Simaine Cellars: Organic Single Vineyard Varietals
Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson
The first time I tasted Simaine Cellars wines was at the grand opening of West Side Renaissance Market in Ukiah. Winemaker Victor Simon was pouring exceptional Zinfandel, Syrah and Sangiovese. We first met ten years ago at Whaler Vineyard where I had an office space and he was doing cellar work in the winery, work he’s done for twenty years.
Literally culling from the fruits of his labor, Victor Simon, native of Michoacan, Mexico, started producing wine with wife Brenda, and mother-in-law Chris, five years ago. He and Brenda met when they were both working at Konrad Winery overlooking Lake Mendocino in Redwood Valley.
“Victor and I became friends and then he became part of the family,” says Brenda, a native along with her five siblings, of Ukiah. Her mom Christine Maine is a partner in the winery which is named to combine both of their family names. Simon plus Maine equals Simaine, pronounced Sy’-mane.
He credits his upbringing and his grandfather for his introduction to wine. Although born in Mexico City, Victor and his family went to live with his grandfather in rural Michoacan at a young age. Guided by his grandfather, Victor learned the art of the soil and the rewards of what comes from it.
“Like the old Italians,” he says, “my grandparents made wine.” When he was little, “it was common for the kids to have a tiny tequila shot glass of wine with meals. As you grew up the glasses got bigger.” He says a glass was served, not a bottle, and it was never abused.
Victor is the youngest of three children. His older brother was already in the United States when Victor was a teenager. “All we talked about was the American dream,” he recalls. But he wasn’t planning on moving north. He had a good job and was in school. Then in 1980 he came to visit his brother in Los Angeles. They took at trip to Potter Valley for a family wedding. “I liked it better than LA,” he tells, adding that the area reminds him of small agricultural towns in Mexico. He decided it would be a good place to settle and began networking.
When he was offered a job by David Olson at Olson Vineyards, in Redwood Valley, which eventually became Fife, he took it. “I studied English in school and was partially bilingual when I came here,” he says. “I knew the winery was my place,” says Victor. “I know how to put a vine into the ground, but winemaking is what I was born for.”
Victor was the constant in a winery that changed hands from Olson to Konrad and then to Fife. He stayed on, working with different winemakers and doing everything from sourcing grapes to making the wines to guiding tours of the winery. His affable outgoing personality has contributed to his eagerness to learn the business and to the respect he has garnered in the industry.
Wines that he was making won awards. In addition to working in the cellar, he also worked sales while at Fife. “I got exposed to the whole aspect of the wine industry for nine years,” he says. Growers asked when he was going to buy their grapes for his own wine. And at tastings, Wine Club members asked when was he going to make start his own winery.
“Everyone loved my wine and style,” he says. “I know the best vineyards and where to get the fruit.” So, in 2004, he and Brenda and Chris looked at each other and realized they had all the skills to start a winery. “I always wanted to be in business for myself,” says Brenda. Neither she nor her mother grew up drinking wine. “All my friends drank it,” she says. “Then I met Victor and got educated. I got my siblings to love wine too.”
In 2004 Simaine Cellars first wine was a 2004 Zinfandel, made from grapes grown at Anderson Vineyards in Redwood Valley.
“What I’m doing,” says Victor, is making each varietal a hundred percent from one vineyard.” And he’s specifically looking for grapes that are organically grown. He buys Syrah from Tollini Vineyards in Calpella; Zinfandell from Wilcox Vineyards in Redwood Valley. Simaine Cellars’ Zinfandel, more Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, Petite Syrah, Carignane and Sauvignon Blanc are from Venturi Vineyards in Redwood Valley.
Victor visits the vineyards to taste grapes grown on different clonal stock. For example the grapes from the Raffanelli cloned Zinfandel grown at Venturi has a “very unique berry flavor” that he likes. He contracts for the whole block so his wine will have a consistency and reflection of those vines from the benchland vineyard.
Another grape Victor is smitten with is Sangiovese. “I’ve been playing with Italian varietals for years,” he explains. Sangiovese has a lot of acidity and needs to get ripe and then slowly ferment to balance the fruit and the acid. “I like the name, san-gee-a-vay’-zee,” he says with an Italian accent.
He ages Simaine’s red wines in French oak barrels. He has a 2007 Syrah that is still in the barrel. “Sometimes I taste wines that are released too soon and to me the wine wine is not ready,” he explains. “It’s like if you have to wake up at two in the morning and get out of bed. You can’t get back that sleep. It’s the same with wine if it is taken out the barrel and bottled too soon.”
Other Simaine varietals in the making include Petite Sirah, Merlot and Carignane. The last grape, which has been known mainly as part of red blends, makes a good single varietal wine according to Victor, who also loves its name pronounced kar-in-yawn.
Simaine Cellars’ first white, a Sauvignon Blanc, is in the barrel. The grapes come from Venturi’s vineyard on a gravely block near the Russian River. It was a hit at Simaine Cellars grand opening celebration in their barrel and tasting room south of Ukiah.
Located at 3001 South State Street, Simaine Cellars is in space #42 of the row of Redwood Square industrial buildings just before the Health Club. While the metal facade is like all the others, inside, the tasting room offers a cozy setting with a window to the barrel room. Brenda and Chris have warmed it up with display cases of merchandise. In addition to unique handcrafted gift items and logo clothing and unique artwork, Brenda’s intricate and artisanal handcrafted sterling silver jewelry is on display.
Simaine Cellars is a hands-on family affair. Chris and Brenda share the marketing and business end of the winery including the website and the gift shop tasting room. Victor makes the wine and does sales. “We all, including Brenda’s extended family,” taste it, he says.
Chris Maine, who was born in Ukiah, retired from the county and worked part time at Fife before becoming part of this family winery. She has six children. Daughters Teresa Carroll, Patty Gallo, Jennifer Van Vranken and Donna Borges still live in Ukiah. Son Brian Maine lives in Reno. They and spouses and kids come for bottling. As do Victor’s brother and sister-in-law Lupe & Patricia Simon-Martinez. Brenda’s son Jeremey designed the elegant black and gold label and circular logo incorporating V, B and C.
At the recent grand opening, Victor prepared pork and chicken verde and heated tortillas to order to taste with his wines and barrel samples. “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” he laughed as he siphoned a taste of Sauvignon Blanc out of the barrel. In addition to the tasting room Simaine Cellars wine is available at Westide Renaissance Market, the Bottle Shop in Ukiah, Club Calpella in Calpella, Mariposa Market in Willits, Shanachie Pub in Willits, Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg, Hopland Inn in Hopland, Mario’s Ristorante in Redwood Valley, Walters Cafe in Ukiah, Ruen Tong in Ukiah, The Office and Simona’s in Ukiah.
Their wine club is called Circle of Friends.
The tasting room is open every day of the week. Victor is usually on hand and eager to share his story and the pride in his wines that are made from single Mendocino County organically grown vineyards. His philosophy is to marry the vineyard with the cellar and work like his grandparents did. “That means I harvest and make wine for the love of making it.”
TASTING NOTES: Simaine Cellars 2006 Zinfandel has a bright fruity aroma with full slightly peppery and berry rich flavor that was perfect with pork in adobo sauce and oven roasted russet potatoes.
Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes on behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.« Column Index