◆ Can you briefly tell us about your journey to becoming a winemaker and starting Radio-Coteau?I grew up in New York, but not on a farm or around wine. For college, I went upstate to Cornell to study agricultural engineering, and soon got interested in wine and taking classes in the agriculture school. While I was still at Cornell I came out to California and worked a harvest, and briefly went to Davis to study more engineering, and also took winemaking classes.Back at Cornell I focused on viticulture, agricultural and environmental sciences and I got a scholarship to study the ‘feasibility of organic viticulture in upstate New York’. That’s when I became enamoured with organic farming. Cornell also has a good hotel school so there were food and wine classes where I got exposure to the hospitality side.After graduation I was hired by a vineyard in eastern Washington to take them through organic certification, started learning about winemaking and decided I really wanted to go to France and learn about vin in the Old World. I landed apprentice ships in France in 1995 and 1996 at Baron Philippe de Rothschild in Bordeaux and in Comte Armand and Domaine Jacques Prieur in Burgundy. Working on really great vintages, it was an opportunity to get grounded in the vineyards and traditional winemaking practices. So that kind of set the stage for me ‒ the vineyard in Burgundy was practicing biodynamics ‒ it really happens in the vineyard, they are very hands-off in the cellar.The Bordeaux connection was from eastern Washington where I was working with Bordeaux varietals. But after getting to Burgundy and spending time in the Rhone, that is the where the soul of the wine really started to hit me, and to understand the connections between the vineyard and the wine. The Burgundian shave this great saying ‘The hardest thing to do is nothing at all.’ You understand the natural process and you steward everything. The farming has to be at the highest level but once you get the raw materials you let it do its thing.I came back to California in 1997, worked for Bonny Doon for a year, then moved to Sebastopol and worked for Dehlinger for 4 years. This was more estate-based, and closer to the vision of ‘wines of origin’ we are doing now̶ getting focused on an area and making wines that speak of that place. I was trying hard to get started on my own and finally did in 2001. So this is our 19th vintage with Radio-Coteau, and we now have an estate vineyard up in Occidental which was part of the original Radio-Coteau portfolio. The ranch where I am living and arming dates back to 1892. There were a lot of Italian immigrants who came to Occidental and established vineyards ‒ mainly old Zin ‒ and were making wine and logging. The house we are living in was built in 1908, and is made of redwood.◆ How has Radio-Coteau evolved since you started?From a base in Sebastopol, we started working with some very special sites in western Sonoma county and Anderson Valley. The furthest away we have worked with since 2002 is one and a half hours drive ‒ not too far. To this day, a lot of my involvement with growers is collaboration on farming practices and being really closely tied to how the vineyards are farmed.We took over our estate above the town of Occidental, in Coastal Sonoma, in2012. It is 8 miles from the ocean, 800 feet in elevation, covering 42 acres which is all Goldridge* sandy loam soiI. It is cool California because it is coastal. It doesn’t really frost at the farm, but the winery just down the hill does. It is rare to get snow here but we did get some last year. We typically get healthy rains in the winter, commonly rains stop in the spring and early summer.The estate has been here since the late 1800s. In a Californian context it has some cool history, and I am grateful to be here. The original property was 90 acres, the farm has some vines planted in the early 1900s. There’s an old winery site that dates back to the early 1900s and is now used as a tractor barn. And we still have a block of Zinfandel from 1946. It doesn’t produce a lot of fruit, but it is one of those things we continue to cultivate ‒ it is part of the story here. I had worked with the previous owner from 2002 to 2007 on making a Zinfandel.Since 2012 we replanted some blocks that weren’t producing including 9 acres of Pinot Noir, 3 acres of Chardonnay, 1 acre of Riesling. Overtime the winery is becoming more estate focused but we are still committed to working the other special sites. The winery has been Demeter certified biodynamic since 2008, and the estate vineyard was Demeter certified biodynamic in 2018. We are making natural wines in a refined way. We use a little sulphur, but that’s it. Everything is native fermentation, organically or biodynamically farmed, unfined and unfiltered.I am still very hands on, even in our own vineyard. We are small, keeping it real, and not trying to grow. Radio-Coteau is about 4,000 cases, County Line Vineyards the same. If anything we are probably shrinking a little bit rather than growing production. For myself I like to use the term winegrower, and I have some very talented colleagues and a collective winemaking team so it is a group effort.◆ You were an early adopter in regenerative farming ‒ how does that inform your approach to farming and winemaking?It is really important for me how we get from Point A to Point B ‒ that the wine tastes good, is a reflection of the place, the season and the people. Now more than ever, I am completely committed to trying to farm and grow wines in a way that not only creates a beautiful product to share with people, but also hopefully be a model for other people to learn from. With wine you get one chance a year to do it, there are a lot more cycles in the garden than in the vineyard.The estate is a Demeter certified biodynamic farm. We have an extensive pollinator hedgerow habitat, wildlife structures for birds and owls. There was a lot of old apple, plum and olive trees and we have maintained those and are planting quince and feijoas. We make hard cider under our Eye Cyder label, and are growing vegetables, have bees, goats and chickens. When you come to the farm you can feel the buzz and the life and the people. It is hard work, having people here 6 days of the week for a lot of the year, they need to feel safe and good about what they are doing and are part of.You can see it in the soil and on the farm, the bio-diversity finds its way into the wine. I am not sure I can quantify or measure it, but you can feel it. It has to do with less processing. The less manipulation, I call it non-interventional winemaking ‒you have to pick the grapes, ferment them, press them and put them into barrels. But it is fermented grape juice. The less you do the more you are preserving the integrity between the earth and this final product.Winery surrounded by vineyardsVineyardsNight harvestEarly morning harvest in the mist◆ How do you approach the different vineyard sites in the winery?There is fun all along the way. The grower relations depends on the site, some have been sold to new owners, some the same owners. It is nice to be diversified because every year, especially with these fires, to have things in different spots to respond to the vagaries of Mother Nature and farming. It gives us a palate of different flavours and colours and expressions. And the customer base enjoys a variety as it gives us more things to offer. We currently have5 Pinots, 4Chardonnays, 3 Syrahs, an old vine Zinfandel, a Riesling and a proprietary red.For me it was about being inspired by Burgundy, and the understanding that the different spots have their different personalities, and that is a fun thing to capture. By nature all the wines are fermented the same way, the amount of whole cluster is a stylistic difference in the Pinots, a function of the vintage and also the site. If a site has lots of tannin we are unlikely to add more whole cluster, but in drier vintages you tend to get better stem lignification, and we find that the stems with more whole berry and whole cluster give more lift, brightness and freshness. So we are doing more and more whole cluster. One of the biggest challenges in California is it can get quite warm, and we want to pick on the earlier side, and be really gentle with the fruit to preserve freshness and the natural acidity. Whole cluster is a tool for that. Barrel selection also plays into stylistic differences but we don’t use a lot of new wood anymore so that is kind of in the back ground.◆ How have you evolved your use of oak?Our early vintages from 2002 to 2009 we were picking a little bit riper, using40-50 percent French oak in new barrels. Now, we are picking earlier, all potential alcohols for the Pinots are under 14 percent, closer to 13 percent. For wood we may use 30 percent at most for the top cuvee, but it tends to be less. We only use tight grain selections, with a light or medium toast. It comes back to preserving freshness with fruit in the forefront, because fruit is the personality of the site. Nice French oak tastes good but you start to loose the sense of origin, so we want the wood to be in the background.Fermenting◆ What is your approach and vision in differentiating Radio-Coteau and County Line Vineyards?I love the Japanese appreciation of the beauty of imperfection, and the complexities of wine. Radio-Coteau is classically manifested in the ‘old world technique, new world fruit’ approach ‒ pedigree sites we work with in a very traditional, classic style, poised for aging. There is an old-world aesthetic to the wines but we are Californian, we do want to share a little bit of that sunshine.I like to think about wines from a food pairing perspective, more restrained, more like meditations, more delicate. That is where my palate has gone. We are also finding that wines that are more restrained in their youth will age more gracefully. Wines that are bigger, bolder and riper tend to get a little bit heavier as they age.County Line Vineyards is a companion label made by the same people, to offer honest and simple pleasures from organically and biodynamically farmed sites, with a focus on food-friendly, everyday drinking and wine-by-the-glass pours. The Rose has always been the flagship and now we are starting on experimental explorations such as Rose made in a Pétillant Naturel style, and skin contact whites.*Goldridge, the predominant soil in the Sonoma Coastal region is a fine sandy loam formed from the remnants of an ancient seabed. It encourages deep rooting without excessive vigour, producing beautifully balanced fruit without the need for irrigation.≪From Village Cellars≫Recently, we were delighted to be approached by Radio-Coteau to handle their wines in Japan, and in further conversation expanded their offerings to included wines from companion label County Line Vineyards. Since 2003, Eric has made outstanding Coastal Sonoma wines in keeping with his ‘winegrower’ philosophy. To him, wine growing is also about appreciating the beauty of imperfection, expressed in the Japanese term ‘wabi-sabi’. It is no surprise then, that Japanese descriptors appear in his tasting notes, and his wines pair beautifully with Japanese cuisine. We look forward to sharing Eric’s unique sensibilities and wines with you.