Monday, October 22, 2012

Oakstone's New Owners Know The Territory

Last month, when John Smith said he was retiring, he also said he meant it. He'd retired before, but this time was different, he really, really was going to hang up the winemaker cap he's worn for 16 years. Now he's taken a big step toward fulfilling that vow. Smith has sold his Oakstone Winery in the Fair Play district of southwestern El Dorado County.

Steve Ryan
The new owners know their way around the neighborhood. They're Steve and Liz Ryan. Steve has been Oakstone's winemaker since 2007. His wife Liz has been Oakstone's business manager since 2008.

The transition was set in motion in July when fire of undetermined origin destroyed Oakstone. Last month, just as the fall harvest of wine grapes was getting under way, Smith, his wife Susan and the Ryans resurrected Oakstone by moving what remained of it into its smaller sister winery nearby, Obscurity Cellars. Now the Smiths, with no family members interested in joining the wine trade, have taken the next logical step in selling the business to the Ryans. The financial terms were not revealed, but Smith indicated that what was most important to him and his wife was that the business be taken over by someone who already knows the area and who will continue to work toward the standards he's set. "Any other new owner might not carry on the traditions we have established of excellent wine, attention to our loyal customers, and a very enjoyable tasting-room 'vibe' - and that would break my heart more surely than any disaster could," Smith says.

Liz Ryan
The Ryans are operating the business as Barrel Head Wines LLC, after a few barrel heads with laser-etched logos from both Oakstone Winery and Obscurity Cellars, salvaged from the fire. The quarters are considerably smaller than the old Oakstone, so the Ryans will produce just 2,000 cases a year, ideal for two hands-on proprietors. There, they will continue both the Oakstone and Obscurity labels. Under the Oakstone label, the Ryans will release estate cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, malbec, tempranillo, pinot grigio, torrontes, barbera, a meritage and an everyday red blend to be called Phoenix Rising Red, a successor to Oakstone's immensely popular Slug Gulch Red. They will use the Obscurity label largely for more obscure grape varieties, just as Smith did - alicante bouschet, petit verdot and carignane - but they also will continue to make the Old Man Murrill zinfandel from vines planted in adjoining Amador County in 1916, and a new blend to be called O'Blivion's Resurrection, thereby extending a series that Smith started. Bottling is expected to resume in February. Quantities of each will be smaller than what the Smiths and the Ryans had been producing. "In the seven weeks we've been in our new tasting room, five wines have already disappeared from the tasting bar," Smith says.

The new facility, 6470 Irish Acres Road, Fair Play, hard by the original winery, is open 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. When it first opened it had space for just five parking slots, but that has been expanded to 11.

Though Smith says he's sticking to his plans to retire, he will continue to maintain the couple's vineyard, consult to the Ryans, write the winery's newsletters and hang out at the tasting room, particularly during special events such as the Port & Chocolate Festival coming up Dec. 8 and 9.

1 comment:

  1. John should stay away from the new winery venture by the Ryan's and let them develope the persona of the venture around them, not the ego that got in the way of Oakstone going further than it did.