We caught up with Ray Sliter of Travieso winery at the recent Garagiste Festival in Solvang. Mats Hagström and Ray Sliter founded the winery in 2003. They excel at producing limited quantities of wine from select vineyards. All their fruit is contracted by the acre and they give a high priority to vineyard management. They also believe in aggressive crop thinning, harvesting uniformly ripe fruit, and using minimal intervention in our wine making.
Ray gave us some insights into what it's like to be a boutique winemaker in California today. We hope you enjoy his unique perspective on winemaking and the wine industry.
California Winery Advisor: How did you get started making wine?
Travieso Winery: In 1999 my best friend Mats Hagstrom showed up at my house with a pickup truck full of grapes and a used barrel from Etude.
He said "Ray, we're making wine!"
It was Cabernet Sauvignon from Louvau Vineyard Dry Creek Valley (we still harvest from the same rows to this day and haven't missed a vintage).
I only have a carport, so we chose the living room as our fermentation and aging room.
We punched down with a ski pole and called our friend Michael Martella (winemaker for Thomas Fogarty) at every step (he must have been rolling his eyes)
We bottled after 2 years of barrel age, submitted it to the Orange County Fair and it won "double-gold"!
If only we had gotten a bronze, we wouldn't have started this crazy venture.
CWA: What interests you about wine?
TW: I am still fascinated and a little mystified how a wine from the same rows in a vineyard can be so different from year to year.
And love how it brings people together at the dinner table.
CWA: Do you have a particular consumer in mind when you start making a wine?
TW: Honestly no, we are very selfish in our winemaking, we make it for ourselves and if the consumer likes it that's great too.
CWA: What can you tell us about your winemaking style?
TW: We like to let the wine evolve on its own with minimal intervention, little or no racking, and aging on the lees.
Or as John Kongsgaard would say: "by death and resurrection".
90 percent of a great wine is the quality of the grapes and 10 percent is not screwing it up in the winery.
Organic/sustainable/biodynamic wines are getting a lot of press lately. What do these terms mean to you?
TW: They are all great words and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
CWA: What should they mean to wine consumers?
TW: A consumer should not limit themselves to wines that can use these labels.
Most vineyards practice sustainable farming where they can, but getting certified organic and/or biodynamic is a very long, costly process that few vineyard owners have the resources to achieve.
CWA: Is there any advice you wish you got before you started making/selling wine?
TW: Have a good marketing plan.
CWA: Which wine law/regulation would you change if it were up to you?
TW: The only wine laws I run up against are in interstate commerce.
Even though the Supreme Court opened states up to direct sales, each state still has their own licenses/fees/permits/taxes that make it nearly impossible for a boutique urban winery to attain compliance.
Big wineries have whole departments dedicated to handling that.
CWA: How do you market and promote your wines? What kind of advertising works for you?
TW: We send e-blast emails to our mailing list and that is about it....neither of us is good at this part of the business.
For us the strongest advertising so far has been (believe it or not) word-of-mouth.
CWA: Do you use social media for promotion? Do you feel it is effective?
TW: We have a Facebook page, but none of our boosted posts have reached anybody (I'm probably doing something wrong!).
CWA: Do you have any favorite wine publications/websites/social media sites you follow?
TW: I enjoy reading the Wine Advocate when I can.
And found Randall Grahm's blog "Been Doon So Long" immensely enjoyable!
CWA: What do you think the big corporate wineries get right?
TW: They have strong distribution channels.
CWA: How does an event like the Garagiste festival impact your business?
TW: The Garasgiste Festival allows us to connect directly to the consumer that matters.
One who appreciates our old world approach to winemaking and shares the passion for small production wines.
CWA: How do you feel about the current wine rating system? Do you feel it helps consumers with their wine buying decisions?
TW: I very much enjoy reading reviews and think those are helpful. The rating system is fine.
However, if you read a great review and on the next page you see a full-page ad for that same winery, you might want to try one bottle yourself before you go out and purchase a full case.
Saying this because it happened to me when I was younger and more impressionable.
The consumer needs to remember that the primary critic they should be listening to is staring them back in the mirror.
Everyone has a different palate. They are as unique as fingerprints.
It is difficult for a smaller winery like ours to get a reviewed because we are less available in the marketplace.
CWA: What were the last two truly memorable wines (that weren’t your own) you tasted?
TW: We had a fantastic small-lot Syrah made by Michael Martella from the Santa Cruz Mountains that turned us into the Syrah freaks we are today!
We tasted a Sine Qua Non white blend Viognier/Chardonnay/Roussanne that knocked us off our feet and vowed to find good sources of these grapes for our white blend.
And we did! We call it "La Llorona"
CWA: Is there a particular winemaker that you are excited about?
TW: Actually no. I'm excited about every winemaker.
Each comes to the table with their own burning passions and genuine, original style.
This is what makes them all worthy of praise.
CWA: Where can people taste your wine?
TW: Our wines are served in a limited number of restaurants and wine bars in the San Francisco Bay and Monterey.
CWA: Where can people buy your wine?
They can visit us at our tasting room in Campbell.
Or contact us by phone 650.248.5641 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send you an order form.
One of these days we'll get our website working for wine orders.
Sorry, we can only direct ship within California.
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