Success allows Faun Vineyards to pursue their field of dreams.
The evolution of Faun Vineyards into a highly respected wine entity was as much a product of circumstance as anything else. For owner J.D. Aguillar, the development of his pet project came as a result of meeting his wife to be, Ginger, almost twelve years ago.
Ginger Lindley was part of a winemaking family that owned Lockwood Vineyards, at the time an up and coming winery in the Monterey County growing region. To be closer to Ginger, J.D. moved to the Monterey area and became closely involved with members of Ginger's family.
Eventually Ginger and J.D. married in 1996, and before long, the seed of winemaking was planted in J.D. by Aguillar's now brother-in-law Ken Rauh. Rauh and his wife Robyn (Ginger's sister), long active in the Monterey County wine scene, were on their way to becoming the future owners of a new winery called Mission Trail Vineyards that has formerly been a Gold Series selection for this club.
From this point on, the progression of Faun Vineyards is not too dissimilar to a number of other winery sagas. J. D. Aguillar and Ken Rauh began working together to make some homemade beer and homemade wines. Their formula was simple and to the point.
'We bought a book on winemaking and read it from front to back,' Aguillar recalled. 'We had no real idea what we were doing at the time and decided it would be smart for us to stick to the basics. We eventually were able to produce around fifteen or sixteen barrels a year and actually started making some pretty good wine.'
Buoyed by the ongoing compliments of family and friends and able to utilize the winery facilities of nearby Lockwood, the idea of Faun Vineyards slowly began to take shape. When a fulltime job opened at Lockwood, J.D. jumped at the chance to be in the wine industry on a permanent basis. 'I actually started at the bottom of the chain and worked my way up, 'Aguillar explained. 'I went from cellar rat to lab technician to becoming involved with the winemaking process. It was a great deal of intense work but I managed to learn a lot about the entire process.'
In 2002, Aguillar enrolled in one of UC Davis' programs intended for people already involved in the wine business. 'It was a wonderful opportunity to enhance what I already was experience on a daily basis,' he added. 'By completing the course, I gained a more complete feeling about wine and the winemaking process. I would recommend it to anyone truly interested in improving their wine expertise.'
That same year, Faun Vineyards released its first wines, comprising only 225 cases. The way the name Faun Vineyards came into being is a story in itself. For about eighteen months prior to the first release, the Aguillar's new entity was nameless, with a number of potential names being tossed around by friends and family. One day, J.D. was looking through a dictionary and came upon a depiction of a faun, a devilishly symbolic character that was half man and half goat. The more he looked at the drawing the more Aguillar realized the figure described the personalities of the principals involved in his soon to be winery.
Further research involving the legends associated with the faun showed that the creatures celebrated life by carousing, chasing nymphs and drinking wine, all respectable tasks in Aguillar's mind. Moreover, the faun was sacred to farmers in both Greek and Roman mythologies and was always associated with prosperity, an essential element to any winery operation. When Aguillar found a picture of the wine god Bacchus next to a faun and learned that Bacchus wore the skin of a faun on his shoulders, the deal was sealed and Faun Vineyards became a reality.
Today, Faun Vineyards has grown to just over 1200 annual cases, but has plans to eventually expand to around 4500 cases during the next five years. Aguillar has brought some additional property (approximately 22 plantable acres) at the base of the Gabilan Mountain Range that dominates one side of the Salinas Valley and is parallel to the remarkable Santa Lucia Highlands that has become famous for some of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in California.
Aguillar also hopes to open a tasting room in either San Jose or Monterey in the not too distant future, a move that would afford his emerging winery a great deal of exposure.
Things have never come easy for J.D. Aguillar, now 37, even at the beginning of his life.
'People always ask me what the 'J.D.' stands for,' the personable owner of Faun Vineyards, remarked recently, 'and, I am forced to tell them the whole story.'
It seems that Aguillar's parents were both of Mexican descent and neither one was really proficient in speaking English. At the time of his birth, both parents wanted to name him J.D. but were unable to convey that message to the authorities. In their effort to explain their desire, the couple tried to explain themselves by selecting a well known actor James Dean, who bore the same initials. So it was that James Dean Aguillar was officially recognized as being born.
'It took a few years and finally we were able to get my name changed to plain J.D., Aguillar chuckled, 'and it's all anyone has ever called me in my entire lifetime.' Aguillar had absolutely no idea he would ever wind up being in the wine business. He graduated from college at Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Real Estate Finance. His closest contact with wine resulted from his father's efforts at making some homemade wines with an Italian buddy during his youth in Los Angeles when he was about ten years old. 'It always seemed like a lot of fun for everyone, and that was the wine we drank with some of our meals,' he admitted. 'I really can't say but I guess it was pretty good for the time.'
Everything changed for Aguillar when he fell in love with his future wife Ginger.
'Ginger's entire family was really into wine,' Aguillar admitted. Every time I went up to Monterey all that was discussed was wine in one form or another. I finally moved up here to be closer to her and we soon married. That probably sealed my fate.'
Quite naturally, Aguillar's close association with his new brother-in-law, Ken Rauh, almost forced J.D. to enter the wine business. 'Ken is a very forceful person, and he came up with this idea for us to make our own wines in our garage. He listed all these things to do and I wound up doing practically all of them myself. Ken was great with the idea, but I was left to do all the work. And let me tell you, making homemade wines is very labor intensive,' he smiled as he recalled.
When it was time to go public with his first release, J.D. Aguillar was rewarded with instant critical success. His limited production from Faun Vineyards won several medals and encouraged him to try and grow larger.
.'I have to say that for me, Faun Vineyards is strictly a labor of love,' he admitted. 'I always tell everyone if you get into the wine business to make money, you are strictly in the wrong business. It is simply too labor intense and also extremely competitive. It seems like everyone is getting into the winery business these days, and they are not all going to make it.'
J.D. feels the reason Faun has been so successful so far is the availability of Lockwood's custom crush facility, which aids Aguillar's search for quality grapes from the region. 'Being able to utilize Lockwood's facilities is a real plus. Everything there is first class and tends to make things easier during the winemaking process. I can't begin to tell you how much they have helped me make a go of it,' he added.
Aguillar learned from several different winemakers and has developed his own unique style. He says that he is more of the classical winemaker (sense, smell) but also sees the need for utilizing numbers (brix, etc) when making decisions. 'I'm a stickler for detail,' he injected. 'And I continue to do most of the work myself. Once you have developed a system that you are comfortable with, it's better to follow that system to its completion.'
Aguillar is extremely excited about the possibility of producing Pinot Noir from the new acreage Faun acquired. 'Pinot Noir is the real challenge to a winemaker,' he finalized. 'It requires a type of savvy that other grape varietals don't require. I know our land will be great for growing Pinot Noir, the rest will be up to me and my winemaking.'
Judging from his past accomplishments, J.D. Aguillar is a cinch to produce even more great wines.