Why We Do What We Do

April 2020

Big Basin Vineyards all started with an unbridled passion for wine which led to a desire to grow fine wine grapes. But really before that, I have always felt a deep connection with nature – a semester living outdoors on NOLs (National Outdoor Leadership School), moving into the Santa Cruz Mountains, climbing outdoors in many beautiful places, and hiking and backpacking all over – were all in pursuit of this connection. It was this passion for the natural world that led me to start with planting a vineyard. Of course, I had little practical experience with grapes and I knew I needed the help of a seasoned professional. I first talked with many folks in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but no one had much experience with the grape I intuitively thought would perform great here in the Santa Cruz Mountains – Syrah. My enophile brother Derek knew one of the original Rhone Rangers, so he asked him who might be able to help us. I was thus able to connect with John Alban who sensed my passion and commitment and was willing to work with me. And thus began what has been a 20 year odyssey growing grapes and making wine.

While I intuitively felt like I would enjoy the challenge of growing grapes, it is the 20 years of doing so that has given me a much greater appreciation for what it means. It is the dance with nature required to cultivate a healthy vineyard, to adapt to the weather of a vintage, to understand the unique terroir of each vineyard, and ultimately, figuring out how to capture it most beautifully and faithfully in the wines that has continued to inspire me. This has been a many years learning experience because you have to learn it through experience. It cannot be learned in school. We are reminded at each step, each vintage, each weather event that impacts a vintage that we are not in total control and this is where the dance with nature comes in. We have to adapt, we have to listen so we can best nurture our vines, and our fermentations. We come to expect the unexpected. As soon as you think you understand everything and know it all, you have lost touch with the true soul of wine growing, and the necessary dance with nature.

How does this ethos and connection with nature translate into what we do? It is the basis for our insistence on farming organically, and not just paying it lip service, but putting our money where our mouth is and getting Certified Organic. We don’t do it because it is what is trendy. For the same reason, we don’t pursue “Natural Winemaking” and it’s dogmatic rules like not adding any SO2 to the wine. Why? Because we know our wines are going to be more pure and faithfully and transparently represent the vineyard and vintage with our minimal use of sulfur. It reduces oxidation in the wine. It reduces microbial loads that lead to funk and excessive volatile acidity that obscures and clouds the true nature of the wine. Beyond that, we seek to add as little as possible to the wine to let it express itself – no commercial yeast, and little to no yeast nutrients( and when we do, they are certified organic).

So why do we farm organically? Simply put we believe in a healthy ecosystem and improved human health by avoiding synthetic chemicals that have known and unknown detrimental effects on human health – that of our workers and consumers of our wine. It matters to us. I lost a mother to breast cancer that no doubt was caused by exposure to chemicals, and have a sister and Big Basin partner who is a survivor of breast cancer. Wendy even created a foundation that has donated generously to those uncovering the causes of cancer.

Each and every decision we make is born out of an ideal and the deliberate intention to pursue that ideal. We don’t use additives like tannins or enzymes or other manipulations that mask the true beauty of the vineyards we work with. We use whole clusters in our fermentations because we find they give us additional nuance, textural qualities and aromatics. We recently invested in a basket press for our red wines because we understood that it was the most gentle way to press off the skins, stems and seeds with the result being subtly more purity in the finished wine. We worked with our French barrel cooper to develop a custom toast and barrel that helped us achieve the greatest transparency possible, while also amplifying the subtle qualities of the wine. And we only use these new barrels sparingly and only with certain varietals (generally Bordeaux varieties and Pinot Noir). We use concrete and large format neutral barrels for purity of expression in other varietals where new oak does not work without becoming obvious and obscuring. I can assure you that spice you taste in our wine is not from a new barrel, it is from the vineyard and varietal. We know because we always use neutral barrels with every lot of wine, so we can taste the wine from neutral and new barrels side by side. It is our passionate pursuit to get out of the way and allow the vineyard to express itself in our wine.

As passionate as we are about growing grapes and making wine, we are also passionate about connecting with our customers. We feel strongly that our tasting room staff should be knowledgeable about our vineyards and wines, and be able to share it with our customers. We like to host tastings at the winery where we can illuminate the stories behind the wines, and take our customers on in depth walking tours through our vineyard hosted by the winemakers. And in this time of social distancing, we have had to come up with new ways to connect with our customers including our weekly Winemakers In Your Home webinar series, and Virtual Preview Tastings hosted by staff members. And fortuitously, we just finished a new About Big Basin video that we hope you take a moment to watch. We have noticed that this is allowing us to connect with fans that live far and wide and might not be able to visit us in person, so a silver lining in this is realizing that these new offerings will have a life beyond Corona.

More than anything, we are eagerly hoping for a return to normalcy where we can host our friends and customers for a tasting in my living room, or an in depth blending seminar at the winery, or to sit around a fire pit at Fireside Friday and enjoy the sun setting over the vineyard while listening to a local musician. We look forward to encouraging our customers to visit the beautiful virgin old growth of Big Basin Redwood State Park, and then stopping by the winery to enjoy a glass of wine on our sunny patio afterwards. Until then, we will continue to reach out to all of you across the internet, and we hope you are able to take advantage of this opportunity to connect with us. After all, we are all bound together by a common love of great wines shared with close friends with some tasty food. Let’s keep it going!

— Bradley Brown, Owner & Winemaker

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