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It has become quite a common proverb that in wine there is truth. - Pliny the Elder (A.D. c. 23–A.D. 79)

The Boys Are back in Town – Home Winemaking, Vineyard Management  & Amateur Wine Competitions

By John Koetzner & Tim Hayes

Photos by Margie Koetzner

In the past we’ve covered the amateur wine division tastings by letting you know about the way we helped judge the Sonoma County Harvest Fair’s Amateur Division. Well, it just turns out that we’ve been making wine for over a decade, and we’ve been doing okay ourselves.  We have won Best of Class at the Geyserville Amateur wine division, Golds and Best of Class at the Sonoma-Marin Fair, and Silvers and gold at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Our last amateur wine is a 2014 Petite Sirah from Brooks Vineyard in the Russian Rver Valley. Starting with the 2014 vintage, we will be making wines and competing with the pros. The apprenticeship is over.

While home winemaking is an imperfect science at best, it can still result in some incredible results. We’ve been making wine since 2000 (a Charbono that was harvested late in the season), and for the past five years, we’ve been making Petite Sirah from Brooks Vineyard in Healdsburg. Steve has consistently scored with gold medals with wineries such as Armida, Selby, Roshambo, and many more.

So, what did we do to become better winemakers? Well, as we’ve known all along, it starts with the fruit.  Steve Brooks has been a  grower and vineyard manager for almost forty years. He has good soil, good vineyard practices, and he knows when to pick.  He also knows when to just get down and dirty and do the work. We spent some weekends learning this the physical way during crush.

As a result, he has supplied fruit to commercial wineries that have won numerous awards at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and he has championed great wines from the vines for years. He also has helped home winemakers such as us to become more versed in the practice of creating and sculpting wines that are palatable for the general public, leading us into becoming more professional in our efforts. We were lucky enough to get his fruit, and as a result, we have been mentored by Steve, and his vineyard has supplied us with the right fruit that has helped us become better home winemakers. Eventually, we too plan to enter the world of professional winemaking families.  With the right fruit, a winemaker can make good wine as long as attention is paid to the other elements of winemaking such as keeping things really clean during the process. With the wrong fruit or bad processes, you might as well call it quits.  Brooks has helped us develop a vineyard and we are in our third year of watching the vines mature, readying for the day when the fruit comes from our vineyard..

Growers and vineyard managers like Steve Brooks are the lifeline to making great wine in Sonoma County. We are fortunate that there are so many people like Brooks who look at the bigger picture of making wines, promoting wine country, and celebrating the vine in our region. Without people like him, the county would be a lot less opulent.  We raise our glasses to the growers who know what it takes to make good wine and to keep these traditions alive.  Steve Brooks is just one example of such a grower who sees the bigger picture and who has helped promote the wine industry for almost forty years.

With local wine competitions such as the Geyserville Chamber of Commerce Amateur Wine Judging, The Sonoma-Marin Fair Amateur Wine Judging, and the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Amateur Wine Judging, local amateur winemakers can find fruit from growers like Steve Brooks and succeed in the world of Sonoma County wine.

The boys are back in town, but it is the growers in the vineyard who have helped us celebrate the bounty of the county that makes living in wine country so rich. Raise a glass and celebrate the growers and vineyard managers who have made this place what it is.


Harvest Fair Medals




Upcoming Events


Wine Tributaries presents a listing of upcoming wine events that are worth exploring in different wine appellations.


Sonoma Wine Country Weekend - September 2-4, 2016




Visit Margie Koetzner's Wine Country Artisans web site for recycled wine bottle art and more.

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Last updated 5/07/16