Terre Rouge Winery
91 Points - Connoisseurs’ Guide
To say that Terre Rouge Winery owner Bill Easton has followed a customary path to winery ownership and success would be something of a stretch. In fact, the 54-year-old native Californian actually considers himself a maverick among the country’s winery elite.
Easton actually began his wine odyssey as a youth when his family exposed him to wines at a very young age. Easton was permitted to join his parents during winery outings and was able to taste the family wine purchases for as long as he could remember. By fifteen, Easton was convinced he was more than just interested in the world of wine.
“I knew I loved wine, and practically anything connected to it,” he admitted. “I don’t think it is so far fetched when you consider my entire family was also really into it. Being from Sacramento, the ride to Napa and other wine areas was just a little more than an hour.”
Easton attended UC Berkeley and majored in political science and English literature.
Upon graduation in the mid-1970’s, he immediately went to work for the iconic Davis Bynum Winery in Sonoma.
“I immediately realized that I was tired of academia, having spent seventeen straight years in school.” Easton added. “I went to Davis Bynum and apprenticed myself in order to be able to learn the craft of winemaking.”
Easton read everything he could about wine and winemaking and continued his quest toward becoming a plausible winemaker. He worked for a number of additional wineries and always paid close attention to each one’s individual winemaking techniques.
He was also part of what he termed “the counter culture movement in politics and everything else. I didn’t really fit into the straight way of doing anything. The winery business was more accepting of my type of philosophy than anything else I had encountered.”
In 1978, Easton felt he knew enough to open a wine shop in Berkeley, the well respected Solano Cellars and Fine Wine Merchants. Through this outlet, he was able to travel to Europe on numerous occasions to buy wines and thereby was exposed to the wonders of both French and Italian fine wine making.
In early 1980, he began home wine making with some of his retail customers. Easton’s initial wines met with approval and his winemaking blossomed. Throughout the time, he continued working in wineries, sometimes for free in order to learn more about his craft.
Easton’s first commercial wines were produced in 1985 under the Terre Rouge (named for the vermillion colored soil that dominates part of California’s Shenandoah Valley) label. By now, Easton was convinced that the mountainous climes and soils of Amador County in the Sierra Foothills Region were among the best in the world for producing fine wines.
In 1991, the initial 400 cases of his classic Terre Rouge Zinfandel was produced to the accolades of both wine critics and consumers. In 1994, Easton sold his retail business in order to facilitate his purchase of what has evolved into today’s Terre Rouge Winery.
At present, Terre Rouge produces around 10,000 cases, as does Easton’s other winery brand called simply Easton Wines.
Bill Easton acts as winemaker for both entities and continues to serve a number of clients as consulting winemaker, consulting vineyard specialist and jack-of-all-trades.
He is particularly proud of his noted Fiddletown Zinfandel that is produced from vines that were planted in 1855 by a French baker named Legendre, almost a decade prior to the outset of the Civil War.
Throughout it all, Bill Easton has remained practically unfazed by the attention his wines and winery have received. He is especially proud that his winery is almost entirely solar-powered.
“I like to consider myself a winemaker’s winemaker,” he revealed. “I don’t necessarily consider my wines super commercial. If they work well with food, I am quite happy since that’s how I drink all my wines at home.”
Easton is joined by his wife Jane O’Riordan in Terre Rouge. O’Riordan is herself a noted former restaurant chef and cookbook writer who serves as the entity’s CFO.
Bill Easton and Terre Rouge are throwbacks to the old style winemakers that populated California during the 1950’s and 60’s. They are a refreshing change from the stylistic, predictable wineries that often populate California today.
And, they produce really great wines!