Derby Wine Estates
Central Coast AVA
Nestled in Paso Robles, Derby Wine Estates produces a wide range of site-driven wines and unique blends from three estate vineyard properties: Derby, Derbyshire, and Laura’s Vineyard.
Ray Derby thought he would be long retired by now. After following his father into the family business of manufacturing automobile parts, Ray became a successful businessman for many years and lived happily in Eastern Los Angeles with his wife Pam. Eventually, in 1991, Ray sold the auto parts company to a competitor and moved to the quaint town of Paso Robles with the full intention of settling down, relaxing, and retiring. Once he discovered wine country, however, his interest was piqued and that retirement plant was indefinitely put on hold.
It was 1998 and Ray and Pam were settled into their new Paso Robles home. They were happy, but Ray was in need of a hobby and longed for some hands-on work to keep him busy. While in Los Angeles, Ray had developed a small avocado farm and enjoyed maintaining it as a weekend activity. Now that he was in grape-growing country, Ray was intrigued by the new challenge and decided to learn the art of viticulture.
Ray embraced the challenge in a big way. Later that year, he purchased a 600-acre property between Cambria and San Simeon that was located just 1.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This cool-climate site was perfectly suited to the 63 acres of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris planted there and Ray began his second career as a premium grape grower. He named the property Derbyshire Vineyard and the Derbys had officially joined the world of wine.
It wasn’t long before Ray wanted a second vineyard with a much warmer climate where he could grow the Bordeaux varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petite Verdot. In 2001, he and Pam purchased the historic Laura’s Vineyard on the east side of Paso Robles. The 278-acre site was originally owned by Gary Eberle (of Eberle Winery), and stands as one of Paso Robles’ first vineyards. Needless to say, Ray and Pam weren’t slowing down any time soon and retirement was no longer in the cards.
The Derbys quickly gained recognition for their premium fruit and were selling their grapes to wineries as far north as Napa Valley and as far south as Temecula. Buyers included such big names as Justin Winery in Paso Robles and Gallo Sonoma in the Dry Creek appellation of Sonoma County. Ray realized the potential of his vineyards and although hadn’t originally planned for it, in 2005 crafted the first vintage for Derby Wine Estates. The winery has grown slowly and continues to produce wines with grapes grown exclusively on the Derbys’ estate vineyards.
In 2006, Ray purchased the third and final site to round out the diverse selection of wine grape varietals planted on the Derby estates. This third site, Derby Vineyard, is a west side Paso Robles property planted to Rhone and Spanish varieties. Overall, the Derbys now manage 400 planted acres of 23 different grape varieties. The opportunities, it would seem, are endless!
Map of the area
Sean Geoghegan, winemaker
Winemaker for Derby Wine Estates since early 2019, Sean Geoghegan has been impressed by the breadth and quality of Derby’s unique vineyard holdings in Paso Robles. Sean is a California native and after earning his degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California, Davis, he began his career in the winery industry by accepting a position at Mount Eden Vineyards in 2007. The following year he became the assistant winemaker. Mount Eden is a historic producer in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, and after ten vintages living and working there, Sean relocated to Paso Robles. He first became a viticulturist, becoming familiar with the varied soils and micro climates that make up the vast Central Coast winegrowing region, before settling into winemaking. He is thrilled with the opportunity to craft a range of high quality wines at Derby Wine Estates.
1. The Bordeaux region of France is best known for which wines?
In ancient days, the Bordeaux region was famed for its white wine with over 80% of the land dedicated to the production of white wines like Sauternes, Barsac, Bordeaux Blanc and Graves. The transition to red wines occurred in the 1970’s as Bordeaux’s signature red blend began to rise in popularity. The British were among the first consumers to appreciate red Bordeaux, which they called ‘Claret.’ The term is still used in the United Kingdom. Today, the most important grapes in Bordeaux continue to be the reds, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Carménère is also permitted. Bordeaux’s white and dessert wines are based on Sèmillon and Sauvignon Blanc, along with Muscadelle.
2. Left and Right Bank Bordeaux: What is the difference?
Geographically, the Left Bank and Right Bank are two Bordeaux winemaking regions that are separated by an estuary and two rivers. Located on the west coast of France, Bordeaux is split in two by the Gironde Estuary, which divides into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. The Right Bank is the area to the north and right of the Gironde, and the Left Bank is the area below and to the left. The Left Bank encompasses the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux and its best known appellations include St-Estephe, Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux. The Right Bank’s most famous appellations are Pomerol and St-Emilion. As far as wine grape varietals and wine styles, the Left Bank wines are usually blends and Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape here. These wines typically have more tannins and a bigger overall structure than those from the Right Bank. Right Bank wines are predominantly Merlot-based and tend to be rich in fruit, softer in mouthfeel, with less tannins and acidity. Both the Right and Left Banks produce excellent, age-worthy wines.
3. What is the largest wine-growing region in France?
Bordeaux is the largest wine-growing region in France, comprising approximately 280,000 acres of vineyards and home to over 6,000 different vineyards. The region produces millions of cases of wine annually!
About the Vineyard
The wine regions that are reflected in the three vineyards of Derby Wine Estates are the Paso Robles and Central Coast AVA’s. Derby’s well thought out operation includes a main Bordeaux-varietal vineyard on the City of Paso Robles’ eastern side with climate and soils that are well suited to fulfilling the needs of these classic French varietals (Laura’s Vineyard). Another vineyard on Paso Robles’ western side is home to a number of Spanish and Rhône Valley varietals that require their own specific terrain and climate (Derby Vineyard).
Finally, a third vineyard is located quite near the Pacific Ocean, arguably the closest vineyard to the water that exists in all of California. This is home to Derby Wine Estates’ Burgundian varietals that crave the humidity and coldness that accompanies such a location.
Such micro-climatization bodes well for Derby Wine Estates' collection of twenty-four assorted grape varieties. It allows for the production of a large number of individual wines that are more and more sought after by the buying public.
This month's selections were all produced from the Derby Vineyard and showcase the wide range of Rhône varietals grown there.
Ray Derby - Winery Owner
Ray Derby is could easily be one of the most contented winery owners in California. His venture into the competitive wine industry is humming along nicely and seems destined for ultimate success.
"I am a most fortunate person," he recently declared. “My wife and I are partners in every sense of the word. We took a chance on starting something we knew very little about and it has all turned out for the very best.”
The Derbys’ Derby Wine Estates is a prime example of being in the right place at the right time. It also could act as a model for anyone interested in starting a new business.
"I believe firmly in delegating responsibility to our employees," Derby stated firmly. "If you hire someone who knows what they are doing, then let them have the opportunity to prove themselves without too much restraint. Too many owners over manage, or micromanage, their businesses. I've had good success with all my former businesses by allowing my employees to act using their own initiative. The same formula has worked will with Derby Wine Estates."
Despite the accolades that Derby Wine Estates has amassed over the decade since its inception, Ray Derby insists he is still a grower as opposed to being a vintner. "We started this business to grow grapes and have continued along that road. The fact that we can now make and market our own fine wines is a tribute to what we have accomplished as growers."
Ray's wife Pam handles the financial aspects of their business while Ray sees to the everyday aspects of farming and administration of the winery.
Ray also points proudly to the fact that Derby grows some twenty-four different varietals on its three separate vineyards. "At first glance, twenty-four different varietals might seem [like] a lot to the casual observer," Derby noted. "But, it all seems to work for us. This large pool of fruit allows our winemaker to be creative in our offerings. A number of our wines that we make and sell are not that common in the California wine industry."
Ray Derby also points out that his present status allows him to take a day off whenever he feels it is necessary. "One man operations have a long history of failing," he commented. "Too much stress and pressure are the tools of failure, and I don't intend to fail. If more owners adopted this philosophy, I would think they would enjoy running their businesses a good deal more."
Ray Derby is the perfect example of a gentleman farmer turned modern businessman. His winery operation is well conceived and fits a number of niches left open by larger winery operations.
Is there anything that he would like to change? "Not really," he confessed. "Our children are all successful in their lives and don't seem too interested in the winery business. That's a shame because the winery business is a great deal of fun and introduces you to a wine variety of interesting people. If I had to do it all over, I would do it exactly the same. I wouldn't change anything for any amount of money."
Tiffinee Vierra - Winemaker
The wines featured in this month’s Gold Wine Club were made by winemaker Tiffinee Vierra, the first winemaker that Derby Wine Estates ever employed. A food science major at nearby Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, Vierra has enjoyed many years in the wine industry and has worked for the likes of Wild Horse Winery, the iconic Edna Valley Vineyard, the smaller Tablas Creek Vineyard, and Four Vines Winery. She is married to Derby’s Vineyard Manager, Steve Vierra, who joined the Derby management team in 2011. Tiffinee has since moved on to pursue other endeavors.
Tiffinee was assisted by assistant winemaker Ethan Heller who also attended nearby Cal Poly State University, graduating with a degree in Wine and Viticulture. He started working for Derby Wine Estates in 2007 and worked his way up from tasting room attendant, to a cellar intern, and even spent a season in the vineyard under Steve Vierra. Upon graduating, Ethan moved into a full-time cellar position and over the next several years, again climbed the ranks to become assistant winemaker. During his tenure at Derby Wine Estates, Ethan has been involved in just about every facet of the production of wine.