Sonoma County region
It is quite easy to concede the predominant Irish influence in Sonoma Valley’s Castle Vineyards and Winery is due to the fact that the winery’s two principal employees both bear surnames that begin with Mc.
The first, Vic McWilliams, 52, is a native North Dakotan who came to California more than three decades ago armed with a pharmacy degree as well as an additional title as a physician’s assistant. He was prepared to spend time in Northern California, and more specifically Sonoma Valley, in a family-related internship as a PA. What McWilliams wasn’t prepared for was the effect the valley and it’s marvelous blend of work environment/wine ambient surroundings would have on him.
In other words, Vic McWilliams was quickly smitten with the wine bug.
“Like many others I started out as a home winemaker,” McWilliams recalled recently. “It was in 1978 and I had a good friend who was also a home winemaker who eventually opened his own winery. I guess you could say that the seed for me to do the same was planted about that time.”
By 1983 McWilliams had bought his first piece of property in Sonoma and became fully dedicated to securing his own spot in the wine industry. With that determination came the realization that it took really great fruit to make good wines. McWilliams branched out and started managing vineyard property for a variety of clients. After several years his business grew until McWilliams was finally tending over sixty acres of prime Sonoma grapevines.
Is there a correlation between his training as a pharmacist with its high degree of chemical intricacy and those of the modern wine business where the perfect fruit/acid balance is every winemaker’s dream?
“I certainly see a direct correlation between the two fields,” McWilliams agreed. “To me it seemed a natural progression. However, I must emphasize that the wine business permits me to display my artistic side, and that’s the big difference. In a phrase, wine must be considered the total experience, at least to myself.”
Castle Vineyards released its first wines in 1993, a whopping 250 cases to be exact. It has grown deliberately and will produce between 2500 and 3500 during the current 2004 vendage. This sits perfectly well with Vic McWilliams, who has attempted of late to get Castle’s marketing and inventory in line.
“It’s always easy to sell our grapes to other wineries,” he admitted, “they are extremely popular and are always in demand. It’s up to us to project our needs accurately and produce what we need to be profitable.”
The “us” McWilliams alluded to is Erin McClary, his partner in life and his associate in the winery. Erin joined castle in 1995 and is responsible for the sales and marketing aspect of Castle Vineyards and Winery. She travels the entire country and oversees Castle’s distribution network, conducts trade events and generally insures that castle’s wines are where they should be in order to be sold.
Both “Mc’s” (Erin is also of Irish descent) are extremely proud of the sparkling new tasting facility on West Spain Street that was opened in mid-August, just off Sonoma’s eminently shoppable main square. They are counting on the fact that the new tasting facility will bring them added exposure and will offer Castle an opportunity to further expand its concept of teaching consumers the intricacies of wine.
“What sets us apart,” Erin McClary stated flatly, “is that we want consumers to feel like they’ve learned something about wine and are comfortable talking about it, since wine shouldn’t be unapproachable and only for the elite.”
Such sound business acumen and the myriad of awards that Castle has garnered in recent years means the smallish Sonoma winery is well on the way to financial freedom. Castle’s success has also allowed Vic McWilliams to nurture his favorite grape varietal, the Pinot Noir. Castle now produces four Pinots that seem ideally suited to Vic McWilliams’ definition of his winemaking style.
“I produce very fruit forward wines that hopefully express the grapes appellation, where the balance of fruit and acidity are essential. They are truly California I style with a little bit of European thrown in.”
All that considered and Castle Vineyards and Winery is a most expressive entity. We are delighted to share it with you as our Platinum Series Wine Club Selection this month.