At Owning only a pick-up truck and a shovel; a young wine steward, Paul Sloan dreamt of making Estate Grown, world-class, wines of distinction, far before we could afford to buy an “Estate” in California. Compelled by an ethereal experience with a rare Burgundy, he relentlessly pursued his plan to innovate winegrowing in California and grow only small vines to create meaningful wines of authenticity, balance and structure. But the story doesn’t start there…
Only in high-school, Paul started as a bus-boy learning about wine from passionate restaurateurs. He embraced wine with an unquenchable desire to read and taste everything he could-and eventually worked his way up to the assistant wine buyer position at John Ash and Company (in 1993 until 95). As a very young wine steward, he was given many opportunities to taste both California classic wines and wines from all over the world. One night, his life would change forever, when a person dining alone offered him a taste of a very rare Burgundy. This ethereal experience, with one of the world’s greatest wines, sent him on a quest for more knowledge and forever fueled his drive to make captivating wines like this. He launched into self-study, and soon discovered that some of the greatest Pinot Noirs in the world come from a mature, small vines.
Soon after this experience, Paul and Kathryn Sloan (me) met and fell in love in nature. As adventurous partners in rock climbing and mountain biking, we took a sabbatical and traveled the country only to return home to one of the most beautiful places on earth, Sonoma County, California. It is here, where Paul’s family has been for three generations (and now four), that we embarked upon even bigger adventures. Paul returned to college to get his Viticulture degree, and simultaneously went to work for one of the most respected winegrowers in the county, Warren Dutton of Dutton Ranches.
In 1998, it was Warren himself, who encouraged Paul to follow his innovative, pioneering spirit and to start planting vineyards his own way. We sought out viticulture that was not yet here in California and launched Small Vines. The hard work of planting and farming vineyards came naturally to both of us, as we both grew up on ranches raising cattle, not grapes. Our families’ culture as adolescents accustomed us to long days, hard work and the craving for getting our hands dirty working in nature. We love what we do! From that day forward, we have been dedicated to achieving smaller yields (less fruit per vine) from higher-density, European style spacing of the vines in order to grow only the highest-quality wine grapes. The unique nature of our vineyards allowed us to innovate various things, and we traveled to Europe several times for both inspiration and specialty equipment, not available in the United States. As innovative wine-growers, it took years of planting and farming vineyards-for-hire, as a vineyard development and management company, to save enough money to eventually lease-back one of the first, high-density vineyards we planted. In 2005, Paul and I were able to craft a tiny batch of wine for release and the wines immediately received critical acclaim and were sold out. We really have to work at it to consistently grow grapes that make inspiring wines of authenticity.
The response to the wines was overwhelming, and in order to grow our small family winery, we continued to add to our Estate leases each year, including only original vineyards-planted by Small Vines. It is true that Paul has been accused of obsessive attention to detail in the vineyard thus he wanted no other vineyards than his own. After years of searching for a property with just the right climat, or the perfect combination of cooling coastal influences, well-drained, low-vigor soil and top of a ridge-line location- we were finally able to buy our first property in 2007.
It is on this property that we live and work happily alongside our young family. At any time, the Sloan children, Dakota and Savannah, can be found running through the organic vine rows, driving a tractor, sampling the fruit, working the sorting table or even helping us pack wine! They love to work with “Mom and Dad”- and even the grandparents are happy to lend a helping hand at harvest time.
We are so lucky to be inspired by past generations and future generations at the same time. The impact of our farming decisions on the future generations has always been our concern, and we have returned to the old lessons of tradition. We wanted to build something that would last for upcoming generations, we wanted to leave a legacy. From the beginning, we worked in harmony with nature and by farming organically, employing both nourishment and defense in the vineyards done naturally.
Paul and I are traditional people and use traditional methods of winemaking that are as pure, transparent and wholesome as possible. France is steeped in centuries of wine tradition. The history there is so seductive. Paul and I are very traditional, nostalgic people; we love our centuries-old house, our grandparents’ great stories and the simple, classical French winemaking methods as well.
We are in this business for the enjoyment of nature and the gratifying and joyful experience of sharing distinctive wines with our families and friends. To produce “Grand-Cru” quality wines, that captivate and are meaningful to people- this is our lifelong mission -Cheers! Kathryn (and Paul) Sloan