Guest blog post by Chelli Warnock of Webster Cellars.
I remember the first time I met Keith a few years ago. He loves to tell people we met at a bar. I always have to interrupt the conversation when I hear this to tell them we actually met at a French bistro in the heart of Napa Valley while enjoying incredible wine – because that’s what wine does, it brings people together, right? The truth is, we were both sitting at the bar eating at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, so I guess technically we did meet while sitting at the bar, but not “in a bar”. While enjoying getting to know this intelligent, eccentric, witty and handsome man over good wine and great conversation, I had to ask myself, is this guy for real? He had an interesting story and I had to know more, but didn’t want to seem too interested. Lucky for me, he was interested in getting to know me better. In the following months, that casual encounter at a “bar” in Yountville, CA turned into much more and we haven’t looked back since.
Keith’s background in wine started while growing up in Europe, where he was introduced to European wines at a very young age and began developing his Old World palate. After high school he moved to Houston, Texas and spent the next 30 years becoming highly successful in the contracting business and enjoying the opportunities to enjoy fine wine and food. His contracting skills brought him to Aspen, CO where he first starting experimenting in making wine in his garage from grapes sourced from Grand Junction and Paonia, Colorado. It wasn’t European or California wine, but it did affirm that he had a passion for the process and production of making wine. Business in Aspen was good, but all good things come to an end as many did around 2008/2009. However, since Aspen was solely dependent on real estate and construction to drive the economy, it was pronounced and intractable. Keith went totally broke, lost his house, his business, his retirement fund and the soon to be winery building which was to be home to his wines in the mountains. He hung on as long as he could doing day labor to pay the rent. Yes, it sounds like a country song but he didn’t have a dog that died. A friend in California had purchased an old house in the North Bay area and knew Keith could use the work, so Keith “loaded up the truck and move to the Wine Country”. He lived in the spare bedroom of the house, saved his money and just knew he was in California for a reason. He began to explore the wine country on weekends and became obsessed with the wine. It drove him. He enrolled at UC Davis, a great wine program, and began to learn about the science of winemaking.
Fast forward, Keith is now getting ready to release his third vintage of Napa Valley wine. A classic style Bordeaux Blend made from Napa Valley fruit. Light, elegant, sophisticated, acidic, structured – all the things he felt made the perfect wine. He has won several medals and scored some great points, but Keith is not a medal or point kind of guy. Just ask him! He just wants to make wine and to enjoy drinking it with others. His favorite thing to do is introduce his wine to new people and make new friends.
For his 2012 vintage we are increasing our production from a little over 200 cases to 350 cases, including 65 cases of wonderful Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc. The rest of the production will consist of three red wines, all Bordeaux style blends made from Napa Valley fruit, including a Left Bank, a Right Bank and a Reserve, all on allocation. The allocation list grows a little each year as production increases, allowing for a portion of the wines to be open to new customers each year. We hope you like our wines enough to join our wine club list. Keith plans to increase production minimally each year and keep his Reserve very limited. His ultimate goal is to one day be able to take off his tool belt and focus full time all year long on his wine.
A real reinvention story, a Phoenix as it were, from the ashes of the Great Recession to a noted winemaker with a bright future. All he wants is to quit that pesky day job and make his wines. This is not your average, “take out your check book, buy a winery, hire a big name winemaker and travel around the country selling wine to all your friends” scenario. It’s a guy, his dream, a bunch of adversity and that damn day job!
So, where does that put us now in the present? It’s just the two of us scraping by making, selling, marketing, doing the books and also trying to keep the day job going to fund the passion and the dream. Our life is consumed by it. We love partnering with Cellar Angels and we hope you enjoy our wine. Please let us know when you are in town – we love making new friends!
Experience Webster Cellars’ 2012 Left Bank Proprietary Red on Cellar Angels beginning Monday, March 30th, 2015.