Derby Wine Estates
Central Coast AVA
Bordeaux, Rhône, and Burgundian-style award-winning wines.
When Ray Derby sold his family's automotive parts business in the late 1990’s, he quickly decided he was too young to retire. He had also maintained a vacation home in Cambria, a small Central Coast town not far from the famed Hearst Castle along California’s majestic Pacific coastline. The fact that the area was also the scene of the wine-producing boom highlighted by movies and national attention by the nation’s wine press also impressed Derby and his wife Pam.
“We saw what was happening to the area, and the national recognition that was being given to Central Coast fruit,” he recounted. “I remember thinking that the business of growing grapes might be just what the doctor ordered to keep us busy. When we started, it was solely with the intention of growing grapes and nothing else."
The Derbys began with a top-flight vineyard located in East Paso Robles that was simply named Laura’s Vineyard. It had a solid reputation for producing top caliber fruit and came highly recommended to the couple. Additional vineyards (Derby Vineyard in West Paso Robles and Derbyshire Vineyard just outside San Simeon) completed the land acquisitions for Derby Wine Estates.
“We found that it was relatively simple to sell our grapes so we decided to acquire some additional acreage to plant different varietals that seemed to be coming into vogue,” Derby continued. “We remained in our role as growers until it became apparent that the demand for our grapes was such that it allowed us to hold back a small amount for our own use in a winery operation.”
Derby Wine Estates became a reality in 2005 with an initial release of just under 500 cases, a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. The company’s first wines were well received and plans were made to increase the production of Derby Wine Estates.
“But we are still mainly growers,” Derby informed. “In fact, only a tiny percentage of our last crush went into making our own wines. The remainder was sold to a host of wineries that include some of the top names in the California wine industry.”
In the eleven years since its inception, Derby Wine Estates has grown into an almost 3,500 case winery, still almost boutique in nature.
“We have no desire to become a mega winery,” Ray Derby added. “We specialize in small batch wines that fit the role of the boutique winery. We have decided to let the market dictate our growth. If the demand increases substantially, we certainly have the grapes available to increase our production accordingly. If we suddenly see an increase in demand for Derby Wine Estates, it would be possible to grow to 10,000 cases or more, but we don’t foresee that happening anytime soon. We prefer slow growth and a sustained customer support base.”
Derby Wine Estates also pinpoints the exact location of the varietals it uses for each of its wines. A compass on the label actually points to a spot on the map where the vineyard is located. Different varietals require different soils and conditions and Derby Wine Estates' labels help the consumer identity the source of each wine that is being consumed.
In addition, a three-year project to renovate an almost century-old building to house the new winery was completed in 2014. The building was formerly an almond producing facility that had been unused for a period of time. The newly designed facility now houses a winery, tasting room and patio area for Derby's customers.
“The old building reeks of personality and has made a great new home for us. It took us three years to complete, but it was worth it. We are right where we want to be,” Derby finalized. “We couldn’t be happier with our progress as a winery.”
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.