Excerpt from the NY TIMES:
The Art of Winemaking on the Cheap
Young producers with little money and no vineyards face obstacles in building their businesses, but with maximum effort it can be done.
How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Start out with a big one.
Yes, it’s an old joke, but that does not diminish its essential truth. To live the mythical good life as a wine producer is excruciatingly difficult, unless you start out with a lot of money, inherited vineyards or both. Particularly in California. Especially in Napa Valley.
Even so, a number of young, intrepid winemakers are demonstrating that it can be done, by working around the edges, going where few have gone before and putting in plenty of sweat equity. Some are making great wines, too.
John Lockwood of Enfield Wine Company
is one of those dedicated few, finding ways to make a small amount of captivating wine in the Napa Valley area without much money and with no vineyard holdings. While many winemakers in similar positions work day jobs to support their own labels as side projects, Mr. Lockwood, 38, has gone all-in at Enfield.
He is based here in the city of Napa, but few of his wines are entitled to the Napa Valley appellation. Until recently, Mr. Lockwood never made a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, the wine for which Napa is most famous. He could not afford to buy the grapes, which he said sold last year for an average of $7,500 a ton.
Instead, he patrols the fringes, buying fruit grown in the Heron Lake Vineyard, just over the border from Napa County in Solano County — the wrong side of the tracks. Consequently, the grapes are much less expensive than Napa fruit, and their appellation, Wild Horse Valley, has none of the built-in selling power that comes with being able to put Napa Valley on the label.
Nonetheless, Heron Lake, on a stony hillside of shallow volcanic soil, produces excellent fruit that dovetails with Mr. Lockwood’s taste for fresh, intense, textured wines that are expressive at low levels of alcohol, generally under 14 percent and frequently under 13 percent.
Aside from Heron Lake, Mr. Lockwood also buys chardonnay from Calaveras County, tempranillo from Amador County, cabernet sauvignon from Fort Ross-Seaview on the Sonoma Coast (an area widely thought to be too chilly for cabernet) and small amounts of syrah and chardonnay from the Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, in the southeastern corner of Napa Valley.
Casting such a wide net for grapes is not unusual for a producer in Mr. Lockwood’s position.
“It’s challenging in California, but also sort of the norm among my peers,” he said, as we sampled a few wines in the dining room of his house in the suburban Alta Heights section of Napa, which also doubles as his tasting room. As we drank, Amy Lockwood, his wife, showed him a mock-up of a possible wine label she was designing before darting off to pick up London, their 5-year-old daughter.
To make his wine, Mr. Lockwood drives about an hour to Punchdown Cellars
in Sonoma County. It’s a so-called “custom crush” facility, in an industrial park in Santa Rosa, that provides equipment, space and production services to winemakers who are too small or without means to have their own.
The 2011 Haynes was just Mr. Lockwood’s second vintage. Back then he was working full time at Failla
doing a little bit of everything but specializing in vineyard management. The first three tiny vintages were produced at Failla, but then in 2013, when his daughter was born, Mr. Lockwood decided to focus on Enfield, which permitted him to spend more time at home as a parent and allowed his wife to continue to work at her job, at the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce.
In his last vintage while at Failla, Mr. Lockwood produced 400 cases. This year, he expects to have 2,400 cases, which may be the limit of what Enfield can do under its current configuration.
In 2017, Mr. Lockwood for the first time drew a full salary from Enfield. Ms. Lockwood left the chamber and is now helping with the wine company.
“I have to decide whether I want to stay small and keep it a one-man show or grow it into a proper business and hire an employee or two,” Mr. Lockwood said. He is conscious, however, that the more he grows, the more administrative work may intrude on what he loves to do: work in the vineyards and the cellar.
“I enjoy the physical work,” he said. “I got into the work because I didn’t want a desk job.”
Complicating his decision is the fact that this year Mr. Lockwood took charge of farming the 10-acre Heron Lake vineyard. The owners were otherwise planning to sell it, and taking responsibility for the vineyard was the only way to ensure a supply of fruit. He has also taken charge of a one-acre, dry-farmed, organic cabernet sauvignon vineyard on Hennessey Ridge in the Vaca Mountains on the east side of Napa Valley, and finally has had the chance to make Napa cabernet.
“The whole point is to learn,” he said.
Mr. Lockwood grew up far from vineyards, in Washington, D.C., where his father was a lawyer and his mother a speechwriter. In high school, he was more interested in hot sauces and the nuances of their flavors than wine. But he gained a taste for wine as a student at Bowdoin College in Maine, and fell in love with it on a trip to the Bay Area.
Simultaneously, he was developing an interest in woodworking. After college, he moved to Taos, N.M., to work in a furniture shop. A co-worker was constructing his own mandolin and, Mr. Lockwood said, he became obsessed with building instruments.
From there he got a job in San Francisco with Ervin Somogyi
, a guitar maker. “I thought it was the gig,” Mr. Lockwood said.
But one day a winemaker, David Mahaffey, came in the shop. He was an amateur woodworker who was building himself a guitar and wanted to trade wine for woodworking tips.
Mr. Lockwood was intrigued. He asked Mr. Mahaffey if he could help with the harvest, and went up to wine country on weekends. It proved fortuitous as Mr. Mahaffey’s small label, Miss Olivia Brion
, was based at Heron Lake Vineyard.
From there, Mr. Lockwood was hooked. He left guitar-making after three-and-a-half years, worked the harvest at Littorai in 2007, spent a year in Argentina, then joined Failla in 2008.
While Mr. Lockwood is gratified at the reception the Enfield wines have received, he fears he will never have the opportunity to own a vineyard himself, and wonders about his future.
“Is the goal to grow and then to sell out? I don’t love that,” he said. “Or is the goal to do the best you can and make the best wine? Maybe that’s enough.
“Honestly, I spend so much time trying to make this thing a business that I don’t have a lot of time to think about it,” he said. “It’s the nature of the wine industry: we’re all kind of maxed out.”