Bottling a Community of Friends

As we approach the first round of bottling for our 2021 vintage, I (Dee) can’t help but reflect on the history behind these upcoming wines. Upon moving to wine country several years ago, I never thought that the relationships I was building then would resurface later in our own winemaking journey, but that is what is at the heart of the Sonoma County wine industry: connection, collaboration, and community.

In my experience working in the wine industry, before my return to non-profit work, I had the privilege of working for three extremely talented and hardworking founders and winemakers, each a pioneer in Sonoma County. The last of those trailblazers was Marimar Torres of Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery.

My time at Marimar Estate was marked with all the hallmarks of working with a small winery: a small, devoted team often working long hours to help make and promote wines of the highest quality with a generous allotment of fun, as time would allow. Back in 2017, when I first began working with Marimar, she was just finishing the process of getting her sustainability certification, which was an impressive feat then and remains so now as it speaks to her commitment to quality in her vineyards and with her staff and the surrounding community.

In a small office behind the Catalan-styled winery, I often found myself asking Alice Hunter, the manager of all things (because really, what didn’t Alice do?), questions about whatever pressing issue was happening at the winery and what her 3 talented kids were up to. She was a fabulous co-worker and mentor as she was always eager to help and very thoughtful with her guidance.

At lunch, I’d wander into the Cellar office to use the microwave where I was almost always greeted with the smell of delicious chili and a friendly chat with Tony Britton, Winemaker & Cellar/Vineyard Manager. We’d talk about what was going on with harvest or our exports, his son’s newest acting role, and of course, his dog Brigitte. Along with other teammates, Lauren, Ronna, and Paty, to name a few, Marimar’s team of fewer than 15 made a lasting impact on my view of the wine industry and my preference for working at a small winery. We were small but mighty, and we all helped each other.

When the time came for me to move on from Marimar Estate, I wondered how the wine industry and a team like this particularly would ever fit into my life again. Little did I know that my husband’s surprise grand gesture would bring Marimar Estate back into my life years later.

When we released our wines for the first time this year, we were very excited to share them with friends and family. Wine after all brings people together. It’s a story in a bottle that also creates a new story as it is shared, so we were eager to connect with our community in that way. Alice was one of the dear friends excited for us and our new venture. In the years since we worked together at Marimar Estate, Alice has gone on to run her own wine shop, Sophie’s Cellars out in Duncan’s Mills.

So Alice, who was the first at Marimar to learn I was pregnant with Ariya in 2017, who would later insist upon holding baby Ariya constantly once she had arrived, needed to try our Ariya Syrah. Once she tried it, she said she wanted to have it in her shop. We had no intention to have our wines placed in shops, but with Alice, we knew our wine was in good hands and there was no better place to have our wines shared with the greater community. This was one of several instances where relationships we built years before had come full circle.

In my time working closely with Marimar, I saw firsthand the dedication and effort that goes along with running a winery and growing a business. My greatest take away from her was to ask for what you want. And then ask and ask again. She often exclaimed, “You already have the no, so go for the yes!” This lesson has served us well in our early endeavors with Puppione Family Wines.

Those wise words rang truest last year, as Chris and I—for the second time in a row—found out we were losing access to our vineyard source to a larger winery. As a small winery, it can be difficult to find and keep fruit sources. It can be much more reassuring financially for growers to work with larger wineries that can contract for much larger quantities of grapes as opposed to a small producer like us who often only needs much smaller amounts. So there was our “no” so we were on the hunt for our “yes.”

I decided to reach out to Tony, who was in his final year at Marimar Estate to see if they were selling any Syrah. They were, so we kept them in mind as we worked to figure out what we could do for harvest. Similarly, Tony kept us in mind as he finalized the grape contracts for the 2021 vintage.

Finally, Chris went to meet with Tony and Marimar, and after seeing the immaculate fruit, we decided we had to make wine with the fruit from Marimar’s Don Miguel Vineyard. Fortunately, Marimar was open to us having a multi-year contract, and the efforts Tony made in keeping us updated on the fruit not only enabled us to contract with Marimar, but also to continue making wine with the same quality and intention as we had in previous years.

We will soon bottle our first vintage from Marimar’s Don Miguel Vineyard and from these grapes we will be making beautiful new wines that will add more color, depth, and excitement to our story.

Our journey to winemaking was both a wonderful surprise and a gift to our children that continues to be made possible by the community of friends we have made over the years. I hope that in turn, our 2021 bottlings will be shared in all the right ways so that this story of connection and camaraderie will continue on for years to come in the hands and glasses of all who support us.