When it comes to white wines, Cellars 33 is all about Grenache Blanc sourced from California’s Lodi AVA. When asked about this Rhône-style white blend, which includes a significant amount of Viognier and a trace amount of PicPoul, John Fones (owner and winemaker of Cellars 33) said that it’s simply a chance to create a “different expression” of the varietal he’s come to love. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, just remember “The Betty” is a white wine.
John Fones, owner and winemaker of Cellars 33, is no stranger to Sonoma Coast fruit. He cut his winemaking teeth interning for Freeman Winery, in the heart of the Russian River Valley, and worked alongside Ed Kurtzman as Assistant Winemaker for August West — who sources their grapes from the RRV, among other California coastal appellations. So, it’s no wonder that he chose two diverse Sonoma Coast vineyards to create his expression of cool-climate Pinot.
The story behind Cellars 33 is one that many will be able to relate to. John and Katie Fones, co-owners of Cellars 33, found wine through each other. As John remembers it, he had Katie over to dinner one night early in their relationship and wanted to impress her with pairing a bottle of wine with the meal. “It was a Blackstone Merlot, I think,” says John. An $8 bottle of a grocery store wine was enough for the young couple to start “collecting.” “We had a little wire wine rack we kept on the top of our fridge,” remembers John, admitting that it was probably the worst — and hottest — place they could have kept their small collection while living on the top story of their apartment complex in balmy Baltimore.
Nevertheless, their grocery store collecting quickly turned them into avid wine enthusiasts. The couple also loves to travel, making frequent trips to the West Coast. And, as John says, if you visit California enough times, you’re going to end up in wine country eventually. So it was that John and Katie discovered their love for California wines in particular. For John, it was more than just the wines he became interested in, it was the winemaking process as well. A former hobbyist beer-brewer, John recalls being much more fascinated with what was happening behind cellar doors than the inside the tasting room.
Jon Fones, co-owner and winemaker of Cellars 33, says that when starting a winery, one tends to grab at the fruit they can get their hands on — vineyards with available, affordable contracts with fruits you’re able and willing to work with. After working with Napa-based Chardonnay for a number of years, Fones — through a tip from a fellow winemaker — turned his sights to Lodi where, he found, the Grenache Blanc in Clay Station Vineyard grew just beautifully (and, yes, affordably). It may have been a bit experimental at first, working with a new grape variety within his portfolio, but now Cellars 33 is focused on Grenache Blanc as their white wine. “With the fruit from Clay Station,” says Fones, “We can express the source through our wine. And that’s really what we’re all about.”
As a vintner, when you find a vineyard site you love, it’s truly something special. You come to know the lay of the land, the quality of the fruit, and can taste — even at bud break — the potential for the wine you want to create. As a vintner, when you find a vineyard site you love, you’ll do everything in your power to keep the relationship with the landowner, ensuring that year after year you can keep on creating. As a vintner, when you find a vineyard site you love and the landowner decides to sell — this can be a tragic change of events. Unless you decide to purchase it. Which is exactly what Andrew Tow did.