Leoni Farms: Winemaker Jon by Joe Campbell (no relation to Jon)
On many a weekend in the lovely small town of Sutter Creek, California, on Main Street, visitors will walk by the tasting room of Leoni Farms and hear the hearty laugh of Jon Campbell holding court. Conversations will range from television episode recaps of Yellowstone, to politics, to reminding you about how much he detests the Robert Parker point scale. “See this Rolling Rock I’m drinking? It scored a 97,” notes Jon, with a sarcastic smirk. During those summers and long harvests, cheap beer becomes a winemaker’s best friend.
Above the great conversation and Cheers-like ambiance that Leoni Farms provides, a local sense of camaraderie and family permeates the building. After spending ten minutes with Jon, you feel like you have known him for the past 20 years. The Campbells are a fifth-generation family in Amador County. Some of the vineyard plantings on their property go back 50 years.
Jon began his career working in the cellar before moving up to assistant winemaker at Drytown Cellars. He then took a job as a winemaker in Lodi running a processing facility.
Jon would eventually return to his roots in Amador County to start Leoni Farms. Leoni is an old family surname and the farm part of the name is critical as well, because at the end of the day, Jon considers himself a farmer at heart. He indicated he would grow alfalfa if he could make money doing it.
Jon’s wines are a reflection of him: unpretentious and unafraid to try new things. Along with Amador County mainstays like barbera and zinfandel, he has also released interesting varieties like charbono and alicante bouschet.
Blend 16 A blend of 75% cabernet sauvignon, 25% mourvèdre. Released in August. A meaty full bodied wine that is seductive, yet allusive, conjuring up images of sun-drenched Southern Spain while maintaining that beautiful, black-cherry nose. This wine would pair well with a juicy pork loin during a Sunday dinner with family or friends.
Humbug Hill Red 100% Zinfandel. 13.9% ABV. A nice, light, cherry red, and restrained Sierra Foothills beauty at a reasonable price point. Throw a couple of burgers and hot dogs on the grill. The Humbug Red is your casual weeknight grilling and chilling companion.
Leoni Farms Tasting Room 67 Main Street Sutter Creek CA 95685 (209) 256-5175 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 1:00 pm–5:00 pm Friday and Saturday 11:00 am–6:00 pm Sunday 11:00 am–5:00 pm Closed Tuesday
About Writer Joe Campbell Based out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell, aka Sierra Wine Guy on social media, is an experienced software technology solutions consultant by day while spending his weekends and evenings working on the family farm and ranch properties while providing color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. Bio Courtesy of The Vintner Project.
We had the best laid plans: choose the food pairings, blind taste the wines, take notes, discuss the wines, reveal the wines, discuss the wines further, and take lots of photos. I must confess, though, that nothing went as planned with regard to note and photo taking, and perhaps Joe might be disappointed that this article is not going to be as much about the wines individually, but more about them collectively, the camaraderie we shared at the dinner table, and most importantly, Joe’s story. Truth be told, nothing inspires me more than to discover a brilliant, spirited entrepreneur with a passion-filled story to share.
Eight of us came together on a Sunday night to taste the wines blind as part of a multi-course dinner. As usual, my brothers Gary and Ben outdid themselves purchasing and preparing the food: spicy bacon-wrapped jalapeños, shrimp and grits, kale salad, grilled asparagus, grilled pork, and chocolate cake, all dairy free and healthy. We hid the wines in tissue paper, rather than paper bags, which added a festive touch.
What happened next is how wine is meant to be enjoyed. Instead of sticking to the plan, the dinner evolved into something much less structured and formal. We began the evening with the pétillant naturel in celebratory sparkling wine glasses, as a toast to my new career. This wine was by far the most unusual of our tasting, aptly described by Joe as a “kitchen sink” blend of grapes. Throughout the evening, we tasted (er, drank!) the Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin (the first for all attendees except me, I think!), and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Gewürztraminer was an ideal pairing with both the bacon-wrapped jalapeños and the shrimp and grits, while the four reds elevated our enjoyment of the pork. I do not think anyone at the dinner but me had tasted wines from Ohio. Because I live in Napa, California, a few guests assumed that the wines were from here, and remarked they had never tasted similarly balanced, elegant, lower alcohol, and food-friendly wines from California. Others commented that the wines were Old World in style, comparing them to wines from the Loire Valley, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Some tried to guess the grape varieties and were surprised to discover what they were during the reveal. A testament to the deliciousness of these wines was that not a single drop remained at the conclusion of dinner.
Once I revealed the grape varieties and that the wines were from the Lake Erie AVA, located outside of Cleveland, Ohio, I was hammered with questions from the dinner guests. We had experienced an authentic and genuine wine moment and were eager to learn more. Everyone wanted to know more about the Joe, the guy behind these wonderful wines. I immediately jumped on my iPhone, messaged him, and relayed his answers to the dinner guests. Below is the conversation.
Me: Questions! Minds blown!
Firstly, I told everyone that you were young! How old are you? I’m 27 years old.
What grapes are in the pét-nat? Pét-nat is mainly Pinot Noir dominant, with Muscat Ottonel being around 25% and other grapes like Lemberger and Müller-Thurgau at just a few percent each.
What is your background in winemaking? Any family history? I am 100% self taught (though perhaps it shows at times). I do not have family in the industry. I was raised as an inner-city kid from a lower-class household. I have always had a love of plants, and at age 13, was given the opportunity to work in a local vineyard, pruning, and harvesting. I started working in the cellar when I was 16 years old, helping make the wine, and by age 18, I began at the new startup winery, Vermilion Valley Vineyards. My role was to grow grapes and make wine. In 2013, when I was 22 years old, the partnership at Vermilion Valley Vineyards folded and allowed my wife, Kristi, and me to assume ownership. We acquired a partner two years ago that is allowing for our expansion.
Do you grow all your grapes? How many cases do you produce annually and how many cases of each of the wines we tasted? We are 100% estate grown and are trending to 160 acres over the next few years. Our current production is around 3,000 cases. We are building out our new production facility to 55,000 cases. As to the wines you tasted, Pét-Nat – 245 cases, Gewürz – 185 cases, Pinot Noir – 125 cases, Cabernet Franc – 285 cases, Chambourcin – 190 cases, Cabernet Sauvignon – 65 cases.
What wines inspire you? I love whites with structure. Typically lees aged and perhaps a bit of skin contact. We drink California Chardonnay more than anything. With reds I like rich, powerful wines, but with finesse and complexity. High-alcohol fruit bomb doesn’t cut it. We drink primarily Italian reds like Super Tuscans.
Everyone enjoyed the wines! You might get some friend requests and Instagram follows. One suggested you should be making wine in the Loire. I am glad to hear it. The feedback is greatly appreciated and thank you for taking the time to show them off. The Loire is a dream trip.
How many grape varieties do you grow? Which ones? Above is the full list. Some are to be planted this season, so not all in production yet. Thirty varieties in total. It a lot but we have an extremely variable climate here so it helps us spread out our risk to allow us to have a number of exceptional wines in every single year. That, and for blending purposes.
Any events you would like to share with my readers? GORDY’S 4th BIRTHDAY PARTY (6/9/19) Gordy, our vineyard pup will be turning four and will be having a huge birthday bash on Sunday, June 9th, from 1 to 4 in celebration. This is a pet friendly event so bring your dog to help celebrate Gordy’s birthday. There will be music, people food trucks, a puppy food truck, 50/50 raffle, and basket raffles. This is a benefit to raise money for Partners With Paws Of Lorain County, Inc., an organization that distributes funds to many Lorain County animal rescues. There will be a $10 entry fee and all raffles and T-shirt proceeds will be donated to the cause. Radio Stations WOBL & WDLW will also be there broadcasting live. Mark your calendar and save the date now: SUNDAY, JUNE 9TH, 1:00 TO 4:00 PM AT VERMILION VALLEY VINEYARDS. (All dogs must remain on a leash) Please share with all of your animal loving friends!
More about Joe Juniper In addition to his ownership and duties at Vermilion Valley Vineyards, Joe serves on the board of directors for the Ohio Wine Producers Association. He holds degrees in viticulture and agriculture business from Missouri State University and The Ohio State University. Follow Joe on Instagram at @myvinesmywines.
Vermilion Valley Vineyards 11005 Gore Orphanage Road Wakeman OH 44889 Main Number: 440-965-5202 Sales: 419-239-1259 General Inquiries and Weddings, Parties & Meetings (Kristi Juniper): email@example.com Sales (Joe Juniper): firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VermilionValleyVineyards/
Photos Credits: Elizabeth Smith and Joe Juniper/Vermilion Valley Vineyards
I have visited plēb urban winery in Asheville, North Carolina, three times over the course of the past five months: October 2018, November 2018, and January 2019. I am planning another visit this month, February 2019, so make that four visits. This may qualify me as a plēbeian and that is OK. I am delighted to share my latest wine crush with you, my readers. (See what I did there?)
plēb urban winery opened in September 2018 offering wines from various regions. However, their mission is to produce small-lot NC wines with grapes sourced within a two-hour radius of Asheville. To date, plēb has released three of their 2018 wines: a rare Maréchal Foch rosé from Appalachian High Country (8.8% ABV), a Chardonnay Pét-Nat from Henderson County (10.1% ABV), and an effervescent, Cayuga-based wine in a can called exuberant white (12.2% ABV). I have tasted all three and enjoyed them immensely because they are a palate match to my Hs (Hypersensitive) Vinotype, with their lower alcohol, higher acidity, no added sulfites, and a “less is more” approach to winemaking. The wines are kegged and offered by the glass or growler. The most intriguing of the three for me has been following the evolution of the Maréchal Foch rosé. When I initially tasted it in November 2018, its higher acid was more pronounced. However, when I tasted it again in January 2018, it was like tasting a different wine. The bright fruit flavors and acid were much more harmonious.
What I most love about plēb is that the winery is bringing Western North Carolina wine to the forefront of Asheville’s craft beverage market, especially to a younger generation of buyers, most of whom are likely craft beer drinkers since Asheville is such a beer destination. I also enjoy plēb because they are changing what the vision of a winery is. The vibe is anti-establishment and anti-traditional regarding the varietal wines they make, their winemaking style, their packaging, and their marketing. Different is good for all wine consumers.
To delve into plēb’s philosophy and approach to winemaking, the wine industry, the urban winery environment, and wine marketing, I interviewed the team: co-owner and business manager, Lauren Turpin; co-owner and winemaker, Chris Denesha; and assistant winemaker, Tyler Kay. Below is the story of plēb urban winery in their own words.
What inspired you to get into the winemaking business? Lauren: The surge of craft beer and local breweries had me wondering if a similar local tap room approach and concept could be applied to wine. I wanted to start a business that produced a product, engaged with the community and filled a gap in the market. After doing some research, I believed this could be achieved through an urban winery. And that, while I’m not the winemaker, is how I got into the winemaking business. Chris: It’s the farming and growing aspect that got me into the business. There is something beautiful about working with the land and partnering to make something that has the unique ability to age for a long time and tell its unique story of place and history. Being a part of growing grapes and making wine has more to do with the place and year in which the grapes were grown than anything else. I got into winemaking more as I saw the identity being stripped away from our local grapes and wine to fit a more homogenized and marketable palate. It’s simply not representative of what most people love about wine and we are losing that connection without anyone really knowing that it’s happening. Tyler: Wine sparked my curiosity in college. My “ah-ha” bottle was a 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from California. I never tasted anything like it, and I needed to know why. I bought a wine encyclopedia and dove right in. After college, I worked on a vineyard in southern Utah. Then I started my path towards becoming a sommelier. I love to travel, but when you’re balling on a budget, I would study regions and plan a trip. It helped shaped my winemaking style and kept the dialogue of travel alive.
Why and how did you select your location? Lauren: We selected our location in the River Arts District for its size, accessibility and neighborhood. Wine is art and to be surrounded by hundreds of artists throughout the district, it felt like a natural fit. The size of the space allows us to produce and grow. It also enables us to provide a full-production winery and tap room experience to a large audience. Lastly, being two miles from downtown and Biltmore Village and next to West Asheville, we are well situated to serve locals and tourists.
How did you choose the name plēb? Lauren: The plebeian spirit and their admiration for the gods of agriculture, fertility and viticulture led us to select the unique name. Our focus is on local growers, pursuing local vineyards and grapes that will grow well here in Western North Carolina. We seek to pay growers for their crops a rate that enables them to reinvest in their land. Farmers, winemakers, artists, in Roman times these were the plebeians that were the economic backbone and underappreciated of society. We want to put them front and center.
Will you please share with us details about the winery’s design and décor, both the tasting room and the working winery? Lauren: Being in the River Arts District and among the large murals, we wanted to bring that design inside since we have large walls befitting their skills.
What is plēb’s winemaking style or philosophy? Chris and Tyler: We grew up playing baseball, and both of our fathers taught us the old school philosophy of things. I’d say that mentality is carried over in the winery. Old world winemaking with modern technology. This means low intervention in the cellar. Hand destemmed, foot crushed reds. Whole cluster pressed whites and rosés. Only non-competitive yeast strains, or 100% wild spontaneous fermentation. We even used fermenting wine to pitch on new juice to promote fermentation. No sulfur added, no fining or filtering. Just a cold cellar temperature to age, and we’re BIG fans of barrel aging on fine lees. We work in a cold climate and we want to see the reward of patience in time, not heat to showcase these wines.
What kind of vineyard partnerships does plēb seek or have? What are your criteria for selecting partners and vineyard sources? Chris: We manage about 5 acres up in the Boone area. The rest of our grapes are all contract based with an emphasis on new small growers. We’re focused on Western North Carolina, which is generally higher elevation vineyard sites ranging from 2,100-3,400 ft. We want to build a united mentality for the future and longevity of this new wine growing region. Recognizing our temperate rainforest continental climate and acting accordingly with the right varietals. We believe highlighting French American hybrids and native varieties as quality grapes, along with shorter growing season Vitis vinifera.
Why does plēb sell wines by the glass, growler, cans, and/or on tap instead of traditional bottles? Lauren: We have a commitment to be environmentally friendly and sustainable, not just in the vineyard but throughout our operation. Therefore, we do not bottle in mass. Using stainless steel kegs, we keep the equivalent of 78 bottles of wine free from light and oxygen for an extended amount of time. The growler option allows customers flexibility to choose any wine on tap to-go. Our cans are great for three reasons – first, they are recyclable, second, they are convenient for our outdoor enthusiasts, and third, it’s 375mL or two glasses of wine, which is a good size for one person or two to split. If you see any of our wine in a bottle it’s because either the wine or the retailer demanded it in that format.
Does the winemaking team have any favorite wines to make? Why? Lauren: Sparkling because they’re my favorite to drink! Chris: Sparkling because of bottle variation, you never know what you’re going to get! Tyler: Rosés because so much is dependent on the chemistry of the grapes to dictate the winemaking.
Besides the winery, where can we find your wines? Lauren: Select retailers, breweries and restaurants in the Asheville area.
Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming wine releases, events, etc.? Lauren: I see us as revolutionaries and advocates for WNC grapes and wines and I call upon all those who want to revolt to join us. We will have new single varietal wines and blends coming out on a regular basis throughout the year. Best to check our website and social media for up-to-date information. Tyler: Live life with no regrets, and everybody Wang Chung tonight.
My passion for zinfandel made the way it ought to be was reignited when I tasted this sample from Oakville’s Highlands Winery. It is not often that I use the word lovely and elegant when describing a zinfandel, but this is just that. Black cherry fruit and mouthwatering acidity lead into a subtle peppery finish. Structured, yet restrained, all of this wine’s components, if you will, are woven together quite nicely, resulting in a zinfandel that will complement food, not overpower it. Sharing it with new friends from California, Illinois, and New York was the icing on the proverbial cake. I was delightfully reminded me why I moved to the Napa Valley to follow my dream of working in the wine industry.
This young family just moved to the area from New York City, they just had a baby who is only a week old, and they just opened their dream wine shop on Friday, December 21, in downtown Asheville. G Social Media and I were so fortunate to stumble upon Crocodile Wine the day after the shop opened. Here is our exclusive, inaugural interview with owner John Hale, who brings an amazing selection of natural wines to Asheville, North Carolina.
Have you ever been on a wine tour in Asheville, North Carolina? When I was there last month, I visited three incredible wine and food venues in the area with creator, producer, and maker of video magic, Gary of G Social Media. The first stop was wine and dinner at Rezaz – Pan Mediterranean Cuisine. Next, we walked up the hill to sample a few wines at the tasting bar at Appalachian Vintner. Last, but not least, we took Uber to plēb urban winery to celebrate their Beaujolais Day release of the inaugural 2018 wine, a lovely rosé of Maréchal Foch from North Carolina. What an amazing time I had. I cannot wait for my next visit and tour.
When I recently received my review copy of Wine Folly Magnum Edition, I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the book’s cover design. I know that you should not judge a book by its cover (or a wine by its label), but dang, this is a beautiful book. The good news is that it only gets better inside. This book is a plethora of outstanding content, a fantastic resource for the wine novice to expert. With the assumption that one does not know anything about wine, this book starts at the beginning, then breaks this wealth of information into manageable chunks, presenting it to the reader in an aesthetically pleasing, colorful, and easy-to-follow design. While I am thankful for my more formal wine certification program, I must confess that if the content had been presented the Wine Folly way, learning would have been much more fun.
This sample copy of the book left me wanting to know more about Wine Folly – the brand, the books, and the website – so I contacted Avery Books, a division of Penguin Random House, to schedule an interview with author and designer, Madeline Puckette. When you read Madeline’s answers, you will understand why Wine Folly is such a delight in every way, and why you need Wine Folly Magnum Edition in your book collection.
When did you fall in love with wine? Was there a wine moment and/or a special wine?
Wine found its way into my life in stages. That said, I did have an “aha” wine. It was a $13 bottle of Côtes du Rhône from the 2005 vintage. Not at all fancy. My boyfriend and I sat there sniffing it, trying to pick out fruit flavors and nothing fit. Suddenly, he blurted out “olives!” and my mind was blown. Who knew wine could be savory?
I tried to buy more but the vintage sold out and the next vintage tasted gnarly. (and not in a good way.) That experience taught me about vintage variation, French “terroir,” and active wine tasting all in one fell swoop!
What other wine industry roles have you held prior to Wine Folly?
Prior to starting Wine Folly, I worked in restaurants including several steakhouses, a French restaurant, a wine bar with 50 wines by the glass, a cool chef-driven spot (Poppy in Seattle), and even at a large casino hotel. (You’ve never seen a hotel until you’ve seen their laundry!)
I absolutely love working the floor. It’s exhausting and exhilarating all at once. The people who work in hospitality are some of the coolest people to work alongside.
What made you decide to share your knowledge of wine with the world? Was there a void you wanted to fill regarding wine education?
When I became certified in 2010 I was at odds with my level of wine smarts versus other people. It’s like knowing how to speak another language but not having anyone to talk to. And, at certified level, you’re still trying to practice. So, I started Wine Folly to bridge my knowledge to others. To practice communicating. As a communicator, I’m not particularly adept with words, but if you ask me to draw something… This is where I shine.
What is the history/story and philosophical approach behind Wine Folly both the website and books?
The philosophy behind Wine Folly is intricate, even the word “folly” is multi-layered. Still, the modus operandi of Wine Folly easy to put words to: To communicate wine as simply as humanly possible. And, to explore the human condition through the lens of wine.
Side Note: The funny thing about wine is that it deals with a lot of root human behaviors, from our desire to connect with others to our ability to recognize patterns (as a species.)
Why did you choose the name Wine Folly?
Oh, you ask! Hahaha. This is my folly! I should have read ahead…
So, the word “folly” has multiple meanings if you look it up. It’s a foolhardy mistake as well as an architectural element that has little purpose (other than just looking good from a distance.) So, why “folly?”
For those just getting into wine, being interested in wine seems like pure folly because it’s just an alcoholic beverage. Why should anyone care? That said, once you’re inside, you come to realize that wine is an edifice with deep scientific and cultural implications. In short, wine is deep. It will go as deep as you’re willing to dive.
So, we named it “folly” for that moment when you decide to take the plunge and see what’s out there.
Who is Wine Folly’s audience?
At this moment, I love teaching wine beginners. That said, we will continue to develop our content past this level. It’s surprising how quickly people are absorbing and using the information with the visual approach!
Wine Folly Magnum Edition is the follow-up edition of your hugely successful first book, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine? Why did you decide to create this new edition?
The Essential Guide was an MVP (minimum viable product) to use entrepreneurial jargon. I did it to test the model against the market. Sure enough, the model worked! Hot cakes!
Of course, as soon as the book came out, I felt a burning desire to iterate on the model. Magnum Edition is the iteration. I’m not sure where the burning desire comes from, but it’s there and it’s unavoidable.
What makes this edition different than the first? Why should purchasers of the first book buy this new edition?
Besides the fact that it has over two times the content and a stunningly beautiful cover, it does a better job of communicating the topic of wine. There is some repetition in the format (and I did save a couple of excellent infographics in book 2), but the added value well exceeds the cover price. It was also redesigned from the ground up so there’s lots of new stuff.
If anything, you can now pass down your last book to a well-deserving wine beginner!
Do you think anything has changed in the wine world, from the consumer and professional perspectives, during three years since the release of your first book? How do you address those changes in this edition?
I’ve observed enormous change since the first book launch.
These days, consumers care more about where wines come from, how they’re made, and what they contain versus the love story and hedonism that defined the past. Of course, the wine world has been very slow to adapt to this new mindset.
So, in this new book, we tried very hard to be information rich and answer the fundamental questions of wine that are often left out of the marketing story. In this way, the book helps consumers take a more pragmatic approach to exploring wine on their own. It’s more about how to think about wine and where to hunt for it than what to think and buy.
What is next for Wine Folly?
I was supposed to write out my five-year plan out today, but I thought answering your questions seemed way less intimidating.
Seriously though, we have the lighthouse vision built and it’s audacious. We just need to figure out how to paddle there without killing the team or losing the passion. I promise it will be big, or the other option: you’ll find me washed out living by a vineyard in Oregon with a VW Vanagon and a Blue Heeler at my rear. One of the two.