Now that you’ve perused the reviews of their vinous offerings, meet the UB alumni behind the wineries and vineyards featured in this issue.
Mike McEvoy, M.B.A. ’97, of Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Back in his UB days, Mike McEvoy, M.B.A. ’97, a longtime management and marketing executive, tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit and created a business plan for a brewpub as his thesis. Fifteen years later, it turns out he’s traded pints for cabernets in his current role as vice president and director of sales and marketing for the renowned Joseph Phelps Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif.
On his West Coast ambitions:
My first job in the wine industry was working for Boordy Vineyards in Baltimore County. I wanted to jump-start a wine career in California by gaining some practical experience closer to home.
Phelps is a relatively small winery, so it’s rare that an opportunity comes along. To say I was a long shot to land here would be a vast understatement. I’ve been here nine wonderful years so far.
On relishing his “dream job”:
It’s a passion. Wine is a fascinating, dynamic subject. There are so many variables: climate, soil, sun exposure, grape varietals and clones, rootstocks, farming methods, winemaking techniques—and each vintage gives us something new. It never gets dull.
On what sets Phelps wines apart:
First of all, Joseph Phelps is in Napa Valley—the most famous wine-growing region in all of North America. … When Joe [Phelps] founded his winery in 1973, there were only 30 others in Napa Valley. Now there are well over 400. Still, while California produces 90 percent of the wine made in the United States, Napa Valley accounts for only 4 percent of that. …
Phelps enjoys a wide reputation built on critical acclaim over four decades. Even among Napa Valley’s many outstanding wineries, Joseph Phelps is considered a blue-chip name.
On Insignia’s fame:
Insignia, our flagship wine, is what the French would refer to as a grand vin—the best wine an estate can produce in any given vintage. It is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux red varietals (merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec). The Insignia blend changes every year, depending on what the vintage gives us. The goal is to make a truly sublime wine. …
On his wine of choice:
I love Insignia, but I prefer to drink it after it’s been aged 10 years or longer. So while I wait, I drink a lot of pinot noir. Food-wise, it goes with everything, and my wife likes it, too. I can’t overstate how important that is!
On his football loyalty:
I must be the biggest Ravens fan in Napa Valley. I would love to host Steve Bisciotti or Ray Lewis at the winery some day.
On his time at UB:
I was fortunate to meet and study under economics professor Barry Brownstein. Dr. Brownstein is the finest educator I have ever encountered, hands down. He remains a friend and mentor to this day.
Barbara Sattler, B.A. ’81, of Russian River Vineyards
As a longtime nurse, professor and director of the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland, Barbara Sattler, B.A. ’81, already has a lot on her plate. But that doesn’t stop her from also making a regular coast-to-coast commute to Sonoma County, Calif., where she owns Russian River Vineyards with her husband, Chris O’Neill.
On buying a winery on a bet:
We had a family, a great set of career opportunities … a house in the Mount Washington neighborhood, etc. But when our girls graduated from college, it was time to consider a return to California. (I lived in the San Francisco Bay area on and off, 1969-79.) My husband and I started to take regular trips to California. … His Baltimore buddies jokingly asked him, “Chris, you go out to California all the time. Why don’t you just buy a winery?” His response was to Google “wineries for sale” that evening, and within a week, we were looking at them.
Neither of us had ever thought about being in the wine business. Chris was an Irish beer drinker from the Boston area, and I was a teetotaler from the Bronx—what did we know about wine? But we are, if nothing else, adventurous. And we have good senses of humor. And my husband is a good businessman.
… We started making some great wine, which was award winning right out of the box; opened Corks (which is now one of the most highly rated restaurants in Sonoma County); and are starting to have some fun. We also became instant farmers with our two vineyards of pinot noir and merlot grapes.
On another standout Russian River offering:
We also make a charbono from charbono grapes grown by an 86-year-old man in Mendocino County. It is always so much fun to meet the farmers who are growing the grapes we buy. We are a boutique winery, so we buy from small-scale farmers.
If you have never tasted charbono, you should try it out. It’s a dark, rich red wine. There are only about 75 acres of charbono grapes in the whole United States.
On merging her two careers:
I really love my work on environmental health, and I believe that our air and water issues and global climate change are going to be the issues of the 21st century. I think the way in which we are doing our business at Russian River is as sustainable as possible, and that’s important to me.
On their canine salesman:
We have a dog, Chester. We got him at the Humane Society of Baltimore County. … He has become the official winery dog for RRV, and people actually come in asking for him. He’s even in the hardcover book entitled Winery Dogs of Sonoma County.
A few years ago, Chester hosted a fundraiser for the local animal shelter. (There were some humans involved.) We put his picture on a zinfandel label and … they sold like hotcakes. So we pretty much always have a Chester Zin, which, by the way, is a very good wine. And Chester is our best salesman!
Harrison Lebowitz, J.D. ’84, of Snow Farm Vineyard
The fact that it had never been done before didn’t deter Harrison Lebowitz, J.D. ’84, and his wife, Molly, from opening Vermont’s first commercial grape winery and vineyard in 1998, an effort to support agricultural land use in lieu of more urban development. Snow Farm Vineyard paved the way for what are now several Vermont-based wineries.
On his wine philosophy:
There’s so much pretentiousness when it comes to wine. Nobody goes into a bar and says, “I don’t understand beer.” It has this reputation, and it shouldn’t; it should be fun.
On deciding to be Vermont’s wine trailblazer:
I started seeing the same pressure of [urban] sprawl [in Vermont]. … It was the same where I grew up in Baltimore County. A lot of family farmers couldn’t afford to keep their land working. I never thought I would be using my [undergraduate] chemistry degree, [but I] pitched it to my wife—this is what happens when you drink too much wine—and said, “Why can’t someone put a vineyard in this state?”
I have a reputation of being tenacious about things. … I started doing research. I found it was basically Yankee stubbornness—people hadn’t thought outside the proverbial box. But then I thought, “If it’s such a great idea, why hasn’t somebody done it before?” In the midst of [working at my former job] with the attorney general, I started doing [more] research and putting a business plan together.
On diving right in:
I understood the winemaking process chemically. The agricultural piece made sense, [but I] had never physically done it before. I took some time off and worked at a vineyard in Quebec with Patrick Barrelet … who became a consultant [and is now Snow Farm’s winemaker]. He let me go there during the harvest, and I loved it—it was great. It was physical labor, like boot camp.
We gave Patrick a vested interest, and he was a partner from the beginning. So we have a real winemaker who majored in pinot noir. The only person who didn’t know what he was doing was me … but I [now] know enough to be dangerous with winemaking.
On Vermont’s uniquely ideal climate:
We’re on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain, … which separates New York state and Vermont. Water surrounds us and moderates our temperature. Places on the shoreline are protected, and the cold air is warmed up by the lake. We always get an Indian summer; the season typically starts in April and goes till mid-November and is perfect for ripening riesling and pinot noir.
On his bicoastal duties:
I split my time about 70-30 percent between Southern California and Vermont. I came out to California to work on the distribution of our ice wine, Not only is the California distribution of our wine going extremely well, but this move actually ended up enabling our son to come out to California. My son is a high-school quarterback—one of the best in the country—and he’s working with a [trainer] in Pasadena, Calif.
It’s a wild commute; we do everything [for the winery] by way of Skype. I’ve got a great group of people in Vermont, and we talk daily. Patrick is on the ground [in Vermont], and I can handle marketing from my computer.
John Giunco, J.D. ’78, of Four JG’s Vineyards
You could say that John Giunco, J.D. ’78, chairman of the real estate, land use and development department at the Red Bank, N.J.-based law firm of Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla, took his work home with him in a big way about 16 years ago. Giunco and his wife, Janet, a former IBM executive, decided to turn a Monmouth County, N.J., farm into what is now Four JG’s Vineyards, named for John, Janet and their two children, John and Jill.
On how a cross-country lunch date turned into a business venture:
I grew up on a 600-acre apple and peach orchard. I always liked to farm and wanted to get back to having a farm. The idea of grapes all came from Janet. I had been buying land for development, and she … liked this [farm]. Women—wives in particular—can be very compelling. I said, “This is your farm.”
A few weeks later, she shows up at my office and says, “We’re going to lunch. I packed your stuff, and we’re also going to California.” We end up in Napa Valley; I’d never been there. She explained she wanted to have a vineyard, and I said, “Let’s do it here.” She said, “Colts Neck [N.J.].”
I would’ve lived on a farm myself, but it’s truly my wife’s inspiration and genius vision to have a business.
On the added benefits of owning a winery:
Unqualifiedly, the best thing about all of this is the family. Our parents are all alive. On a daily basis, our parents come out to the farm and work. It’s like something out of a movie—the opportunity to have our folks there on a regular basis, and my children have had the opportunity to grow up on a farm.
On creating a “wine Slurpee”:
The frappe vino is, for all intents and purposes, a Slurpee made with our wine. [It’s our] Monmouth Blush mixed with chipped ice and frozen. There’s a product we buy that sweetens it up. When Janet goes to a festival or event and puts this stuff out, she’ll sell cases; it’s a showstopper.
On why there’s a dinosaur skeleton on the Celebration Cabernet Franc 2008 label:
This farm was at one point part of a larger farm of 200-some acres. The Big Brook [stream] is on this property and is the site of numerous fossil findings. An excavation in 1996 found several meat-eating dinosaur fragments, and it became a mini-sensation.
On building a winery from the ground up:
We bought the land in 1996, … planted vines in 1999 and had our first vintage in 2002. Janet retired in 2004 primarily to raise our children and to develop the winery. We now have 35 acres in vines and produce about 2,500 cases a year. We sell about 20-25 tons of grapes to other wineries.
We make only dry wine and go for quality. We use only our own grapes. We make entirely estate-produced wine; most [wineries] import grapes from California.
Phineas Deford, M.B.A. ’11, of Boordy Vineyards
Long before he set his sights on an actual career in the wine industry, Phineas Deford, M.B.A. ’11, spent his childhood summers working at his family’s Long Green Valley, Md., farm, otherwise known as Boordy Vineyards. Though he spent his undergraduate years in Vermont and later moved to South Carolina, Deford felt the pull of the family business in 2008 and returned to Baltimore County, becoming the third generation of the Defords to work at Maryland’s oldest winery.
On describing his current role at Boordy:
That’s probably the hardest question to answer. My title is manager of special projects, which means I do a little of everything.
On coming home again:
For my summer jobs [growing up], I spent a lot of time here on the farm. After graduation [from the University of Vermont], I decided I wanted to do my own thing in South Carolina, where my mom’s side of the family is. I was in residential development and working on developing farms much like [Boordy’s], which was a bit of a moral dilemma; it wasn’t a satisfying job for me. The economy went belly-up, and that and a number of other factors made me realize it was time to leave.
I looked into wine courses at the University of Southern California, Davis. My dad visited and saw the college materials sitting out. He said, “If you’re interested [in the family business], you’re the only one [of the next generation] who is.” So by default, it fell into my lap.
On a “double major” of sorts:
I started working in the vineyards with the vineyard manager, Ron [Wates]. This offered the most flexibility while I was in class; I did this for my entire time at UB, for three years. Working under Ron was better than any viticulture course I could’ve taken.
On putting his thesis to good use:
I did my [M.B.A.] thesis for Dr. [Michael] Laric on starting a wine club based on Maryland’s direct shipping law. Boordy has since launched a wine club, and we already have close to 65 members. We want to build it up to 1,000-1,200 members.
On what sets Boordy apart from the growing competition:
What makes us different is our setting—what we call our “campus.” It’s unique; not a lot of other wineries in the state or even in the country are this rustic. It’s a place people like to come to.
… We also have a range of wines. Some [wineries] do only dry or sweet, but we have three families of wine.
On the complete Boordy experience:
About 12 years ago, we got heavily invested in the events business. … We came up with a new business plan to have a greater variety of wines, more sweet wines that appeal to a larger audience and more events. [The events] help promote the place and our wines. We have concerts and don’t do any outside advertising—it’s all word of mouth, at least in Baltimore County and surrounding counties.
On playing favorites:
Recently, the riesling—a semi-dry white wine—has been a best-seller. Depending on the time of year, our sangria always does well. Our chardonnay is a very consistent producer for us. But our Landmark Reserve is probably my favorite.