Sonoma County region
95 Points, Gold Medal - California State Fair
While there are a number of California wineries that could be easily be classified as falling into the startup category, but there are few that have shown the immediate initial success of Sonoma County’s fledgling Owl Ridge Winery.
The reason for Owl Ridge’s success can be summed up in just three words, owner John Tracy.
Tracy, now 62, is an MIT graduate who parlayed his business and educational savvy into a business that produced lasers. When the Tucson-based company’s sales reached 38 million after five years, Tracy sold his interest and moved to California with his wife Deborah.
The Tracy’s searched up and down the California coast until they discovered far Western Sonoma County’s best- kept secret, Bodega Bay. There they bought a home on a cliff with a panoramic and incredible view of the Pacific.
That was in 1999, and the following year John Tracy started making wine in his garage for the fun of it.
“After a bit, I met some other individuals and we decided to try and make a business out of it,” Tracy recalled. “We knew it would be very competitive, but to me, the competition was the joy of being in business. I had already had a good deal of experience in taking a company from zero sales upward, so I actually looked forward to the challenge. I was a little spoiled by my earlier experience and I decided to just go out and compete.”
Along the way the John and Deborah Tracy bought a series of vineyards, first in nearby Forestville and then in other parts of Sonoma County. They first grew Pinot Noir and then Chardonnay.
By 2002, John Tracy knew that he wanted to do something definitive regarding the direction his new venture was taking. He found a young winemaker named Joe Otos who embraced John Tracy’s love for Cabernet Sauvignon. Tracy had become enamored with big Napa Valley and Bordeaux cabernets that tested the palate from beginning to end. Both he and Otos felt emphatically that the bigger and more intense the wine, the better for all concerned. The pair set about making what they hoped would eventually become their winery’s signature Cabernet Sauvignon.
John and Deborah also decided to give their new winery a name.
“Owl Ridge emanated from the fact that both Deborah and I love owls,” Tracy added. “Our first vineyard had an owl box on it, but no resident owl. It became sort of a joke between us and we decided to do something about it. We found an artist in Los Angeles named Wendy Smith who painted an owl for our label that was about as intense as we wanted our Cabs to be. Our horned owl makes a specific statement.”
Owl Ridge Winery’s first release came during last year, and amounted to a little over 1,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. Response to the first wine was immediate and, to date, Owl Ridge’s entries have won a whopping total of twenty-two gold medals. Included among the awards was the prestigious Best New Winery Award at the Wine Appreciation Guild’s event at the California Culinary Academy, winning over a thousand other entries. Several Best of Class awards have also been garnered.
All this is particularly gratifying to John Tracy who has seen his sales base double each year of his operation.
Does he anticipate further growth for the future?
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t really interested in really growing,” he explained. “We will produce around 2,000 cases this year and I can’t really say how much thereafter. We will examine all the factors and make our decisions. I know that finding really good grapes is no problem and our facility can handle a lot more production than we currently have.”
Owl Ridge also has a working arrangement with the Sulphur Creek Nature Center in nearby Hayward, California. The center does an outstanding job in rehabilitating and releasing owls and other animals and receives a percentage of each bottle of Owl Creek that is sold.
This augurs well with John Tracy who is also proud to say that another of his vineyards in Sonoma, this named the Burnside Road Vineyard, is home to several owls.
“That makes everything complete,” finalized Tracy. “It sort of rounds out the work we started when we founded the winery.”