A select group of winemakers can be credited with revolutionizing modern day winemaking in California. They are the innovators who, some 20 years ago, brought Old World traditions back to a New World that had thrown in its lot with university scientists to make squeaky clean wines largely devoid of character. The goal of these new wave winemakers was to put terroir back into the bottle and create wines of unique distinction.
David Ramey is widely acknowledged to be among the wine pioneers whose efforts helped raise the bar for all American winemakers and brought California to the forefront of the international wine world. David’s groundbreaking work with indigenous yeasts and malolactic and barrel fermentation yielded a new California style that was richer, more lush and silky smooth than previously known. As a result, he created a benchmark style now emulated by many.
At first, David followed a traditional path and received a graduate degree from the University of California at Davis, where his 1979 thesis on volatile ester hydrolysis (translation: how flavors evolve in wine) is still used today to unveil certain vinous mysteries. But shortly afterwards, a stint working for the Moueix family at the renowned Chateau Pétrus introduced David to the time-honored methods of winemaking in France. He brought his lessons home and applied them to the grapes he found growing in California’s premier wine regions.
Back in California, David helped establish a number of wineries that would soon become household names. They include Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate (owned by Christian Moueix, of Pétrus) and most recently, Rudd Estate. Ramey Cellars, which David owns with his wife, Carla, was founded in 1996. Currently, David continues to “swing for the fences,” as he likes to say. To make great wines, he takes chances, harvesting his grapes at the last possible moment and using methods in the cellar that his former college professors consider risky at best. The resulting wines are praised among colleagues, consumers and the media alike.