Napa Valley AVA
93 Points, ‘Best of the Year” - Wine & Spirits magazine
Some wineries come into existence through happenstance, while others are the result of attempts by their owners to produce specific vehicles that fill anticipated voids or niches in the existing wine market.
Such is the case with this month’s Platinum Series selection, a winery simply known as Blue Cellars. Founded in 2002 by Jim Fenstermaker and Jeff Brock, Blue Cellars is a deliberate attempt to penetrate the ultra premium segment of the wine industry with a superior series of small volume wines.
Jim Fenstermaker, 46, is a Boston native who came west eleven years ago with the specific intention of getting into the wine business. A software company executive by trade, he soon became involved with a fun group known as Wine Brats, an erstwhile and diverse collection of wine enthusiasts. During an organizational camp out, Jim met Jeff Ritchie, a winemaker with a UC Davis masters in oenology. The two became friends and Ritchey told Fenstermaker about a startup winery operation named Parius that was looking for investors. The two became investors and the winery soon began to prosper.
After several years, another software engineer, Jeff Brock, 43, who indicated he was interested in getting involved in the wine business, approached Fenstermaker. Brock was originally from Queens and was an avid wine collector whose philosophies closely mirrored those of Fenstermaker.
By this time Parius was undergoing problems, so Fenstermaker and Brock decided to set out on their own and offered the winemaking job to Fenstermaker’s old friend, Jeff Ritchey.
“We wanted to create a new company that produced small amounts of extremely high quality wine,” Fenstermaker, in the role of CEO, commented. “We also wanted to make wines that we liked. He hoped the public would agree with our taste, and were prepared to bend a little if they didn’t.”
Both Fenstermaker and Brock carefully selected the name of the winery and label. “We wanted something that was really simple,” offered Brock who serves as CFO and Managing Partner. “We thought about this a great deal and came up with the word Blue. After all, who could forget a word a simple as blue. We also used that logic in designing the label. In our opinion, you can’t get much easier than one word for a name.’
Blue Cellars’ first release came in 2005, a whopping 190 cases. Again, the total case volume was part of a pre-designed plan.
“We will never make a wine of more than 500 cases,” Jim Fenstermaker explained. “We feel if we get beyond that level, quality control becomes an issue. We give great attention to detail at Blue Cellars and are proud to say that our wines are truly hand-crafted.”
Fenstermaker and Brock even drive their truck to Napa Valley or wherever their grapes are located and physically work the equipment that place the grapes into the truck. They then drive back south to Soledad where they share winery facilities with San Saba Vineyards. Along with Jeff Ritchie, the three partners ensure that every part of the wine making process is done by hand. After the wine is in the barrel, other friends join the trio to punch down the barrels and eventually bottle and label the finished wines.
“I think we are very fortunate to have things happen the way they have,” Jeff Brock added. “We ventured into the Syrah phenomena when the grape was just starting to get hot. Right now the Syrah is the hottest thing around, a fact that creates a great demand for our wines.”
Recent accolades for Blue Cellars have been abundant and quite rewarding to the fledgling winery operation that is in the process of looking for a permanent home. So far, potential locations in nearby Paso Robles and also up north in Sonoma and Napa Valley have been discussed, but nothing has yet been finalized.
“We are between one and two years away from moving our winery,” concluded Brock. “We
have approached this as we have each important aspect of our development as a company. We simply want to be sure the decision we make is the best for everyone concerned.”
Both Fenstermaker and Brock have young daughters that have indicated an interest in joining Blue Cellars sometime in the future.
That premise augurs well for both partners who see their small winery as fulfilling a lifetime dream. Both consider themselves tremendously fortunate people.