This is the full interview with Michelle Reeves of David Family Wines, of which snippets appeared in the December 11th, 2013 article, “Rise of the Bi-Coastal Boutique Vigneron” on UndergroundEats.com. Two of Michelle’s wines are reviewed in the Underground Eats piece.
JC: David Family Wines – give me the scoop.
MR: Originally from Australia, I arrived in New York in 2001 ready to take on the corporate world. Managing sponsorship deals for global sports brands like New York Yankees, PGA, and the Olympic Games I spent 8 years traveling the world with top clients in the sports world. But (there’s always a but) when I moved to San Francisco in 2003 I was distracted by the California wine industry. Still working in my corporate job I asked a local wine store to let me work for them for free on weekends and holidays so I could learn more about wine. I had no idea what luck I was in for as I worked alongside some of the industry’s most influential and gifted winemakers, sommeliers and authors including Bartholomew Broadbent [son of Michael Broadbent who is the Director of Christie’s as well as a lauded author on numerous books about wine—JC]. In 2006, I started David Family Wines on my own with nothing but a ton of gumption and my savings.
My maiden name at the time was Turnbull, since that’s already an established winery in Napa [Michelle has absolutely no relation to Turnbull Wines which can’t get over their 100 point score Robert Parker gave their 2010 Cabernet Sauv—JC] I had to consider other ideas. I named the label after my father, David, and small but close family who are all still in Australia.
JC: Where do your grapes come from? Don’t lie to me.
MR: I buy the grapes from some incredible sources, sadly I’m sworn to secrecy on who my sources are. Byron Kosuge and Pat Knittel are my amazing Pinot Noir rockstar winemakers. They won’t tell you either ;)
JC: Oh yeah? How is the wine selling tough gal?
MR: So far we’ve had an incredible run since launching our first wine into market. I released 340 cases of 2006 Pinot in 2009. It sold out in 4 months! Today we produce 500-600 cases total, so we’re pretty small.
A little luck never hurt anyone. And a lot of luck, well that changes the game I guess. In the beginning we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
My brother was in LA having a drink one afternoon while trying to figure out what to do after soccer. He met someone at the bar who was hosting a wine event and decided to sign me up for it. I hadn’t even launched David Family yet. I went to the event, poured my wine and the Wine Director for some top wine clubs was there. He tried our wine and a few weeks later sent a note to his global network about us. That put our wine in all the rights hands and it went from there.
JC: Why are you making wine in the Anderson Valley and why Santa Lucia Highlands? Does anyone back east know anything about Santa Lucia Highlands?
MR: I’m a big believer in doing one thing and doing it well. We focus all our efforts and time making Pinot Noir. I believe Anderson Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands are the two best examples of Pinot Noir in the US. Each appellation shows a very distinct expression of what Pinot Noir can do. Anderson Valley at one end of the spectrum with beautifully balanced fruit and earth flavors, and Santa Lucia Highlands’ rich, bold, decadent flavors.
My brother describes these two regions best. He’s a former football player – soccer – in Europe, so he knows two things well: football and women. He describes our Anderson Valley as Audrey Hepburn; elegant, ladylike, has been brought up well with a solid foundation. Santa Lucia Highlands on the other hand is his Marilyn Monroe, and I’ll quote him exactly on this one “sexy, saucy, bold and naughty, can’t take her home to meet mum.”
Ha, that’s my brother. Nonetheless, a decent explanation showing how truly unique each wine growing region is.
JC: Ah, Marilyn. I’m an Audrey man myself. Anyway, you live on the East Coast. Where? Why make your home in the east even though your wines come from California?
MR: Today, I live full time in DUMBO, Brooklyn with my husband and 1 yr old son, Ransom. Previously, I had spent two years living part time in California and part time in New York. I was here personally meeting with every account and training staff at restaurants every evening, weekends etc. As a result the Hamptons is now our second biggest market and they’re only in business for three months a year. The relationships we’ve fostered are only possible by being here and perhaps by building real trust as a ‘fellow New Yorker’.
Our dollars go into producing the very best wine, not maintaining land, tasting rooms and hospitality venues. Strangely enough, being in New York allows us to fulfill our mission and that’s to do one thing and one thing only, make perfect Pinot Noir.
JC: Do you see trends in cross-country producers? What are the benefits?
MR: I absolutely see a trend and a big opportunity for California wine on the East Coast.
1) CA wineries with the most impact in New York are the ones dedicating time here. It’s not enough to let your distributor and sales reps manage it for you. New York is a loud market and the voice for a wine brand has to be loud and more importantly, it has to be genuine.
2) Numbers don’t lie – since recently launching my second company,
www.iknowthewinemaker.com, I’ve seen a large percentage, approximately 80% of our sales come from New York. The website sells California’s hard to find and even harder to buy mailing list only wine. There’s huge demand here for these boutique, small production wines. I’m excited to see how it continues to grow.
JC: Leather labels – my first reaction was “Woah,” then I thought I should buy a case, strip the labels and make one hell of a nice bow-tie. What was your thinking behind the leather label and who made them? Tell me, honestly, they cost a fortune, right?
MR: Ha – yes, I love the reactions that our leather labels create. We have a trademark for them; in fact we have the only ‘touch trademark’ in the world for a leather label on a wine bottle. In the industry we talk about wine as a sensory experience of smell, taste, and sight. What about touch? It’s the very first thing we do in picking up a bottle, holding the glass, harvesting the grapes.
Despite the long days of labeling every bottle by hand (I end up covered in glue) we stand back and feel great about each individual bottle. No two bottles are alike, the leather is distinct for every label.
JC: If I wanted to buy your wines, what are my best options? Are you on any wine lists in NYC?
MR: Online is the best way to buy our wine (www.davidfamily.com). We have a Black List club that gives people access to the wines before they’re released to market and at preferred member pricing. And, our Black List members get the exclusive black leather label.
Wine is on some great lists in NYC: Eleven Madison Park, Public, David Burke, STK, BLT, Le Cirque, Il Mulino…
JC: EMP? Wow. Rock on. Finally, any dirt on Harris [UGE Co-Founder]?
MR: Sadly, no dirt on Harris at all. Give it time, I’m sure I’ll see him at the playground falling asleep as his kids run around and cover him in sand, oh wait, that’ll be my son covering me in sand most likely. Hmm… Will let you know if he ever slips up, unlikely.