Grady thinks Rose Bower will make a profit.