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.
The true turn of events happened on a Mediterranean wine cruise hosted by Costa Brown and August West, where the couple had the good luck to meet winemaker Ed Kurtzman (of August West, Roar, and Sandler). The men not only hit it off as friends, but Kurtzman, seeing John’s enthusiasm for winemaking, offered John the opportunity to work for August West full time. At that time, summer of 2007, John was still a practicing attorney in his hometown of Baltimore, and couldn’t afford to get away for a full harvest. He was, however, able to take two weeks to act as a volunteer, falling even more in love with vineyard work and winemaking. “The whole plane ride back [to Baltimore], I was plotting my return,” says John.
And return he did. For the next two years, John completed full internships at Freeman Winery, traveling back to California in between those stints to learn about racking, blending, bottling, and all the winemaking nitty-gritty details. He even starting playing around with making his own wine for pure pleasure and personal consumption.
Finally, in January 2010, the couple packed up their East Coast life, settling in San Francisco. John continued to work for Freeman Winery as Assistant Winemaker for 2 and half years, while simultaneously working on his own winemaking business, slowly ramping up clientele. Eventually, the demand for John’s wine became so impacted, he left Freeman
to focus on his own project full time. Cellars 33 was bonded in 2011.
Today, the make and sell wine from their urban winery in San Francisco’s Dogpatch. John remembers his first, 2008 vintage when he was still making wine “on the side.” Back then he was producing just over 140 cases. Cellars 33 now boasts an annual production of 1,000 – 1,200 cases, looking to expand to over 2,000 within the next two years.
The winery’s focus is on Grenache Blanc from Lodi and Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from Sonoma. Their primary distribution is through their Mailing List who get first dibs on new releases. They now have brokers who distribute in SF and LA and will soon be selling in Washington DC, Virginia, Michigan, Denver, and — most excitedly — their home state Maryland.
For more information and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Cellars33 website.
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