Joullian Vineyards and Winery
Their high-quality wines are in demand across the country and worldwide,
“Diversification.” That was the mantra for businesses in the early 1980s. Want to grow your business?? Diversify. Want to ensure longevity for your company? Diversify. So it was that business owners Ed Joullian and Dick Sias began looking for other opportunities outside of their already successful Oklahoma-based oil business. “Both Ed and I have a fascination and appreciation for wines,” recounts co-owner Dick Sias. “The creation of Joullian Vineyards and Winery was a culmination of similar interests, thoughts and events that happened to coincide at the right time.”
Since Ed and Dick were busy running the oil business, they needed someone to start up and take charge of the vineyard operation. A friend of Ed’s happened to know a winemaker named Ridge Watson, who at the time was working in France. After a series of telegrams and lots of due diligence, the newly formed team converged in California in 1981 to begin their venture. “The opportunity to start a vineyard and winery from scratch was too enticing to pass up,” admits Ridge.
The trio looked for vineyard property all over northern California, particularly in Napa and Sonoma, but found very opportunities that met their criteria. The search intensified and narrowed to Monterey County, an area with which Ridge was familiar. “I have always been partial to Monterey County wines,” Ridges tells us. Their interest in Monterey piqued after they sampled some of the Cabernets produced by Monterey grower Durney Vineyards. A friend of Ridge’s was the winemaker at Durney and had just pulled a phenomenal coup over the French. Pitted against France’s 1st Growth Bourdeauxs in an international tasting, the Durney 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon won 1st Place honors. “That 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon sold us on the area,” says Ridge.
In late 1981, almost two years after the search began, Joullian and Sias purchased 655 acres in the mountains of Carmel Valley, not far from Durney Vineyards. They earmarked 40 acres of plantable land located at the 1,400 foot level and proceeded to contour and terrace the gravely loam soil. Twenty-nine acres was allocated to the Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The remaining 11 acres was planted to Chardonnay.
By 1986, they were able to harvest enough grapes to produce a total of 300 cases of several different wines. Gradually increasing production by a thousand cases or so each year, they continued to use the winemaking facilities of nearby wineries until they reached a critical mass. In 1990 they finally turned the corner. “The 1990 harvest was when the vines really hit their stride,” recalls Ridge. That year production hit a high of 6,000 cases, big enough to finally prove in their own production facility.
Within a year’s time they built a 14,000 square foot, state-of-the-art winery. They brought in the latest technology to minimize the guess-work and allow the winemaker to employ both Burgundian and Bordelaise fermentation regimes. It has constructed to provide a wide range of barrel aging options, multiple temperature and humidity choices for fine-tuning alcohol, secondary fermentation, and on and on. Furthermore, the building and equipment was designed to handle production of each varietal in its own unique requirements from vineyard to bottle. “It’s simply every winemaker’s dream,” beams Ridge.
Currently the winery produces 13,000 cases each year. Cabernet Sauvignon is Joullian’s flagship varietal comprising over a third of the vineyard’s 40 acres and a large percentage of overall production. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the winery’s other principle wines. A surprising success for Joullian has been the winery’s entrée into Zinfandel. The original plan did not include growing Zinfandel grapes largely because no one had done it before in Monterey County. It was an unproven varietal for the area. But co-owner Dick Sias liked Zinfandel and convinced Ridge to give it a try. The result has been nothing short of amazing. The 400 to 500 cases of Zinfandel produced each year has become a cult-like wine that is quickly snapped up each year. To this day, Dick Sias is known as the “father of Carmel Valley Zinfandel.” Riding with the Zin’s success, the winery is hoping to triple the output over the next several years.
The team at Joullian Vineyards includes, co-founders, Dick Sias and Ed Joullian, who still keep a keen eye on things at the winery. Ed’s daughter, Marion Joullian Story has assumed the role of President. Ridge Watson is the Winemaker and General Manager, and industry specialist Susan Leach heads up the winery’s Sales and Marketing.
Until recently, Joullian has chosen to maintain a relatively low-profile over the years. While their high-quality wines are in demand across the country and worldwide, the winery itself is remotely located in the Carmel Mountains and open to the public by appointment only. However they now have a tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village open every weekday 11am-5pm.
Raymond (Ridge) Watson III
Raymond (Ridge) Watson III headed off to Stanford in 1964 to become a college history professor. But instead of giving world history lessons, he now spends time teaching distributors, retailers and consumers all across the country about the history of Joullian wines.
We caught up with Ridge in Kansas City, Missouri where he was visiting his hometown and also getting a break from the rigors of being on the road. ‘I had no idea whatsoever that I’d be in the wine business,” admits Ridge. ‘I initially got interested in wines while at Stanford,” he tells us. But even at Stanford where he and his fraternity brothers would fill weekend evenings hosting elaborate wine dinners, Ridge had no inkling of making a career out of wine.
After college Ridge joined the Peace Corps and spent 3 1/2 years working for the National Potable Water Project in Khon Kaen, Thailand. There he met (Yaovalak (D’Tim) Poolkwan, who came back to the U.S. with him, where the two were married in 1972. Coincidentally, the marriage took place in Carmel Valley where Ridge would undertake the Joullian Vineyards project ten years later.
‘When I left the States wine was affordable, but when I came back the prices had really skyrocketed,” Ridge laments. In order to afford his passion for fine wine, he took a job with a San Francisco wine retailer so he could buy wines at a discounted price! The retail wine business appealed to him and he soon aspired to own a shop of his own. He and a business partner opened Peninsula Wine Company in San Carlos, which he operated for several years in the mid-1970s. Thoroughly immersed into the wine business, he sold his wine shop and enrolled at the University of Fresno to earn his Masters in Enology.
Upon graduating from Fresno he took an apprenticeship in Bordeaux, France where he worked the harvest. While in France, he received a telegram from Ed Joullian and Dick Sias telling him about their vineyard and winery project. Not yet convinced it was the right direction for him, he traveled to Australia to gain more experience at a start-up winery. Soon after he arrived, another telegram arrived from Ed and Dick, who finally coaxed him back to the States to join the Joullian team.
Dick Sias. Oil man turns to wine man
Dick Sias spent most of his successful career searching for oil. But many wine enthusiasts might point out that he didn’t really hit paydirt until finding the Joullian Vineyards property!
Growing up in the small town of Fredonia, Kansas, Dick was always within a stone’s throw of oil country but admittedly never thought much about it. He knew he had a knack for languages, so after World War II he enrolled at the University of Kansas where he earned a degree in Romance Languages. He then spent a year of graduate work at the University of Mexico towards a Masters in Spanish language and literature.
In the early 1950s Dick decided to re-enroll at U of K to earn a Law degree. ‘I had no intention of becoming an attorney, I just basically wanted to broaden my education,” he tells us. As he was finishing his law degree, he signed up for several interviews with companies recruiting at the campus in hopes of landing a job when he graduated. His law degree paid immediate dividends as he was hired by Continental Oil to work in their land exploration department handling contracts and acquisitions. After a number of years, he was promoted to Continental’s international Plant Foods division. There he travelled extensively throughout the world in search of different sources for the company’s fertilizer products. He eventually grew weary of the job’s constant travelling requirements, so after 13 years at Continental he felt it was time to make a change.
Wanting to get back into oil related work once again, Dick took a job with a small independent oil company as Exploration Manager. He stayed for 5 years until being hired away by Mustang Fuel Corporation in Oklahoma. Mustang is an oil company owned by his wife’s family, but they had never had an exploration division until deciding to hire Dick to take charge of it. He stayed there for 20 years until retiring as President of the firm in 1990.
Today, Dick and his wife Jeanette live in Oklahoma City and are about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Both are avid travelers and enjoy entertaining, the arts, and of course, keeping tabs on the winery.