Get the Dirt about Siela Wines from Peter Strimaitis

2 Jul

Sielapeople1. What was your first vintage year? My first commercial vintage year was 2014, but I started making wine in my garage four years prior in 2010…in Milwaukee, Wisconsin of all places!! That year, I made the 2014 Siela Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles (which is one of my current releases today!).

2. How many cases do you make per vintage? Currently, my annual production is around 225 cases each year. So I am truly a “limited production winery”. I find that I have to restrain myself each year from making more than I can currently manage today, which can be tough with so many interesting varietals out there. I hope to continue to scale production over time, but never want to lose that artisan, handcrafted aspect of my wines.

3. Do you have a Tasting Room? No, I do not currently have a tasting room, which I personally feel is a bit of a disadvantage for me. However, it also means more investment, and I’d rather put capital today into high quality fruit, excellent barrels – which are the “tools” of my trade. I do pour at both private parties, as well as public events in an effort to get my brand, Siela Wines, out to the wine loving public.

4. If not you, who is your winemaker? I am the winemaker and sole owner of Siela Wines. But also the finance guy, sales rep, operations manager, quality control, etc. !!! But so far, it’s been a lot of fun!

5. What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery? Growing up in the Midwest (Chicago & later Milwaukee, WI), I was always a “beer guy”. In 1998, my then boss, hosted a holiday party at a local French restaurant for his direct staff. I can’t recall which producer it was, nor the vintage, but he poured a life altering bottle of French burgundy wine that absolutely knocked my socks off! From that day forward, I was hooked.

Sielagrapes6. What varietals do you work with? Which varietal/wine is your favorite to make? Why? I really enjoy crafting big, bold reds. Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite, followed by Zinfandel, and Bordeaux-style red blends. I enjoy making these wines because there are so many different styles, based on the fruit source (vineyard). However, over the past few years, I have enjoyed discovering Rhone-style red wines and am completely in love with that style – both northern and southern Rhone. Something about the earthy, funky, iron-like aromas and flavors in those wines make my heart skip! In fact, my 2015 Siela Syrah, Russian River Valley was my first attempt at a Rhone-style wine!

7. What vineyards do you source from? Why? I source all of my fruit from only top vineyards across the state of California. I focus mostly on the Central Coast up through northern Sonoma County. So AVA’s such as Paso Robles, Monterey, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and a relatively new AVA called Pine Mountain-Cloverdale have all captured my interest. The biggest challenge as a limited production winemaker is sourcing small amounts of fruit (1-2 tons) from top quality vineyards. So, as a way to solve that particular problem, 8 years ago, I started working harvests up in the Russian River Valley – which has allowed me access to both winemakers and growers across the region. This “sweat equity” in turn, allows me to purchase top quality fruit from great vineyards – in small quantities. In short, I trade my labor for the right to purchase high quality fruit.

8. What type of oak treatment do you use? In my first couple vintages, I started out using new wood on all my wines, but very quickly figured out the elegance and softness of using 2nd or 3rd fill barrels. Sometimes, for some varietals, even neutral barrels. I don’t make enough each year to be able to do any blending of significance, so I really need to tame back the new oak impact on my wines. I also prefer the fruit to stand on it’s own in my wines. I want my wine to tell the story of the growing year…and I believe too much oak takes away from the story the fruit wants to tell of that particular year. I prefer American Oak on varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. My Rhone-style wines and white wines typically rest in French oak.

9. What do you love about your winemaking region? What makes it different special? Actually, I love the fact that I am not tied to only one region! That allows me to experiment frequently and offer wine lovers a variety of different wines from different regions, vineyards, etc. So, I’m not locked into making wine from only one AVA, or only one vineyard. I source from across multiple AVA’s and vineyards to create an interesting assortment of wines in the winery in southern California (Encinitas).

SielaBottle10. What’s the story behind your winery name / label? The word “Siela” means soul in the Lithuanian language. I’m first generation Lithuanian/American, my parents immigrated to the U.S. from Lithuania in the mid 1940’s during WWII. But while living in Lithuania, my great aunt on my dad’s side of the family was a farmer. On her farm, she kept bee hives. So each year, she would harvest the honey comb from her hives and make mead in her barn, which is basically honey wine. Her farmer neighbors would come by her farm each month with whatever container they could find, and my great aunt would fill that container with her “garagiste” mead. When my family immigrated to the US, they settled on the south side of Chicago and my great aunt continued her wine and mead making in her garage, supplying the local neighbors with their beverage of choice. Apparently, the winemaking bug skipped a few generations in my family before it hit me, as I am the only winemaker in the family today. I wanted to honor my family heritage, honor the love my great aunt had of mead/wine making and so I called my winery “Siela Wines”. Winemaking is the window to my soul. It’s much more than simply tasting the wine – when I drink a glass, I think about the growing season, the geography of where the fruit grows, the migrant workers who picked the fruit, etc. Wine to me is art in a bottle!

11. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery? Federal & State licensing was a nightmare! I wish someone had told me how long the process is!! However, I did a lot of research, vetted many different business plans, and came up with what I thought met my lifestyle/career short term, as well as for the longer haul. I continue to learn to this day, spending as much time as possible with folks in the industry.

12. Most importantly, what’s so great about being small? What can you do as a small winemaker, that wouldn’t be possible for larger wineries? I firmly believe there is a certain, compelling appeal for wine drinkers to talk directly to the winemaker (and/or owner) about the wines. It’s an intimate, personal experience that cannot be duplicated by the big, commercial wineries. Also, I can experiment quickly with such small lots of wine, I don’t carry a lot of overhead or inventory since I do all the work myself, and what I do is true artisan work – you will never find a bottle of Siela on a grocery store shelf!

13. How do you view the future in the wine industry for small-lot winemakers? I think the future is bright – however, we need to make wine tasting/drinking much more casual – sort of like the way craft breweries now have games, activities, etc to attract people to drink their beer in their brewery setting. Why can’t the small lot wineries be that laid back? They can be! And should be!

14. If you had to choose another wine region to work in what would it be? Well, from a U.S. standpoint, I would love to try my had at either a Washington (Red Mountain) cabernet or an Oregon (Willamette Valley) pinot noir – two very different, fantastic growing regions with under-appreciated wines. I also love working with Paso Robles fruit – very diverse, under-appreciated growing region, lots of varietals. And of course, I would choose the Rhone Valley in France.

For more information about Siela Wines, please visit their website or follow them on FACEBOOK.

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