Sonoma County region
Wines that are specific, individual expressions of Sonoma Valley.
Using most acceptable standards, Healdsburg-based Grove Street Winery can be considered among the old timers of the area. Founded more than two decades ago, Grove Street is a remarkable example of a winery that was initially flushed with success, grew to almost incredible proportions, and then was later forced to retreat when it strayed from its initial marketing philosophy. Simply put, Grove Street Winery was begun in the late 1980’s as a restaurant brand, available only in on-premise situations in selected restaurants throughout California. Its initial release was a smallish 2,000 cases, but the idea of a restaurant exclusive wine caught on during the wine swell that was the 1990’s in Northern California. Using a formula of selected vineyards throughout the Sonoma Valley growing area, Grove Street Winery quickly grew as numerous end users throughout California and elsewhere identified with the winery’s excellent fruit/acid balance in its wines and an optimum price value relationship that was so necessary for its success. At one point, the winery’s ownership decided to vary from its initial successful marketing efforts and made the wines available to numerous retail outlets. The brand grew to more than 100,000 cases at its zenith, but slowly things began to change. The basis for Grove Street Winery’s success, the restaurant trade, wearied of wines that were suddenly available at retail. Sales began to tumble, and the wheels came off the express that Grove Street Winery had become.
Some three years ago, an investment group comprised of several outstanding Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley wineries, (Girard Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Vintners and Stone Fly Winery to name a few), bought Grove Street Winery from its then owners. The group was called Vintage Wine Estates and a decision was made to return Grove Street Winery to its successful roots, that of being a restaurant-oriented winery that was a terrific value and producers of great food wines. Today, Grove Street Winery produces only 22,000 cases per annum, a far cry from its lofty levels of the late nineties and early 2000’s.
“We decided to go back to what worked for Grove Street in the beginning,” confirmed John Drady, one of the principals in the new venture. “When Grove Street was a restaurant wine, everyone supported it and we think we can make it really successful again this time around,” he added. Drady conceded that the limited bottlings made available to Gold Medal Wine Club were unique and would be welcomed by restaurants due to the exposure Grove Street would receive around the country. Little else has changed with the formula used for Grove Street Winery’s former success.
“We use fruit from a number of vineyards located in Sonoma Valley,” Drady informed. “These are our highest quality grapes and Pat Roney and his winemaking team turn them into really fabulous wines. Since they are intended for on-premise (restaurant) consumption, the wines are really food friendly by necessity.” The wines of Grove Street can be tasted at the company’s new Healdsburg tasting facility located on the square in downtown Healdsburg, certainly considered one of Sonoma’s most visited sites. Drady said that Grove Street will probably remain at its current level of production for a long time to come. “We know the niche we belong in, and we’re very happy to be back. As long as our great winemaking team continues to produce superior quality wines, we think Grove Street Winery will again be a most viable brand. We are so convinced of this that we don’t even print UPC codes on the back labels of our wines.” It is encouraging to hear such definitive expression for the re-born Sonoma winery. We are delighted to be part of this delightful company’s return to wine propriety.
Nancy Walker joined Grove Street as winemaker in 2007
One of the growing numbers of women winemakers is 43-year-old Nancy Walker. A graduate of the acclaimed enology school at UC Davis, Walker began her career as the assistant winemaker at Clos du Bois in the late 1980’s. In 1991, she became the founding winemaker at Brutocao Cellars in Mendocino County. Seven years later, Walker joined the huge Fetzer Vineyards winemaking team in Hopland where she stayed until taking over the reins of the Winery Exchange, a private label building company headquartered in Novato, in southern Sonoma County. Nancy Walker joined Grove Street as winemaker in 2007 and brings a seasoned hand to the winemaking chores at Grove Street Winery. She is married to another winemaker, Tony Stephen, and is the mother of two boys. Her winemaking style brings out the true terroir of the fruit used to make Grove Street’s distinctive wines.
Pat Roney is 54, and has been in practically every facet of the wine industry during his more than thirty year career. A Los Altos, CA native, Roney graduated from Northwestern and also received a masters in marketing from Southern Illinois. During his college career, he was a sommelier at the famous Pump Room in the city’s Ambassador East Hotel on Chicago’s famous Gold Coast. He started in the wine business in earnest with industry giant Seagram’s in 1978 and has been an integral part of the wine business since that time. He moved back to Northern California in 1986 to take the reins as senior vice president of marketing of the Christian Brothers Winery and finally became the president of renowned Sonoma wine entity, Chateau St. Jean. Three years later, he engineered the great growth cycle of the Kunde Estate Winery, and grew it into another Sonoma powerhouse. An old friend from Kansas, Paul Rudd, next tapped Roney to become CEO of the fabulous Dean & Deluca gourmet food experiences where he helped develop the company’s wine business and establish their national reputation. Along the way, he also spent several years with venture capitalist Black Fox Group out of Colorado. In 2000, Pat Roney hit the big time when he acquired the exceptional Girard Winery of Napa Valley and its worldwide reputation. ‘I look to many different aspects of the wine industry,” Roney declared recently. ‘And I see a really good long term outlook. I feel that the wineries that overproduce and over deliver value to their customers are going to profit in the end. It’s one of the main reasons my associates and I bought Grove Street Winery in the first place. They had been in business for a long tome and had a great reputation for over delivering on both quality and value. With that combination, I didn’t think we could lose on the deal.” As far as time is concerned, Roney spends about 15% of his daily time on Grove Street business. He is present at all blending sessions and makes many of the production decisions. His specialty is marketing and he says that he is heavily involved in any marketing decisions that affect Grove Street Winery. Pat Roney is particularly pleased with his winemaking team, headed by winemaker Nancy Walker. A pair of additional winemakers, Anthony Austin from Sonoma Coast Winery and Marco Di Giulio from Girard Winery also consult with Walker on a daily basis.
‘We have a dynamite winemaking team in place at Grove Street,” proclaimed Roney. Each has their own specialty and they get along quite nicely. The winner in all this is the consumer who drinks these lovely wines, and that’s our main goal in the first place.” Roney intends that his winery empire encompass some 400-500 thousand cases a year, and has invested in a number of wineries that offer different price levels and availabilities. ‘When Bill Hambrecht founded Grove Street several decades ago, he had the right idea. He became successful by following a marketing plan (on premise) and that’s exactly what we intend to get back to. The great thing is the winery continued to make marvelous wines even during its decline. A lot of consumers remember the wines and I am banking on that in all my projections.” Pat Roney has been successful so many times in his career, it would not be guessing to say he will be successful again. His very presence in the vintner or owner’s role assures the exceptional attention to detail that has marked his many other ventures.