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Gold Medal Wine Club
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Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Arbios Cellars - Sonoma County

Arbios Cellars - One Vineyard, One Varietal, One Winemaker's Passion

When Arbios Cellars came into existence in 1993, a number of wine industry insiders felt it was about time. For Susan and Bill Arbios, the new venture was a culmination of an extensive career in the wine business and a necessary factor to allow them to achieve a number of personal goals.

The first release of Arbios Cellars was a modest 125 cases on contracted grapes from a relatively high altitude vineyard in northern Sonoma County. Since owner Bill Arbios was a winemaker first and winery owner second, he felt it prudent to place the most emphasis on his new wines in the selection of vineyard land.

“I have always been a firm believer that winemaking is what the wine business is all about,” Arbios recently went on record as saying. “I had watched the fruit from this particular vineyard for quite some time. The vineyard was located at an altitude between 2,000 and 3,000 feet and had excellent elevation for the vines. There are a number of different soil types on such a big property and this provided some differentiation for the fruit. The owner was so specific as to not allow trucks or equipment on the property to keep potential phylloxera out. Needless to say, the fruit this vineyard produced is almost incredible.” While Arbios Cellars has grown to around 2,000 cases that will be produced this year (Sister winery Praxis also produces another 5,000 cases), it is still considered boutique-ish at best.

A few years ago, Arbios Cellars acquired and also planted some twenty acres with six different Cabernet Sauvignon clones that it intended to utilize for strictly estate wine production. The property was immediately adjacent to the winery’s existing grape source described above, arguably the primary reason for Arbios Cellars’ purchase of the property. It is also closest in proximity to Chateau Souverain where Bill Arbios began his winemaking career more than three decades ago. When it added this important piece of property, Arbios Cellars and Praxis felt they were then in a position to achieve their long-term goals. Arbios will soon become an estate-only winery that produces complex, Bordeaux-style wines from a single varietal, the classic Cabernet Sauvignon.

Owner Bill Arbios compares the future Arbios Cellars Cabernet to an Ansel Adams master black and white photograph that focused in on a specific aspect of a subject. He feels that his estate wine would similarly focus in on one particular varietal for that one summer of its existence. Praxis on the other hand would always be free to accommodate whatever high quality varietals became available at the time. With this in mind Arbios Cellars has set a modest goal of only 4,000 cases for the 2007 vintage. This would be produced from all mature grapes and would obviously be estate grown.

This new arrangement allows the two wineries to compete in the wacky world of wine reviews and periodicals, where the “What have you done for me today?” theme takes precedence more often than not. “It’s not really all that easy to compete,” explained Susan Arbios, who handles all the marketing for both entities. “The reviewers want you to earn your stripes with each and every wine. We know what it takes to produce the consistency and quality we desire. After all, it is our name that is on each and every bottle.”

Arbios Cellars and Praxis are somewhat typical of the growing number of high profile Sonoma wineries that are responsible for Sonoma’s mounting reputation as a world-class producer of fine wines. Arbios is also a winery that has taken its time in increasing production levels and also its overhead. Its owners are adamant that they have enough money left to properly inventory and market their products, in deference to those who have expanded too rapidly and who are no longer around to contend in the highly competitive wine industry. It considers itself a true 21st century grower and producer, with minimal inputs to its vines and just a step away from organic farming.

It seems to us that this approach makes a great deal of sense. With the quality that Arbios and Praxis have already achieved, it remains to be seen what lies ahead. Good solid wines with complexity and structure to be sure, since that has been the standard from the beginning.

  1. Praxis
    2005 Viognier
    Single Vineyard


    id: 60
  2. Praxis Arbios
    2005 Viognier
    Praxis Arbios
    Single Vineyard


    id: 132

Bill Arbios

Bill Arbios grew up in the town of Paradise (you read correctly), a small California town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Paradise is not far from Chico, which is now famous as the home of the heralded Sierra Nevada beer, beloved by numerous collegians. His family has lived in California for six generations and was engaged in a number of professions.

Arbios was well into realizing his childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian when he suddenly realized his love for animals and many people’s lackluster attitude toward animal neglect would someday provide him with a backyard full of unwanted cats and dogs. ‘I just couldn’t stand the idea of someone putting down a cat or dog if the cost of helping the animal was too high,” he recalled. ‘I started to think that the vet field was maybe not where I wanted to be.” The good news was he was still an undergraduate at the University of California Davis, which just happened to house the supreme oenology school and an array of the finest professors in the entire wine world.

Seeing many similarities in the veterinary/oenology curriculums, Arbios decided to embrace the creative and complex aspects of winemaking. A number of wine appreciation and associated courses later, he graduated from Davis in 1973, and immediately launched his career in the wine business. For the next three years, Arbios served as assistant winemaker for the extensive Chateau Souverain in Sonoma during its massive building program. He moved next to Field Stone Winery in 1976 where he was winemaker. The Field Stone project became the first underground winery to be built in California since Prohibition. From there Arbios moved to William Wheeler Winery in 1980 and then, two years later, to the newly-established and cutting edge producer Lyeth in Sonoma where he served as both winemaker and general manager. That stint lasted until 1989 and as he put it, ‘is still a project I am working on.”

With his statue as winemaker quite secure, Arbios also served as consultant to a number of high profile wine entities including the remarkable Jarvis Winery in Napa Valley where he designed and implemented all the state-of-the-art underground winemaking facilities.

He was 39 at the time he and his wife Susan decided it was time to produce their own wines in 1993. ‘At the time I considered myself a sort of vagabond winemaker,” Arbios recently confessed. ‘I had actually worked for so many people and seen so many things happen in the wine business that I couldn’t control that I thought I could finally do it for myself. While I always considered winemaking an artistic pursuit, I always wanted to put my own spin on it. Arbios Cellars has allowed me the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is.” Arbios was also aware that many wineries were forced by economic necessity to compromise the quality of their wines, something that Bill Arbios was determined not to let happen in the case of his namesake winery.

‘If you had been in as many different situations as I had,” he added, ‘you would know what I mean. Many times we were forced to take shortcuts and you know what that entailed. I was adamant that we not expand Arbios until the time was right and we could do it correctly. If it meant waiting for ten years for something to happen, both Susan and I were willing to wait.”

Arbios’ waiting eventually evolved into the purchase of a property that had been abused for more than fifty years. He takes particular pride in restoring it to a useable vineyard.
‘The land had been logged sometime during the 1930’s,” he related. ‘It was really in pretty bad shape when we took it over. There were huge ravines and practically no drainage. But its proximity to our existing vineyard supply made the project doable. I knew if I could straighten it all out, I could make it gorgeous and useful. It was a real labor of love to get it all completed.” The now picturesque land will provide usable fruit next year (2007) and Bill Arbios’ eyes light up at the prospect of having his first estate wines.

‘It’s what I worked for my entire career,” he finalized. ‘It will be up to me to make its wines worthy of such surroundings.”