As part of our ongoing Q&A sessions with winemakers we are thrilled to have sat down with Craig Becker, Co-Founder, General Manager, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager of Somerston Wine Co. In the heart of Napa Valley, Somerston, is 1628 acres of natural beauty, with over 200 acres of sustainably farmed vineyards, winery, and a developing ranch and farm.The tasting room is pretty cool too.
JK: Can you provide readers with a little background on who you are and what you’re doing?
CB: I grew up in Los Angeles. When I moved to Sonoma County to go to college, I discovered that the northern California lifestyle is the complete opposite of the concrete jungle where I was raised. I started mountain biking and hiking all over Northern California, surrounding myself as much as possible with nature. This deep love of the outdoors led me to peruse a degree in Plant Physiology, Soil Science and Hydrologic Science. While finishing my degree I discovered the viticulture department at UCD and was hooked. With my background and experience in the outdoors, my new focus allowed me to practice what I believe.
JK: What was your first job?
CB: When I was in high school in Orange County, CA, I began working as a dishwasher at the Nordstrom Café. Within nine months I became assistant manager of the restaurant. This began my culinary experience and it also instilled in me the importance of customer service, which is now an integral aspect of Somerston’s mission.
JK: How has the wine industry changed in the past few years?
CB: Sustainability has gained a new life in the last eight years. It is now more defined and it will eventually mean something on the label, the way “organic” now means something to consumers. Within the coming years, Napa Valley will have a more defined, sustainability-certification program. Years ago organics was a hot concept that winemakers talked about, and we are now incorporating it into our farming practices. At one time there may have been wineries that adopted organic farming practices for the marketing benefit. We are now operating in a very different economic environment, and as a general result, winemakers are thinking more about the way we do things and we tend to genuinely believe in the practices we implement. The modern sustainable movement has transcended organics in many ways. As we consider our impact on the environment, practices are emerging that take into account carbon consumption, fuel economy and new ways to enhance efficiency and conservation. For me, sustainability is not a marketing tool or gimmick; it is a way of life.
I also think there is more attention to customer service, which in my view is a form of sustainability. We’re concerned about more than just making great fruit and wine. We want to respond to our customers’ needs and desires in as many ways as possible.
JK: When you’re not drinking one of your own wines, what are you drinking?
CB: My favorite wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon from mountain vineyards. With our Highflyer label I’m lucky to be able to make wines from regions all over California, and as a result, I have acquired a strong appreciation for regions from where we source fruit, such as Santa Barbara and Monterey County. I also enjoy a shot of tequila or sometimes mescal when necessary.
JK: What’s your favorite place to grab a bite out?
CB: In the Napa Valley, the Rutherford Grill is a hot spot for many winemakers. It has good food, an interesting wine list, and you know what you’re getting. I also frequent happy hour at Brix when everything is half off. I recommend the apple carpaccio salad and the corn and bacon pizza.
You’re gonna want to try….