Greg Nolten, an experienced rural mail carrier, retired from the post office seven years ago to start Zayante Vineyards. Tough work, if you can find it. “Things aren’t that easy,” Nolten says. “There’s no romance in the wine business, except maybe after drinking a bottle of it.”
SCW: What’s a typical day?
GREG NOLTEN: At the moment, we’re waiting for the grapes to get ripe. So I’m trying to take care of some projects that aren’t involved with the winery too much. One of our tractors has a bad clutch on it, so I’m trying to get that fixed. And we’re getting our equipment ready for crush time.
What’s the most exciting season?
It’s all busy. I suppose crush is the most exciting time because we’re all picking grapes all the time. We start picking around seven in the morning, and we finish up by noon usually. We get most of the picking done, because it’s too hot in the afternoon.
Is crushing different than that I Love Lucy scene?
Oh, yes, we have a proper de-stemmer. We’ve got a bin that will receive a half-ton of grapes, and then it’s got an auger that automatically feeds the de-stemmer unit, and it automatically de-stems the fruit. Sixty percent of the berries come out whole, and you supposedly get better fermentation with whole berries and partially crushed grapes and I’m really happy with the fermentations we’re getting.
What’s a perfect wine flavor?
We like wines that are balanced—elegant and robust at the same time. They need to be full-flavored, but everything needs to be in balance. That’s what we strive to do. I think I’m doing a pretty good job. The Santa Cruz Mountains are a really good place for growing grapes.
What’s your favorite food with wine?
I like barbecue food, and it’s the full flavor of our wine that lends itself well to barbecue—ribs and sausage. I really like the spice in sausages.
Do you like beer?
It takes a lot of beer to make wine. It’s very warm right now. It’s in the eighties up here. It gets very warm, and there’s nothing better after working hard than a nice cold Sierra Nevada.