Santa Lucia Highlands AVA
The Alarid family quickly realized just how good their grapes were
With nearly a century of combined farming experience in the Salinas Valley, Tondre Alarid and his son Joe founded Tondre Wines in 2003 with the vision of producing world-class Pinot Noir from the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Today it seems their dream has most certainly come true.
Tondre Alarid grew up as a vegetable farmer and purchased a 450-acre property in the Santa Lucia Highlands back in the 1950’s. There he planted everything from sugar beets, beans and potatoes to broccoli, lettuce, and carrots. His education at UC Davis gave him a solid background in farming and agriculture, but the rest of his knowledge came from years spent managing his own crops and turning his farm into a successful business to provide for his family.
Tondre became an excellent farmer over the years and raised his son Joe to be a part of the family business as well. Living on the family farm, Tondre taught Joe to manage the vegetable fields and to meticulously care for their high quality crops.
In the mid 1990’s, Tondre noticed that other Santa Lucia Highlands growers were putting in wine grapes and he was instantly intrigued by the idea. He’d been a vegetable farmer all his life, so why not try something new?
Toner didn't know the first thing about planting wine grapes, so he asked good friend and local wine grower Gerald McFarland for some advice. Gerald recommended Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, and being the red wine lover that he is, Tondre opted for the Pinot. With Joe’s help, Tondre planted the first 6 acres on the family property in 1997. Little did they know, this 6 acre plot would one day become a hundred.
Tondre and Joe turned their little “grapefield” into a labor of love and enjoyed their first harvest in 2001. The timing couldn’t have been better. Pinot Noir was in high demand and the Santa Lucia Highlands was gaining some serious recognition as an appellation.
The Alarid family decided to sell the grapes, and the well-known David Bruce Winery was first in line. They were actually so impressed with the grape quality, that they made a vineyard-designate wine with fruit and added “Tondre Grapefield” to the wine’s label.
“We had a habit of calling it the ‘grapefield’ because of our experience with farming,” Joe Alarid recently explained. “When David Bruce Winery put ‘Tondre Grapefield’ on the wine label, the name stuck and we decided to keep it.”
David Bruce’s ‘Tondre Grapefield’ Pinot Noir went on to win a Gold Medal and Best of Class distinction from a major wine competition and the Alarid family quickly realized just how good their grapes were.
“We asked Tony Craig [winemaker for David Bruce] to make wines for us with Tondre Grapefield fruit. We were really just having fun with it, drinking the wines ourselves and giving it away to friends and family,” Joe explained. “But everyone kept telling us how good the wines were and that we should really be selling it.”
In 2003, Tondre and Joe decided to make it official and established Tondre Wines. They named it after Tondre as a tribute to his farming guidance and his idea to plant the original grapefield. Tony Craig joined the team as winemaker, and Joe’s wife Penny came on board to manage all the wine sales. Together, they made up the Tondre Wines family and continue to be the sole employees of the operation today.
Tondre Wines started with just a couple hundred cases of Pinot Noir and today has grown to nearly a thousand cases including a small addition of Chardonnay. Their tiny 6 1/2 acre vineyard has also grown to 100 acres, all located on the Alarid family farm where Tondre, Joe, and Penny continue to live to this day. Tondre Wines enjoys being a small winery, and their size is not going to dramatically change any time soon.
“We still sell 90 percent of our grapes to other wineries and have only increased our production by about 150 cases each year,” says Joe. “I still grow vegetables on the property as well.”
Tondre wines are currently made down the road at Silver Mountain Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Winemaker Tony Craig uses the world-class facility to the best of its abilities and has continued to prove his talents with numerous awards and ratings since Tondre Wines’ inception.
One sip of Tondre’s award-winning Pinot Noir, and you will see why this incredibly passionate father-son duo is so proud to share their achievements with the rest of the world. Cheers!
About the Vineyard
Tondre Grapefield was planted in 1997 on six and a half acres in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. It now has seven blocks for an accumulation of 80 acres of Pinot Noir and 21 acres of Chardonnay that are carefully tended to by father and son, Tondre and Joe Alarid. Together they produce the high quality fruit destined for their own Tondre Wines label, as well as a number of other nearby wineries including Morgan, David Bruce, Silver Mountain, and Sonnet.
Tondre Grapefield is located in one of California’s top appellations for growing premium Pinot Noir. In fact, vignerons continue to refer to the Santa Lucia Highlands as one of the crown jewels of California viticulture for the venerable grape. This distinguished appellation is known for its protruding southeast facing slopes, strong maritime influences from Monterey Bay, and ancient glacial soils consisting of decomposed granite, gravel and sandy loam. As a result, its grapes have an intense expression of deep fruit flavors and incredible complexity.
Tony Craig - Winemaker
Originally a Shakespearean actor from the English town of Newcastle, winemaker Tony Craig found his way into the world of wine by absolute chance. After moving to California from England and hoping to find work in Hollywood, Tony soon realized that he needed to pursue a different career. He answered an ad in the newspaper for a cellar worker at David Bruce Winery and was immediately hired. Within just 14 months, Tony was a part of the winemaking team and eventually became head of the vineyard-designate Pinot Noir program. He held the position for twelve years before going out on his own and becoming a consultant winemaker for a number of small brands.
Tony has been with Tondre Wines since its beginning, and continues to be thrilled with the quality of grapes he has the opportunity to work with year in and year out. He is committed to producing elegantly refined and luxuriously flavored Pinot Noirs, and specializes in crafting vineyard-designate wines throughout the Santa Lucia Highlands.