Bottle Stories – Interview with West of Temperance Founders Brian Ojalvo and John King

WOTSelection of Bottle

I discovered the West of Temperance Winery a few weeks ago from an amazing photo they had posted on their Instagram account. I looked into what they were doing and became very intrigued. They are bucking the mainstream and have chosen the Aglianico grape as their flagship. Aglianico is an ancient varietal first cultivated by the Phoenicians then taken by the Greeks to their homeland. Finally the Romans took it from Greece to Italy where it has been for the past 3000 years or so. It has been commercially cultivated for about 4000 years. I like ancient history, so to think that Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar might have consumed this wine is outright cool. Recently, Aglianico is starting to get attention in the new world through innovative wineries like West of Temperance.

Wine of Note (Dave) – What was the driving force that led you to start your own winery?

West of Temperance (WOT) – One must realize and understand one’s purpose and why it is you do what you do. West of Temperance approaches winemaking artistically, as a process to explore. Everything is taken into consideration starting with closely looking at and examining all raw materials; vineyards, wine grapes on the vine, fermenting grapes, just pressed wine, young wine in barrel, etc., etc. all which we look at as the sketch, the rough draft, so to speak. The final product, the finished bottle of wine, produced from that process to us becomes a constantly changing entity where the drinker brings his or her own set of experiences into that bottle like that of a conceptual piece of art. The driving force is to satisfy creative and experimental yearnings and be able to share those yearnings with others. In addition, a driving force behind starting our own winery was, is and always will be exciting wine making opportunities in California. We are consistently discovering opportunities whether it be a new grape varietal, an amazing vineyard, a new grower, or a new customer interested in what we do and interested in our wines. It is a very exciting time to be making wine in California which is also a very big portion of the driving force as to why we started our own winery. We are always on the lookout for new projects and are constantly presented with opportunities on all fronts of our venture whether it be a new winemaking opportunity, business opportunity or making new friends in the wine industry.

Dave – Who is your wine making team and what are their backgrounds?

WOT – The West of Temperance wine making team consists of two: Brian Ojalvo and John King, Co-Owners, Founders and Winemakers at West of Temperance.

Brian Ojalvo. Before starting West of Temperance, Brian cut his teeth for 10 years as Assistant Winemaker for a well-established California Winemaker. A New York City native, Brian is a painter and graduated with his Fine Art degree from New York City before heading out to California on a classic American road trip 25 years ago. In a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger, Brian left the East Coast and accidentally discovered Northern California. He has never looked back and currently calls Northern California his home. Brian is an avid reader, a fisherman, a father of two, a vinyl junkie and loves to forage for wild mushrooms, cook great food and collect cool vintage stuff. In his spare time Brian likes to discover and explore new wines and wine styles from around the world.

John King. Before starting West of Temperance, John spent 20+ years in international business, business development, operations and developing international markets for large, small and mid-sized corporations. With a degree in Japanese from the University of California John worked and lived in Japan for 12+ years. A native Californian and 25-year wine enthusiast and hobbyist, John realized at a young age he wanted to do something with wine and once he caught with winemaking bug alongside and working with Brian, he has never looked back. John is a lifetime student of all things Japan and Japanese, an amateur photographer, an uncle to 3 nieces and a total music junkie addicted to Spotify and his record collection. In his spare time John likes to garden, cook whenever he can and loves to discover and explore wines from all over the world.

Between Brian and John, we are responsible for 100% of our winemaking from vineyard to bottle and do all our own work from grape sourcing to truck driving to picking grapes to negotiating and creating our own contracts to cleaning the crusher / de-stemmer to fermenting wine grapes to racking wine and it does not stop there. West of Temperance is a true DIY winery as we also market, sell, distribute and manage our direct-to-consumer and wholesale business entirely in-house. West of Temperance produced its first commercial vintage in 2012. For the initial years of production, the winery was in an urban winery setting in the Dogpatch neighborhood in San Francisco and has since moved all production to Napa where we currently call our home for all things winemaking as related to West of Temperance.

Collectively, we have 23 harvests under their belts, have produced 30+ wines and are both actively involved in growing the winery on all fronts both on the production side and business side of the venture.

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Dave – Why Aglianico and Teroldego? It this world of Cabs, Zins and Pinots, why choose a grape that most of the American wine drinkers have never heard of?

WOT – Great question. We get asked this a lot. In a nutshell, we are fascinated with Italian varietals and Italian varietals are one of our areas of focus and expertise. Why? Because we are interested in producing wines from these varietals and find them to be exciting. Our customers also love these varietals and due to very positive customer feedback, we continue to focus on these varietals.

Originally, Brian was looking for something to plant in a hot climate on his family’s vineyard, the Taniguchi Vineyard, back starting around 2005 / 2006. After research, consultation and careful consideration the decision was made to plant Aglianico on the vineyard mainly due to the ability of this varietal to withstand extreme heat and at the same time produce a quality wine. An important aspect to the Aglianico wine grape varietal is its ability to withstand very hot weather and still produce wine deep with color, exciting aromas, balanced acidity on the palate and, made correctly, with soft tannins. All things related to Aglianico and West of Temperance started there.

As winemaking progressed and the winery started to grow production, we began looking to expand Aglianico production and therefore we started searching for additional Aglianico sources. On one of our grower meetings we were introduced to Teroldego which was a varietal we had never heard of prior to that meeting. We decided on the spot Teroldego is a varietal we would like to work with due to the fact we simply found Teroldego to be delicious. Teroldego is an interesting varietal from Northern Italy which produces a dark, fruity, lively and balanced wine. Our Teroldego tends to be on the lower alcohol level coming in at 13.6% alcohol by volume.

West of Temperance is not limited to just Aglianico and Teroldego. We are interested in additional wine grape varietals and do make wines besides Aglianico and Teroldego. We have made / make Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Carignane, Sangiovese, Merlot, Petite Sirah, a blended wine we have named Colorfield and a few other odds and ends here and there. Starting in 2017 we began to make white wine and after careful research and consideration we chose to make Fiano. Please look for our Fiano and other release wines which will be coming soon.

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Dave – I get the sense that you’ve got a rebel streak in you. I like that. The main stream is not always the right stream. How does that show itself in your wines?

WOT – Main stream wines are not something we seek out. We do not strive to make wines which would be considered mainstream. We like wines which are exciting and unpredictable. We enjoy winemakers who are unpredictable, that do not follow the trends but decide to follow their instinct, create their own rules and follow what might bring them pleasure with wines. These are always the wines which we find are the most wonderful and delicious. We absolutely have a rebellious streak and have always had that. We do some things in the cellar which might qualify as rebellious, perhaps. One example is to push the normal limits with extended maceration (letting recently fermented wine sit on its skins). We do this constantly. Most other winemakers look at me like I am crazy when we tell them how long some grapes are left on their skin. There are many more examples we could go into, as well as many proprietary techniques which we employ.

Dave – What’s the hardest part of getting West of Temperance wines into the public’s hands? 

WOT – Building our brand awareness and selling wine. The hardest part is selling wine and getting new customers to give us a try and / or give rare Italian varietals a try. As we sell, we are building our brand. This part of our business is a full-time job, and one in which is independent of making wine. To get the word out there to the wine drinking public requires persistence, skill and thinking outside of the box, so-to-speak. We have a direct to consumer program as well as a small wholesale program both of which require hand selling. We employ no formal distribution routes other than directly from our company. One day this will change and for now, this is handled entirely in-house. We do all our own marketing and design. Brand building, along with consistently delivering quality wines, is the key to sustaining ourselves in this business over the long haul. As the adage goes “it isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon” and we are in this business for the long haul. The hardest part is being endlessly available to be out in front of folks and the public to educate them about our wines and the obscure varietals we work with. We also believe in the adage that “if it is not hard, it’s probably not worth doing” which is also a driving force behind our dedication to the West of Temperance brand and our overall approach. We absolutely love this part of our business and look forward to continuing to meet new customers and building the West of Temperance brand as we grow.

Dave – What’s the best part about being a boutique winery?

WOT – Being able to make up our own rules and make our own decisions. We think of ourselves more as craftsmen and artisans, highly skilled in a specified field of wine making. The best part by far is that we get to make our own rules and answer to our own muse.

Dave – What do you consider to be your flagship wine and how did it come to be?

WOT – Aglianico. We have been making Aglianico since 2008 starting with a few barrels in Brian’s backyard, a true Garagiste production in every sense of the word. As previously mentioned, we planted Aglianico back in 2007. This was actually a grafting project where we grafted Budwood from Italy onto 100 plus year old Thompson seedless raisin grape vines in a wine growing region most would eschew as de rigueur. We believed the project had value and would be successful in the long-run. It turns out, it was. These grafted vines produce a minuscule number of grapes which become part of our California Aglianico blend which we have been crafting since 2012. These grapes are what we consider the X factor; that something special which goes into the creation of that blend.  After numerous harvests, we can easily say that the Aglianico is the wine which we would stand up and shout about to anyone who will listen. It is our bright star, our flagship wine through and through.

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Dave – I believe that every bottle of wine has a story to tell. What story are you telling with West of Temperance wines?

WOT – We are winemakers. We are highly focused on our craft and we specialize in making wine. Up to now, we have specialized in making red wines and starting in 2017 we have expanding into white wine production. Moving into 2018 we expect to continue to expand our winemaking to more reds, whites and rose wine, too. We are very focused on the wines and therefore we think the story we have to tell boils down to the following: ultimately, it is what is in the bottle that counts. Pure and simple, we strive to make delicious wines.

Not to dismiss the question…it is a very important one and the wine industry is filled with stories. We find it hard to come to grips with the approach that story trumps taste and that the story will magically make the wine more palatable and / or automatically produce a quality wine…or, make the wine taste better. Of course, we understand that each wine has a story behind it and our story for each wine is based on the facts outlined in our data sheets and what is in the bottle, what the wine consumer finally experiences and us being able to bring pleasure to our customers. This is another area where our rebellious streak comes out and is clearly visible. Stories are nice accoutrements. However, ultimately, we believe at the end of the day it is what is in the bottle that absolutely counts most.

That being said, we do and have been doing very exciting work over the past several years growing West of Temperance into what it is today. Luckily, we have documented a lot of our adventures via photographs over the years. Our vineyards, adventures, harvests, general experiences, wine making, product shots, etc., etc. have been well documented and we share via Social Media on a regular basis so folks can see firsthand what we have been up to over the years…and, on an ongoing basis. As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words and we encourage folks to follow us on Social Media; Facebook, Instagram, etc. as we do tell portions of our story as West of Temperance via our photographs.

Dave – John, Brian, thank you so much for spending some time with me. I know you are very busy. I think what you guys are doing is great and I can’t wait to sample some of your wines.

West of Temperance website

Wines of Note Instagram

 

 

 

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