Is Sonoma County losing its soul? What creative new paradigm can we devise to ensure the agricultural integrity of Sonoma County by enabling young, talented winegrowers and farmers to have access to affordable land?
Recently, I met Megan and Ryan Glaab, owners of Ryme Cellars. Ryme was founded on a love story, with Ryan and Megan meeting far from their homes in California, as seasonal cellar workers at Torbreck Winery in the Barossa Valley of South Australia.
In love with each other and with winemaking, they had grand plans for hemisphere hopping to learn as much as they could with harvests every six months.
Sonoma County has a way of changing even the best of intentions. One year after arriving, they established Ryme Cellars with merely one ton of Aglianico, a grape variety not well known or understood in California in 2007. Attracted by the intensity and complexity of this wine, they followed their hearts, specializing in this and other varieties they personally enjoy, including Vermentino, Ribolla Gialla, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Ryan and Megan are people we hope will stay in Sonoma County, as they enrich our community in so many ways. Committed to crafting wines conscientiously farmed in organic or sustainable vineyards, they value the idiosyncrasies of a great wine over a polished supple sameness that is so common in the wine world. Their goal is to make wines that are true to a sense of place.
“My favorite thing in drinking wine and in life is happy surprises,” says Ryan. “Being caught off guard, finding something new. That’s what drove us to experiment with different grape varieties and fermentation techniques. With the huge landscape and diversity of Sonoma County, possibilities are endless.”
“More than anything, we want to open people to the possibility of trying different varietals and challenge expectations of what California wines can be. It’s pretty special here and we’re trying to push back against the richer, fuller styles in making more restrained wines with less new oak and alcohol,” says Megan.
“We’ve been fortunate to find the organic growers, people we appreciate in terms of how they farm and how they treat the land and each other,” says Ryan. “The direction of California, however, is heading towards larger consolidations, which puts more pressure on land prices, making it harder for young couples to dream of having our own land. This is a concern to us, as our ultimate goal is to own one contiguous piece of land to cultivate rare Italian and other varieties we love, suited to the property.”
How will this younger generation of winegrowers further their career in a region where they’re priced out of planting their dreams and growing their families on their own land? What is the future for passionate, intelligent, highly trained young winemakers like Ryan and Megan, attracted to Sonoma County for the diverse grape growing conditions and irresistible community of young families? Families who gather regularly around backyard barbecues tasting wines from around the world with their own homegrown wines, discussing which local schools their children will attend, and nonprofits they support, while their children play, cultivating lifetime friendships.
The Glaabs so much believe in social progress they have created a second label called Uphold Wines. Using their craft to be agents of positive change, they contribute to causes they value and wish to support. The inaugural bottling includes three wines to uphold the protection of the planet, women’s rights and people’s equality.
If we lose winemakers like Megan and Ryan to more affordable grape growing regions, will we begin to lose the soul of Sonoma County? How can we collaborate with them to sustain their passion as winegrowers while cultivating their own vineyards, wines and families right here in Sonoma County, where dreams are grown from one generation to the next?
Marie Gewirtz represents wine and food clients with marketing and communications in Sonoma County and throughout the world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.