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Inspired stories about artisan wine and taste makers.
by L.M. Archer FWS, Bourgogne ML
Today’s Exclusive Interview:
Recently, I had the good fortune to sit down with ellipsis wine company‘s founders, Jonathan Neisingh and Devika Maskey, to learn their story – a story of big dreams, bigger hearts, and a beautiful family.
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How did you come up with the name ‘ellipsis wine company,’ and what significance does the name have?
An ellipsis is the “…” at the end of a sentence and is defined by “the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues.” (New Oxford American Dictionary).
We chose this symbol for the name because it represents how some things are better left unsaid, or in the case of our company, letting the wine speak for itself. The symbol also represents three, with the three dots, and three members: Jonathan, Devika, and our consulting wine maker, Rick Davis.
Jonathan, you grew up in Sonoma and graduated from Healdsburg High School; you both earned agribusiness degrees specializing in wine and viniculture from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Any mentors or role models along the way who may have influenced your decision to become a first-generation wine maker?
While attending Cal Poly, Jonathan visited his college roommate’s family home where they had a vineyard and small winery in Mt. Veeder AVA of Napa Valley. They would sneak in it to the cellar and drink library vintages of outstanding mountain Cabernet. This sparked an interest and appreciation in Jonathan, for the what the vineyard can do and the how terroir influences wine.
Devika’s mentor at Cal Poly was agribusiness Professor Phil Doub, who was one of the leading creators of the Wine and Viticulture program. Devika studied abroad in Adelaide, South Australia with Professor Doub and a group of Cal Poly students. It was there that she learned about the importance packaging and branding has on wine marketing.
You have two sons, Elyan (5) and Elliot (1). Do you hope they follow in your footsteps?
It would be a great feeling to know that we have created something to pass down to our children, but they are both unique individuals who will create their own path. So far their interest in wine making is eating the delicious grapes! Our oldest son, Elyah, likes to come to the vineyards and help pick fruit at harvest time.
Jonathan spent some time in Madera, Portugal. What brought him there, and how did the region impact his view of wine making moving forward?
Jonathan traveled to Madera, for a surf trip that lasted three months. The trip solidified his love for wine, and fondly remembers the beauty of Madera, with the steep mountain side vineyards and the kind people. The rawness of the culture and landscape was impressive. He will always remember watching the hard work and energy the people of Madera put in to creating their wines.
Talk about ellipsis wine company. Rick Davis serves as consulting winemaker, Jonathan handles vineyard relations, and Devika coordinates marketing. That’s on paper. Talk about the reality of running a 1600 case boutique wine operation – on a given day, how many hats do you each wear? How do you coordinate duties, responsibilities, and communication with all the different players throughout growing season, harvest, and fermentation?
We are technically a “virtual winery”, sourcing all fruit and making our wine at a custom crush facility. Because of this, not only are we are able to run the winery with the three of us, but is also gives us flexibility year to year with the fruit we decide to use for our wines.
Jonathan has a strong farming background and enjoys working with the various vineyards we source from. His main focus is to find the best quality fruit possible, and to make a wine that showcases that fruit. Throughout the growing season, Jonathan checks on the vineyards making sure they are up to quality standards.
At harvest time, Rick and Jonathan taste the vineyards and decide when to harvest depending on the when the fruit has the optimal flavor, not a specific brix number. Once the fruit is harvested, the three of us discuss the goal we have for the wine and if there is a specific style we are going for.
We all believe in a minimalist approach to wine making where the grapes create the wine without much outside intervention or addition. This involves native yeast fermentation that can sometimes be painfully slow, but rewarding. At the wine making facility, Rick Davis manages all cellar operations and does an excellent job making our vision of the wine into a reality.
While Jonathan and Rick are handling most of the vineyard and winemaking responsibilities, Devika manages the day to day operations – Wine Club, event planning, direct orders, customer questions, billing, invoicing, etc.
Currently, you source your fruit from Russian River Valley, Anderson Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Red Hills. How did you choose and develop these grower relations? Any plans to expand sourcing from other regions of Sonoma?
Since ellipsis began in 2008, Jonathan has been able to build some great vineyard relations all over Northern California. We chose the specific locations because of the quality of fruit we were able to source from that vineyard site. We have learned a lot since then about sourcing fruit.
Being a small winery, we have lost some excellent vineyards that ended up wanting to sell the entire vineyard to a large winery and did not want to bother with our 2 ton orders. We have learned the importance of relationship building, and long term contracts. Many of the vineyards appreciate that we give them credit, listing the vineyard name on our bottle, and because of that, allow us to keep buying small amounts. Many of our wines are vineyard designate because we want that specific site and fruit to show through.
Let’s talk terroir. You currently showcase four Pinot Noirs, a Zinfandel, and a Chardonnay, all from Russian River Valley, plus a Petit Syrah from Red Hills and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley. Each region, vineyard, site, and block have their own distinct microclimates and flavor profiles. Perhaps you can share how each site’s terroir informs the flavor profiles that make your wines unique? Do you have a favorite site/varietal? If so, why?
We believe that great wine starts in the vineyard. Since the beginning of ellipsis, we have loved sourcing fruit from the Russian River Valley (RRV). The RRV microclimate of cool foggy mornings and warm days create beautiful delicate wines with bright fruit and balance of acidity.
Just in the way we were excited about the RRV pinots we were able to create, we have fallen in love withe terroir from Anderson Valley. Our newest release is the 2014 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Conzelman Vineyard and we believe it is the best wine we have made yet. We attribute this to Conzelman Vineyard, which is located at the north-west end of Anderson valley, 17 miles from the coast. The microclimate at this vineyard site is defined by being in the coolest and most fog dense areas of the valley. The cool nights and mornings with warms days allows for a slow maturation of the fruit, creating a beautiful balanced wine.
Why did you you choose to make your rosé from Pinot Meunier – a varietal typically used in blending champagne? Where do you get the grapes? Anything unusual about your vinification methods?
One of the first wines we made was a Rosé of Pinot Noir, which was featured as wine of the week in the Press Democrat in 2011. Since then, rosé has always been a customer favorite and popular wine for us. We have experimented with a couple different varietals, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.
One of our vineyard contracts, De La Montanya winery, approached us about making a rose with their Pinot Meunier fruit. We tried it out, picking the fruit specifically for a rosé and haven’t looked back! Pinot Meunier is similar to Pinot Noir, but has a few differences. Specifically it has a slightly higher natural acidity than pinot noir, which creates an inherent brightness and fruitiness in the wine.
The grapes are sourced from a vineyard on the Sonoma Coast managed by De La Montanya Vineyards. In the past we have used 100% pinot meunier from this vineyard, but because of the low yield in 2015, we altered that to 90% pinot meunier, 5% zin, 5% syrah this vintage. The grapes were picked at 24 brix and left on the skins for only two hours before pressing into a stainless steel tank. The fermentation was 80% tank fermented and 20% neutral french barrel fermented. No ML. The entire lot was cold stabilized and bottled early February, four months after pick date.
Anything else you care to share with readers about what makes ellipsis wine company so special?
Because we make such small quantity, we are able to be very hands on with every aspect from the vineyard to the end consumer and are able to focus on quality throughout that process. Each wine we produce is very personal to us and we hope that is evident when you taste ellipsis wines.
Finally, if wine making has taught either or you anything, it’s taught you….?
Jonathan feels that wine making has taught him to appreciate the connection between the earth and the soul.
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