We drove nearly 1,500 miles in 4 days to acquaint ourselves with Sonoma wine country and interview our first group of winemakers in California. Despite starting off rough (late start, hail, snow, standstill traffic, rain) conditions improved so that by Sunday afternoon the sun came out and we were able to enjoy fascinating stories, hospitality and even managed to wrangle an invitation to a wine-chili pairing party.

Alan Baker and Serena Laurie

We started off interviewing Alan Baker and Serena Lourie, who are christening their brand new tasting room and launching their Cartograph label. Alan began his journey into the wine business in 2005 as he launched his famous Cellar Rat podcast on Alt NPR, documenting his move from Minnesota to Healdsburg to pursue a life in wine. They’re partnering with Christian Stark, who’s been making Syrah since 2003 and is now expanding his offerings. A former musician, Christian is a self-taught winemaker who gained an appreciation for wine in culinary school. He now balances his winemaking with the challenges of raising a young family.

Christian Stark

Mike and Kendall Officer of Carlisle Winery are not big fans of marketing and self-promotion. But that doesn’t mean they’re not storytellers. They’ve made an incredible journey that included long stints of commuting daily from a Sonoma farmhouse to San Francisco as they launched their business, and years operating on four hours of sleep. But now they’ve developed a loyal following, especially for their old vine zinfandel. Their vineyard, planted in the ’20s, features vines that reach up from the ground like gnarled hands. Mike and Kendall are so passionate about California’s heritage vineyards, that they’re active in the Historic Vineyard Society.

Mike and Kendall in their vineyard

I’ll have to admit that making a documentary is really just a good excuse to take a road trip, and we rewarded ourselves with greasy spoons and a bottle of Mike’s zin to toast a weekend of capturing stories of determined artisans defying the odds in a risky business, facing well-funded competition, fickle weather and a tough economy all the while. Can’t wait to see their stories on the screen. We’ll definitely be heading back to talk to more Sonoma winemakers and capture the vineyards in the late summer. We thank everyone we met on the trip and look forward to following their careers.