How did I get into the Wine Business?
by Bernard Rosenson
Proprietor, Coquelicot Wines
This is the most frequently asked question of me, as people are enamored by the romantic aspect of growing grapes and making wine. And, they are correct. It is a romantic endeavor publicized and magnified by the entertainment industry. Such films as: A Walk in the Clouds (1995), Sideways (2004), A Good Year (2006), Bottle Shock (2008), You Will Be My Sun (2011), and others give the business a flair, passion, and panache unrivaled by any other.
So, how did I get into this? It starts a long time ago, at the age of 4, living in Paris, vacationing each summer in the French Countryside where wine, food, love, and life come together as a pleasant and necessary companionship. I was given my first taste of wine at that time by my father Maurice who came home each day from work at lunchtime for a large family meal, accompanied, of course, with a glass of wine.
The next phase of my life impacting on my decision to grow grapes and produce wine begins in 1997 when I began the refurbishment and revival of the eponymous Sky Room Restaurant at the Breakers Hotel in Long Beach, California. I always had a passion for growing fruits and vegetables, so my role as a viticulturist goes back to the vacation days in France where I picked potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, and so on. The smell of the produce still drives me wild to this day, bringing back my Childhood experiences. The role of oenologist, a new one, stems from the wine list that I helped develop at the Sky Room – growing to a 100+ page award wining list with over 3000 different selections. That was my wine education.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to exchange real estate and I decided to buy a vineyard. I believed, and still do, that I know what a good/great wine should taste like. Now, I wanted the opportunity to grow those excellent grapes turned into excellent wine.
I decided to farm organically, and not because I was a devout-staunch defender of the environment (however, I now am) but because I nearly fainted when I entered a room that stored all the chemicals used for pests, weeds, fungus, etc. that immediately made me a proponent of clean, natural farming. As a result, I received a certification stating that I am farming an organic vineyard, something I am proud of displaying.
As I matured, yearly, learning about growing grapes, making wine, and staying afloat, financially, I began to develop a style or protocol both for winemaking and growing grapes.
I owe my knowledge, besides reading and attending classes, to my devoted winemaker (Louis-vanTonder, and now Mike Roth) and to the superb oenologist, Ben Merz and his staff that tend so diligently to my vineyard.
What I stand for, in the vineyard, is low production, low yield, and low a Brix level, and an early harvest. At the production level, I stand for low alcohol, low use of new oak barrels, French oak, steel tanks, low or no malolactic acid fermentation, low sulfur additives, and reliance on French techniques and protocols. The result is wine that accompanies food.
When I was 10 years old, my family left France for the United States and we landed in New York. It was a drastic life change for me. Life in 1955 New York was so different from Paris. It took a long time to adjust. Today, having moved to California, I would not trade places. I love to go to France but only as a tourist. I could not live there for a long period of time. My family of 3 children and 5 grandchildren are Californians-and I appreciate living here.
Our wines are represented at all our restaurants: The Sky Room Restaurant in Long Beach, Cielo (a rooftop bar atop The Sky Room), First & Oak Restaurant in Solvang, our Coquelicot Tasting Room in Los Olivos, and soon Bernard’s Restaurant in Calabasas. We produce enough wine for our restaurant venues, our tasting room, our club members, and selected restaurants. All other grapes are purchased yearly by over 12 different wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley
I love growing grapes evidenced by my exhilaration walking the vineyard. I love wine as evidenced by my love of drinking wine at dinner. I know many of you share my emotion. And, I invite you to walk the vineyard with me. Call me at the Mirabelle Inn in Solvang and they will schedule a walk with me as I explain the parts and pieces of the vineyard. I love doing that, and it is great walking exercise.
I hope to see you soon – so I can share my love, passion, romance, with you in growing grapes and making wine.