Central Valley region
the family business had expanded to 1,500 acres of property with over 1,000 acres of vineyards.
“Grapes don’t kick or charge at you,” quips John Cotta explaining why his dad, Joe Cotta, Jr. transitioned the family business from dairy cows to vineyards. “Cows just weren’t in his blood,” he adds. When John’s grandfather bought the property near Lodi, California back in 1925, most of the 400-acre plot was barren land. Perfect he thought, for raising dairy cows, like his father did.
The site he purchased also happened to have 120 acres of vineyards on it. “Other than making home-made wine, my grandfather’s main interest was the dairy business, not the grape growing business,” John tells us. So, for decades his grandfather hired workers simply to keep the vineyard going, and sold the entire harvest each year to nearby wineries.
In the late-1940s Joe Jr. suggested expanding the vineyard operations. “He really didn’t like cows,” John mentions again, even though we were convinced of that earlier. Moooving ahead with his plan, Joe Jr. secured long-term grape-growing contracts with several large wineries located in the Central Valley. This allowed him to confidently expand the family vineyards over the next few years to include an additional 300 acres. As you might expect, the dairy business gradually fell by the wayside.
By 1980, the family business had expanded to 1,500 acres of property with over 1,000 acres of vineyards. Up until that time, the vineyards consisted mostly of varietals used for blending purposes, French Colombard, Carignane, Chenin Blanc, etc. As the California wine industry began to flourish, other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay were emerging as popular alternatives to grow. As a result, many of their vineyards were grafted over to these varietals.
Meanwhile, Joe Jr.’s son, John entered the picture. His idea was to take the vineyard business one step further and start a winery. “My interest in life was not so much growing grapes, but rather winemaking. So I bought some tanks and an old crusher from Stevenot Winery, then my brother and I converted an old dairy barn into a makeshift winery,” says John, explaining how he got started.
He called his winery, Las Viñas, which in Spanish literally means, The Vineyards. In 1985, his first crush produced 2,000 cases of Zinfandel, White Zinfandel and Symphony—all from grapes grown in the family’s Lodi vineyards. Lodi’s location in the Central Valley was at the time perceived to be a 2nd class grape growing area. But over the next five years he surprised many of his constituents by winning Gold Medal after Gold Medal for his Lodi produced wines.
Having conquered the Central Valley challenge and in pursuit of loftier goals, John shifted his attention toward the Central Coast. In 1990 he bought 50 acres of land in Monterey County and planted vineyards to Merlot and Chardonnay. He also changed his winery name to Baywood. “Everyone can pronounce Baywood,” he says laughing, when asked why. [Actually, the name came about because his new tasting room location is near the Monterey Bay; his winery in Lodi is on Woodbridge Road.]
In 1995 John started producing his first Monterey County wines. Not skipping a beat, his wines immediately started winning top awards in the competitions. “I believe the Central Coast is comparable if not superior to the Napa and Sonoma growing regions,” states John. It doesn’t seem to matter though where the grapes are from, John has a talent for producing medal-winning wines. A few years back just for fun, he produced a sparkling wine made from Napa Valley grapes. The wine earned multiple Gold Medals in national and international wine competitions.
“My goal is to keep making the best wine possible but staying within an affordable price range,” John says. He stopped looking at the Napa area, believing that the grapes are way overpriced. His latest quest has taken him further south along the coast to the Paso Robles region. There he purchased 300 acres and has planted Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and plans to add Sangiovese, and Petite Verdot.
With 3,000 acres of vineyards in Lodi, 200 acres in Monterey and 300 in Paso Robles, John has a lot of grapes to choose from. “Except for a small amount of Zinfandel, all of the Lodi grapes are sold to other wineries,” John tells us. “Today is Monterey, the future is Paso Robles,” he says, confident of more good wines to come.
Baywood Cellars’ production is currently at 30,000 cases. The plan is to double that quantity within 6 years. The winery also produces wine under the Scenic Cellars name. The labels in this line are actual prints of famous locations across the country, painted by world famous artist Walter Viszolay. The Scenic Cellars Collection now consists of thirty unique label prints.
The Cotta Family extends a warm welcome to all Gold Medal Wine Club members to visit the Baywood Cellars’ Tasting Room. It is located on historic Cannery Row, just steps away from the Monterey Bay, and a few blocks from the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Meanwhile, enjoy the medal-winning Baywood wines featured this month's wine club.
Winery owner - John Cotta
‘I really wanted to be an airline pilot,” says winery owner John Cotta, reminiscing. ‘But there were so many pilots available after the Vietnam War, the field seemed a bit crowded,” he recalls. Lucky for us wine enthusiasts that he stuck with winemaking!
John was born and raised in Lodi, California where his father and grandfather ran the family grape growing business. He literally grew up on the farm, as did a lot of kids who lived in the Lodi area. His father Joe Cotta, Jr. and Grandfather Joe Sr. also grew up on farms. ‘My grandfather came to California from Portugal when he was 19 years old,” John begins to tell us. Joe Sr. had no formal education and could neither read nor write. He landed a job milking cows and lived in a bunkhouse on a farm along with dozens of other workers. Frugal and well disciplined, he was eventually able to rent a small parcel of ranch land, buy a few cows and start a dairy of his own. His dairy business went so well that he bought 400 acres of his own land in 1925. Most of the property was bare ranch land but roughly 25% of the property consisted of mature vineyard land.
John’s father, Joe Jr. stepped right into the family farming enterprise. As early as 6 years old, he was often out driving the tractor helping his dad with the chores. ‘My dad is the one who expanded the vineyard operation and phased out the dairy business,” John says.
Although John grew up on the farm too, he didn’t exactly follow in the same footsteps as his father or grandfather. That’s because the flying bug hit him before the farm bug did. ‘I had my pilot’s license when I was 16 years old,” he tells us. His dream was to become a commercial airline pilot. So enthusiastic was he about flying that he enrolled at Sacramento State to study aeronautical engineering.
‘My other passion was winemaking,” John continues. Both his father and grandfather were home winemakers so he grew up with an appreciation of wine and the art of crafting wine. ‘I was really popular in high school as long as the wine held out,” John laughs.
After deciding not to pursue a pilot career, John enrolled at U.C. Davis to study enology. Once he got an understanding of the technical side of winemaking, he was off and running on his own. In 1985, with plenty of grapes to choose from off his family vineyard, John launched his winery and winemaking career.
Today, the Cottas still run their enterprise as a family business. John runs the day-to-day operations, and also handles the winemaking duties. His younger brother James owns the other half of the business and is in charge of the vineyards. Joe Jr. is semi-retired now but still stays involved. Joe Sr. passed away just last year at the age of 93, but was able to see the huge success of the business he started over 75 years ago. Now, John and James’ kids are growing up on the farm and will no doubt carry on as the next generation of terra Cottas!