Get the Dirt about Cowan Cellars from Jim Cowan

24 Sep

jimcowan1. What was your first vintage year? I made one barrel of Syrah in 2007 (not commercially available) and have made wine every year since.

2. How many cases do you make per vintage? About 600-700 over several varieties.

3. Do you have a Tasting Room? No tasting room; folks may make an appointment at either or 828-260-0005.

4. How did you get your start in the winemaking business?

I started drinking and cellaring wine over 40 years ago. About 20 years ago I discovered the internet and started posting my wine notes under the alias “Florida Jim.” And indeed, I consider myself from Florida, having lived there over 50 years, married my wife there and I still return to be with family during the winter. But after I retired, I started visiting California more regularly and fell in love with Sonoma County.

So when my friend Russell Bevan started to make wine in 2004, I thought it would be instructive to get closer to the process and I volunteered to help. Cellar rat, intern or whatever one might call it, my first several years of helping at Bevan Cellars, were doing the hard manual labor that is part of the process; sorting, cleaning, punching down, cleaning, pumping over, bucketing must into a press, cleaning, preparing barrels, more cleaning and anything else that required a strong back and a determination to learn. No pay, long hours, hard work – that may not sound inviting but it is the best way to learn.

And then in 2006, I met Steve Edmunds of the Edmunds St. John winery and was his cellar rat for a harvest. Steve purchases his fruit and rents space in existing facilities to make his soulful and delicious wines. He owns his label and his experience and nothing else. That I could do. I have come to know a number of very talented people in this business but none are as intuitive or inspirational as Steve. He believes, as I do, in letting the grape and the place speak, in lower alcohol wines that are fresh and fun. He says that wine should be affordable and puts his prices where his mouth is. Most of all, he believes that California can produce lithe wines with intensity and character. So do I….

cowansorting5. What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery?

Although Syrah was the first wine I made, I have always wanted to make Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is very transparent to the place it is grown and I find that endlessly fascinating.

6. What varietals do you work with? Which varietal/wine is your favorite to make? Why?

Aside from my favorite, Pinot Noir, I also make Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Syrah. I am also intrigued by ‘orange wines’ which is accomplished by skin fermenting white wines (making whites as one does reds) and have made skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc and skin-fermented Ribolla Gialla.

7. What vineyards do you source from? 

I buy grapes from three farmers, each of whom have been in the business over thirty years. We source from Lake County for our Sauvignon Blanc, Anderson Valley for our Pinot Noir, Russian River for Ribolla Gialla and Bennett Valley for Syrah. These choices have been made because, in each place, we find farming that allows the vineyard and vintage to shine through.

8. What type of oak treatment do you use? 

Only very old French oak barrels. We never use new oak as we feel the wine is obscured by new wood.

9. What do you love about your winemaking region? What makes it different special?

The north coast of California is greatly influenced by the cold of the Pacific and, if one farms properly, that keeps acid levels up even as the grapes ripen. And our farmers understand how important that is to making table wines that will accompany dinner and age in one’s cellar. And when I make wine, I always keep the vineyard in mind and try to let the grapes speak for themselves.

cowanbottles10. What’s the story behind your name/label?

My label is my name; I want folks to know that when they open my wines, they can be confident in the style – I make wines that go with food and reflect their vineyard and vintage. Hopefully, folks will see my name as synonymous with those concepts.

11. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery?

How to be a better salesman; I love sharing my wines with others, but getting exposure is a challenge.

12. We’re curious…do you ever get tired of drinking your own wine? Is it considered bad form to dip into your inventory?

I make what my family likes to drink; we have our wines often and enjoy them with friends and each other. Frankly, I’d be a little suspicious of someone who does not drink what they make.

13. Do you still have a day job?

No. I was retired from my previous career when I started the winery. Now, I do what I love and I love making wine.

To get more information about Cowan Cellars, please visit their website or follow them on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

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