Santa Barbara County region
A tiny Santa Barbara Winery makes an amazing range of premium small-batch wines.
If any winery could ever state that it was built on love, tiny Morello Wines would surely fit the bill. Morello Wines’ two principals, Nick and Julie, fell in love while on a wine tasting expedition around Temecula in Southern California. They were both 26, eventually married and quickly succumbed to the lure of the grape. They found the area around Santa Barbara filled with pleasant, hard-working people who shared their interest in wines.
Fast forward nearly two decades and the Morellos are owners of a smallish boutique winery operation in Santa Barbara County. A number of factors make Morello Wines a most interesting story. First, after the initial offering back in 2002 of only 300 cases, Morello Wines has slowly grown to around 2,000 cases, its estimated production for this year. Such incremental growth would bother some wineries but not Nick Morello.
“We believe in growth through profit, and not debt,” he stated flatly. “I don’t really care what others think about growth. There are things I want to accomplish here and I want to be able to enjoy the experience of doing them.”
Secondly, for such a smallish winery, Morello Wines produces a large number of varietals, generally in limited quantities. Why so many wines?
“We started making wines with Bordeaux varietals from the Happy Canyon AVA and also the East Santa Ynez District of Santa Barbara County,” recalled Nick Morello. “When the wines were finished, everyone who tasted them felt they were really good, but asked what I intended to do about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the varietals that were really making a name for the growing area. I wanted to please everyone (he admits this might not have been his best idea), so I began making those varietals. The whole scene got out of control and now we are producing a wide range of wines. Most are in small batches that present another problem. There are simply too few cases of each to go around. The larger resellers need minimum production to take any real interest in a wine. I can’t blame them, it doesn’t make sense to put effort into selling a wine to run out of it in short course.”
Morello Wines’ main emphasis these days is sourcing high quality grapes and building long-term relationships with the growers. These connections will eventually allow for expanded production and a reliable source of fruit for the winery in future years.
“My main interest is to source great grapes,” Morello added. “I believe in single varietal wines and I need fruit that is unique to specific vineyards and adequately reflects the terroir of that land.”
Morello Wines’ label reflects its owner’s unique approach to the industry. The label is actually a diagram encompassing dynamization, the process of transforming something static into something dynamic. A believer in bio-dynamic farming, Morello points to the process of stirring wines to create a vortex, then reversing the stirring in the opposite direction. This process goes back and forth until the desired effect is reached.
When the wines are ready for final blending, Morello calls on his wife Julie for help. “She has the better palate,” he confessed. “She can tell minute differences in taste and flavors. I actually believe that women are better than men in this regard. I’ve found out over the years that women’s palates are more sensitive to wine than men. Since women do most of the shopping, that’s probably a good thing for the wine industry.”
There is no tasting facility at Morello Wines and probably won’t be until the Morellos’ two children are fully-grown. “We’ll see what happens then,” Morello finalized. “It would be nice to have a tasting room, but that’s way in the distance for us to even think about.”
Nick Morello - Winemaker
As far as the winemaking chores are concerned, Nick Morello does practically all of the work at his boutique winery. This is not to say that he doesn’t pack the proper credentials.
Nick spent almost four years in the vaunted confines of the University of California Davis, former home to most of California’s (and many foreign) most successful winemakers. He majored in viticulture/enology and learned from his studies.
His first actual job in the workplace was with Leona Valley Winery in Palmdale, located in Northern Los Angeles County. It was 2003 and the winery was a startup that made Nick Morello its first winemaker. The association lasted until 2009 when Morello left to work on Morello Wines on a full time basis. He now also serves as a consulting winemaker to several small wineries including Brave & Maiden Estate in nearby Santa Ynez.
Morello considers his style of winemaking as classical in nature, with a favoring of Rhône varietals including the Syrah and Viognier varietals. He points to Robert Mondavi’s Geneviève Janssens as his biggest influence in the wine business. He embraces her philosophy that creativity in wines comes from within utilizing traditional winemaking techniques.
More About Nick Morello
Nick Morello is a multi-faceted person who has already had three different careers at the youthful age of 46. After graduating from the University of Missouri Rolla with a geophysics degree, he entered the oil business and was quite successful until a downturn in the oil industry forced him to alter his plans. Morello was always an excellent golfer and he decided to pursue a career as a professional golfer. He lasted more than five years, mostly on the Nike Tour for up and coming golf pros.
“In my best year, I earned over $40,000,” he recalled during a recent interview. “But my expenses were around $30,000, so I didn’t see much of a future in golf.” After meeting his wife Julie, he admits to becoming engrossed by the wine business.
“We met such wonderful people in the business,” he related, “and we both felt it was sort of a natural fit.” The couple settled in Santa Barbara and Morello Wines became a reality. Ten years later, the laid back Morello believes it has all come together for Morello Wines. His favorite grape varietal has become the Syrah, the darling of France’s Rhône Valley.
“I’ve always chosen extremely difficult career choices,” he confessed. “It seems natural to me that I would favor the Syrah, one of the most difficult varietals to work with. A French friend of mine once told me, ‘A Syrah is very much like an adolescent child. It is good this week and bad the next. Eventually, they all turn out great but one must have great patience with them.’” While his family (that includes a son and daughter) is Morello’s greatest blessing, he feels that the pleasure he gives his customers is his best reward from the wine business.
“I have gotten emails at 2:30 in the morning about how good my wine was for someone,” he continued. “That’s what it is all about. I don’t craft my wines for high scores; in fact I don’t even enter them in competitions. A wine designed for a high score is not always that drinkable. Everyone says my wines are made for people to enjoy and I’m perfectly happy with that.” Morello also feels that his wines have earned the tag of enduring, a relative rarity in today’s wine market. A recent communication from one of his customers alluded to the fact that the customer had recently opened a 10-year-old bottle of Morello and declared the wine ‘phenomenal.’ Such plaudits are the essence of Nick Morello’s psyche and life. He is most contented sitting in his backyard with a group of friends enjoying food and several (make that numerous) bottles of wine whenever the occasion arises.
“I have no regrets,” he said emphatically. “I wouldn’t change anything the next time around. I have a wonderful family and a great group of friends who enjoy doing what Julie and I enjoy. If someone has a better way of living, please let me know.” Nick Morello is not the typical winery owner or winemaker. He adamantly believes in himself and his wines, no holds barred. His small winery produces incredibly good wines that appeal to most palates and taste groups. Morello Wines’ pricing ratio embraces his philosophy that wine is made for everyone to enjoy and should be priced accordingly.