Napa Valley AVA
91 Points - Wine News magazine
Bill 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.
The good news was he was still a student at the University of California Davis, which just happened to include one of the finest oenology schools in the entire world.
Seeing many similarities in the veterinary/oenology curriculums, Bill decided to embrace the creative and complex aspects of winemaking. After graduating from Davis in 1973, he immediately launched his career in the wine business. For the next twenty-plus years, Bill held a number of winemaking and consulting positions with top Northern California wineries including Chateau Souverain, William Wheeler, Lyeth and the recently heralded Jarvis Vineyards in Napa Valley.
Along the way, Bill Arbios managed to spearhead some interesting facets. While at Lyeth in 1981, he pioneered the first Bordeaux-style blended wines in Sonoma County, forerunners for the excellent ‘Meritage’ wines produced by a number of wineries today. While at Jarvis more than a decade later, he aided in the design and implementation of Jarvis’ state-of-the-art underground winery.
But in 1993, at the age of 39, Bill decided it was time to plant some roots of his own and later that year offered the first Arbios Winery release to the general public.
“At the time I considered myself a sort of vagabond vintner,” Arbios recently explained with a smile. “I had actually worked for so many people and seen so many things happen in the wine industry that I thought I could finally do it for myself. While I always considered winemaking an artistic pursuit, I was aware that not everyone shared my own particular goals. I was also a bit tired of chasing wine writer’s scores that either made the wine or broke it.”
Arbios Cellars’ first release was whopping 250 cases that were fortunately greeted with critical acclaim. Arbios now produces around 3,000 cases each year but has realistic goals for the future.
“I don’t intend to ever make more than 5,000 cases,” Arbios steadfastly added, “I’ve seen wineries and vineyards come and go. The way we are set up now, it’s just my wife Susan and me. I know what I can do to affect the quality of my wines and control their consistency. For me, bigger isn’t better.”
Solid words from a fifth generation Californian with vast experience in the wine business.
Arbios grew up in Paradise, you heard right, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from Chico. His decision to enter UC Davis was a long time dream as was his more recent decision to locate his winery in Sonoma County that he has come to love and respect.
“When I first came to Sonoma in 1973, the entire area was wide open. In fact it was heavily planted in prunes. The entire Alexander Valley was one giant prune field and the big fair event was the annual prune festival,” Arbios added. “During my career I had a lot of experience with Sonoma terroir and I‘ve come to really appreciate the subtleties that exist within Sonoma County’s borders.”
Arbios’ efforts along with a number of similar high profile wineries has helped create a much higher quality profile for Sonoma wines in general. Bill Arbios aptly sums it up when he says, “Wine is a lot about place and its ability to express something really unique.”
Arbios Cellars’ wines are produced at a production facility in Graton to Bill and Susan Arbios’ exacting standards. At present Bill Arbios is content to wait to build a new winery for his business.
“I hope to one day have a new winery,” he confessed. “But I want to do it right and that involves waiting for the right time. I have seen and worked for wineries and owners who put the winery first and failed to have enough money left to have adequate inventory to operate and enough cash to properly market their products. I simply want to cover all my contingencies when I do decide to build and in our case, that involves waiting.”
Bill spends about 20% of his time on the road marketing Arbios Winery products that can now be found in selected accounts in some twenty-eight markets and Canada.
Arbios is a throwback to many old time vintners who actually love their profession and are in the wine business for the correct reasons.
In our minds he is already quite successful.
Dear Platinum Series Members:
My wife, Susan and I are delighted to have our 1999 Arbios Cabernet Sauvignon featured as one of this month’s Platinum selections. We are a small, family-owned operation. I make the wine and handle the distribution while Susan picks up all of the other pieces and keeps us on track. We are working together to make our dream come true and are pleased to introduce our wines to you in this way.
I began making wine over 30 years ago—after I realized that I was not cut out to be a veterinarian. (I would have had a house full of strays!) Since my days at UC Davis, I have been the winemaker at a number of Sonoma and Napa wineries, but always longed to have my own label. Ten years ago, I launched ‘Arbios” with 125 cases of wine from a single hilltop vineyard—the highest and northernmost vineyard in the Alexander Valley. We are still producing our Cabernet from the same vineyard, but in 1999 we produced 2,500 cases. I do as little as possible to the fruit to allow its bright balance and incredible depth of character to shine. I believe this helps to evoke a real sense of place or terroir in our wines.
We hope you will enjoy our wine with friends and family. We feel the wine drinks beautifully now, but will age from 10 to 20 years more.
Cheers! Bill Arbios - Winemaker
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.”