2016 PINOT NOIR, GREEN VALLEY RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, SONOMA COUNTY
WATCH CAMLOW CELLARS AND WINEMAKER CRAIG STREHLOW AND ALAN CAMPBELL INTERVIEW
Constancia: I’m Constancia. Welcome to Epicurean Angel live interviews bringing you inspiring and trailblazing winemakers. Today, we are live at the Garagiste in downtown Sonoma with Camlow Cellars and wine maker Craig Strehlow and Alan Campbell. Alan Campbell.
Alan: That is me.
Constancia: And Craig Strehlow.
Craig: Hi kids.
Constancia: All right, how’d you guys come together? I mean, he’s a winemaker. But did you just came in for eye candy?
Craig: That’s right. Lots of eye candy.
Constancia: But you started off as a photographer though.
Craig: I’m still a photographer. I do mostly food, wine, and advertising photography and videography.
Constancia: Native Sonoma.
Craig: I was born in the Central City but I’ve been here since [inaudible].
Constancia: Oh yeah, you’re adventuring. You?
Alan: So, my family had a ranch that they bought back in the mid-eighties, I moved on there on Mennonites or farming making the wine from there. That’s kind of how I got into this business.
Constancia: Always in Sonoma county?
Alan: Always in Sonoma county, my family’s actually been in this County since the 1840s. We used to have a very big Ranch out of Alexander Valley, ran off with soda Rock Lane. And unfortunately that was sold in 76, so it’s not being farmed by us anymore. But just long time in this County. It’s a good thing. That’s kind of how we met. You know, we’re from such a small town our kids started going to school together and we would see each other in preschool and drop-offs and things like that.
Craig: Day care
Alan: Day care, and then one time I decided to take a wine Business course because we already had the vineyard. So I was thinking about selling the wine, so I registered, it’s no mistake, and I walked in, and he’s there, this guy.
Constancia: Were you always drinking wine? When you’re mad you say “Oh hey, I’m drinking wine” do you like wine?
Craig: Well, as he was saying, I was starting a Vineyard that I was developing. And as a result, I went to one business class and was not mistaken. He was there too. And through that we became more friends than we were already acquaintances by dropping our kids off, and our kids going to school in a school together, and we started talking about wine and his family ranch. I was developing my Vineyard and I was selling it.
Constancia: In Graton, is that correct?
Alan: That’s actually correct.
Interviewer: And were managing Pinot?
Alan: Yeah I started growing a four acre Pinot vineyard in Graton.
Constancia: And we all know here Pinots are very great, but you decided Pinots was your vital that you were going to go.
Alan: Well, I live in a place where Pinot is King. It is one of the best places the Green Valley portion of the Russian River Valley. It is one of the best places on Earth to grow Pinot grape, by far. Its clod, it’s microclimate, it can be finicky, but if you are patient and you get some time with it and some mock, of course, and you form correctly, you can be rewarded really well. But it is a finicky grape, it doesn’t like too much cold. It doesn’t like too much wet.
Constancia: And it has a lot of sex partners.
Alan: Why not?
Craig: Variety is the spice of life.
Constancia: So gentlemen, what’s in the name?
Alan: Well, the Camlow Sellers is the smash, it’s what you mean.
Constancia: It’s a beautiful label, by the way. Very sophisticated, and it seems like it’s a collaborative of your last names.
Alan: Well, Camlow Sellers is. It’s Campwell and Strehlow. But the label is the Big Pig, the name of the vineyard is the Big Pig vineyard. A friend of mine I used to sell pork. I raised pigs and we were constantly doing things with pork and he said, “why don’t you name your Vineyard Big Pig vineyard?” And I said, “that’s a good name, it’s better than a family name Vineyard or something like that.” So, the way that the label came across later on is that I’m Scottish and my family crest is a rendition of this pig with a belt around it.
Constancia: Magna Porcum, right?
Alan: Big pig. That’s the Genesis of the label.
Craig: Pork I’m hardly even know of.
Constancia: He doesn’t love pork.
Alan: I mean come on, he looks stone right? he’s alright. He’s a good guy. He’s happy.
Craig: So, when I was approached me about making the wine in 13, he’s like, “let’s put a Big Pig on the label.” We were thinking “God. I don’t know that anybody’s going to spend 45 bucks on something that says Big Pig on it” so we translated into Latin, Magna Prcum, it’s Big Pig, and that fitted perfectly with Alan’s crest, so here we are.
Constancia: Well you always want a story and a romanticism behind the label because obviously that’s great for marketing. So, that was genius of both of you. Why did you decide to become a winemaker?
Craig: Well, I started off with a degree in chemistry, and I was working in Silicon Valley in medical device industry, and basically it just sucked bad, corporate life is not for me. So I quit my job and move to my family’s Ranch to sort of learn how to farm, and once I got around it and got the farming going I realized, I was like, “hey, you know, I could do this. I have a science background” but why making more of a craft, it’s really it’s an intersection of Art and Science. So just over the years I sort of built up the feel for it. And now I’m with this it will be my 12th year making wine, 13th year making wine
Constancia: 06, you started in 06?
Alan: No, the vineyard was started 06, but he was making wine at— that’s what you first vintage was?
Craig: Yeah 06 was my first vintage.
Alan: From his family vineyard.
Craig: Form my family vineyard, and then this is my 20th year in the business, either growing grapes or making wine.
Constancia: How would you describe Camlow’s winemaking style? the philosophy that you encompass in the finished bottle?
Craig: One of the things that we have going for us is we control the farming and the wine making, so we can pick— what defines a wine style is what the winemaker’s definition of ripeness is. So we’re able to pick this stuff exactly the ripeness we want to and bring it into the winery. We do very little manipulation on this wine, this are low alcohol wines, definitely more of an elegant wine style. There’s a balance of acidity and Oak and fruit that I feel just is really seamless when it all comes together, and especially with the 60 months of aging that we do on these ones.
Alan: We like to kind of put our wine in between California and Burgundy. It’s not a real typical California Pinot that’s really big, and it’s obviously not a Burgundy which is a very austere low-alcohol wine. So, we like the middle. We like the acidity, we like it does, brings it forward, that’s really important set up.
Constancia: Every wine maker or every producer wants to model their wine after Burgundy or whatever grape varietals origins they’re from, but I like what you said is that you are not claiming burgundy, you are actually embracing the California Sun and what it has to bring. Obviously burgundy is the model, but you are putting your stamp on it.
Craig: That’s a good way to describe.
Constancia: Yes. So every wine maker and producer has a challenge. What is your challenge? Ultimate challenge.
Craig: From the winemaking side, this sounds terrible. But you know if you start out with a solid product— is this PG-13?
Constancia: No, we want it organic.
Craig: Okay. So, if you start out with really really good fruit. It’s real hard to mess it up. You have to go out of your way to make a bad wine if you have super high-quality fruit in there. These wines actually are somewhat easy to make because I don’t have to manipulate anything because there’s no water adds, there’s no acid adds. So it’s essentially just getting it to dryness, getting it through malolactic fermentation. And for the most part the wines behave very well when I do that. So, I know it sounds like there should be some mysticism or some you know, it’s like this huge challenge. Pinot Noir actually really really wants to ferment, so it’s one of the easier varietals in my opinion to make, but not grow.
Constancia: Production level, what is the production level at this point?
Alan: About 400 cases total, between this product and we have another product. Can I grab it and bring it in?
Craig: So, the story behind this product, this is our Sus Volans Rosé. And in 2016 Alan and I were walking through the vineyard and we had quite a bit of set that year, and we were thinning the crop down and throwing these clusters on the ground and we’re thinking to ourselves “why the hell are we doing this? It’s like throwing dollar bills on the ground.” So, we ended up keeping all that fruit that we were thinning for crop adjustment, and just a total game time decision, we threw it in the press and squeezed it and we just got this really pretty beautiful salmon coloured Rosé, and we were so thrilled with how it turned out we decided that in 2017. We would actually pick for Rosé, so we’ve been doing that ever since, taking away a little of the fruit that we would use for the Pinot, and just doing a whole cluster press, treating it like a true rose, and trying to make it like a Provencé style Rosé.
Constancia: With [inaudible] bleeding off?
Craig: No, negative. No bleeds.
Constancia: Just giving the kiss and then press it off the skins and then go.
Alan: No, we pick it, specifically for the rose, we take it to the press, press it, that’s it. That’s the color that it comes out.
Craig: That’s the color with zero skin contact kids. That’s as soon as the press is full. You start the cycle and you get that lovely salmon color.
Constancia: That is beauty in a bottle.
Alan: One of the nice things about how to control of your growing is that we can pick whatever we want, we can we can you know adjust things in the vineyard if we feel that we need more water and fertilizer, we can adjust them very easily because we say, let’s do that now rather than “Okay, can we order that and have it done three weeks from now?” We can do it right now. That’s really the beauty of being in control of your growing.
Constancia: What would be your sweet spot for production?
Alan: Get rid of it all.
Craig: I can answer that. I would say between 1000 and 1500 cases, at that level we’re making money which is key. But it’s also just big enough that we can keep our arms around it. Anything once you hit about 2,000 then you start needing help, and we’re trying to avoid that until we absolutely have to,
Constancia: Okay. That’s what I’m driving at. Sometimes you really 4000 or “we want to really get out there” and you start losing control to hands on. You’re not really feeling it. You’re not really seeing it. And so what type of impression would you like the consumers to walk away with?
Craig: Good wines, but not too serious about ourselves or the business, you know, this is a tough business and we try to just be light-hearted about it, a little bit sarcastic.
Alan: I mean, we have a flying pig in a stone board on our label, how non-serious is this?
Constancia: And he says that in the interview, so I love these two guys already.
Alan: It’s just one of the things, it’s like we compete with you know, $60 and $70 and $80 and 100$ Pinot.
Craig: The Kosta Browne of the world.
Constancia: But they speak for themselves.
Alan: I think so
Constancia: They do. This is Camlow style. This is not Kosta Browne style. They have their own thing going on. You’re owning what you’ve developed.
Alan: Yeah, it’s all we got. I mean, we’re going to make as much as the vineyard gives us. At this particular time we’re about halfway there, you know, we still sell off some grapes, so we can maintain some farming costs and things like. But eventually, you know, our goal is to— because when I put in the vineyard, I put it in with four clones to make this bottle of wine that was the design. And now that that bottle of wine is there, and getting out, it’s just showing people that not only can we make that one, but we can make this one, we’re using the vineyard to its total potential. That’s really important for us.
Craig: Use everything that mother nature is giving in each vintage.
Alan: And have some fun at it, have a good time.
Constancia: I want each of you to answer with your own opinion. Do you like to make wine that you like to drink or that the consumer likes to drink? No, each one of you. Because I know obviously you will collaborate together and ultimately what’s in the bottle, but.
Craig: With a small brand like ours you have to make some kind of concession to— in your philosophy, in order to get the business off the ground. So, would I like to make a wine that would age for 10 or 15 years? Would I like 25 years from now open up a Magna Porcum and to have that thing just Kick-Ass. Yes, I would and I would be so thrilled as winemaker to have that happen. Is that a realistic business model? No. So, we do bend a little to make the wine in an approachable style that people can enjoy, and then I think once we get traction in the business, if we’re able to make that 25 year age of wine, I would definitely do it. But right now it’s just not in the business plan.
Constancia: Okay, and you?
Alan: I think there’s portions of that agree with. One of the things is as our wines get a little bit older they tend to be better. You know, we don’t bottle our wine— we age over 60 months in barrel and then we don’t bottle our wine typically, and release our wine, I mean, for at least a year after that. So we’re way off the vintage. So, for us the Vineyard kind of needs that time, and I like the ones that are a little bit older, the newer ones everybody’s putting out year, after year, after year, and that economic model is great for somebody who has to do it and right now we don’t, but we do. So, it’s a double-edged sword.
I really like the addition of this, and that this is ready to drink now and this speaks of the vineyard, and that really it has given us the ability to have something right now that really says what it is we started with, and say, “oh this is the vineyard, it’s a little different form, but it’s freaking dynamite.” And between the two, you kind of find the middle ground. I like the older ones, but I really like that one.
Constancia: That’s a good way to put it. You’re finding a middle ground because you don’t know how— I mean the wine is going to evolve the way it’s going to evolve, and each vintage they’re going to say— You just got to go with each vintage that’s going to give, and that that really says a lot. You’re not even manipulating, you’re really putting wine toward the climate and then obviously the style that you would like to have.
This is apart from Camlow, this is a personal question. One thing people would be surprised to know about Craig?
Craig: Surprised to know about me? I’ve been to Burning Man three times.
Alan: I’ve been 10 times.
Constancia: Excellent. And Alana, you?
Alan: Most people think I’m a contractor, you know? Most people look at me as I drive a truck and I say, you know, “look at that guy, he’s a contractor” and they wouldn’t realize that I’m actually an artist.
Constancia: I would say that that is so true.
Craig: Oh my gosh, we get that so much. It’s crazy. People thinks he pound nails for a living, but he is an artist.
Constancia: I’m remodeling my house, Alan. Oh, yeah. Exactly.
Craig: Alan would take the pictures after the remodel is done.
Alan: And she’s going to help me with it.
Constancia: And so, what are the future plans working?
Alan: For me, you know, we’ve kind of had a five-year plan all along and we kind of added another tear to that just because the first year is always, you know, a tough year. Is to use the whole Vineyard for this one, and one of our goals is to maybe make a very small reserve that is the style that he’s talking about, that will age longer. So, that’s kind of the goal at this point in the next three years, to be able to get the whole thing. Take over the whole thing rather than have to sell it off.
Constancia: Excellent. Anything else you would like to add gentlemen to this interview?
Alan: Hi kids. How you doing?
Craig: For all you kids at home, playing at home. Don’t start a winery, and don’t plant a Vineyard. And If you do make sure you have a lot of money first.
Alan: It’s great to be out there on the tractor at 11:30 at night in the dark, spring.
Constancia: Night harvesting is big.
Craig: You know what’s fun kids? is when in the month of September you work 386 hours in one month. Yeah, that’s good times right there, good times.
Alan: We don’t mean to discourage you folks.
Craig: I know. We both love what we do, and we do love this business. But man, I tell you what, it ain’t easy.
Alan: When you look at it from an outsider’s point of view, until you get into it, and you see just how many layers of it takes to get it done. It’s like any other business, you know, you dive in, you’re going to have this grandiose “Yeah, I’m doing this” and then “Wow, I have to push that rock up this hill.” But we’re still here. We’re still doing it.
Craig: Yeah, It’s a tremendous amount of work.
Constancia: You have your own wine though, you are a celebrity already. People are drinking this bottle, and you’re putting it out there. That is huge, that is great.
Craig: Actually you know what? Both of us agree, you know, this work it’s hard, dangerous at times, and it’s really tiring, but it never ever gets old when somebody taste your wine and they look at you and they say “Wow, this is really good” that never gets old. It’s always gratifying.
Alan: When do you get to hang out with a couple of pigs? You know.
Craig: And it’s good. We make alcohol for living, there’s worse things, some more socially acceptable, but right?
Alan: Come one, booze for a living?
Constancia: Absolutely. Well this concludes our interview with these two children. And join us for the next one. Taste small live big.
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