Off the beaten path, our tasting room and art gallery is pouring wines out of the historic Geyserville Vault building located near Healdsburg, California in Northern Sonoma County.
When I was thrity five I retired from making furniture so that my family’s wine business could live on. Making wine and improving enology was my mom’s life work. It was her dream, and when you love someone you also love their dreams. She did things in the workplace and made wines that were so exceptional that I couldn’t let the story disappear/ fade into history. Not yet.
I was learning winemaking as far back as I can remember. It was part of the fabric of our life, yet it didn’t strike me as a career. Luckily, I don’t believe in the construct of careers. I believe in digging holes and then finding a way out of them. Constant creativity and problem solving are my thing, and I suffuse the brand with them.
When I was a kid: that’s when my mom started her wine analysis business with Mary Ann Graf. Back in 1979. It started with just a little storefront in downtown Healdsburg. They were in their early thirties and the business grew to be counted on by thousands of wineries and winemakers all over the United States. Additionally, Marty started being contracted as a consulting winemaker for some local producers in the 1980’s and that gave her the opportunity to start our family label. That’s how I learned – following her around vineyards and wineries, and when I turned 16, I hauled the grapes on a 1955 Dodge flatbed that we bought from Joe Rochioli. I remember tasting grapes in the vineyard – cool climate vineyards that imbued the fruit with the structure – the phenolics that we recognize among the highest quality wines on earth. I knew those flavors and knew when to pick them – but didn’t really know until I took the responsibility a decade ago.
In 2022, Bannister Wines is a mashup of my mom’s amazing skill and discoveries, and my boundless creativity – something I have in common with my wife, Morgania, who collaborated on our tasting space with me. I still make the wines my mom started with – the ones we would think of as traditional – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel, along with less common wines and techniques – skin fermented whites – Riesling and Ribolla Gialla, uncommon varietals – Scheurebe and Sagrantino, as well as a sagnée style rose.
This world has a tendancy to separate us into sub cultures in every respect. To some degree that’s an inevitability, but there has been too much separation in wine. It turns out that you can love a Pinot Noir and an Orange Riesling in the same flight, or in the same meal. The people who have sought to isolate wine audiences from eachother based on invented style or invented politics have no influence here. They just want to hear themselves talk, but I can’t hear them. I make what I want to make – different wines, with different styles; all of them with the purpose of being delicious, and everyone is welcome to try them.
But I don’t believe in wine experimentation for the sake of attention. Everything we make should be approached with the idea that is has to be great. Making anything is an affirmation of being alive. These new wines are elegant and exotic – flavors that bring wine into fresh categories of cuisine. The traditional wines are welling up with deep phenolics; they are wines based in structure, length on the palate and the flavors of the site and the growing season – each season with it’s own beauty and tragedy here in California.
Hand making single vineyard wines since 1989
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As far as Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is concerned, we’re in a solid run of good and great vintages going back to 2012. The 2015 harvest was easily the most unique of all of these. Inconsistent weather in May of 2015 led to low flower-set on the clusters – Yields were down thirty to forty percent. The physical attributes of the small crop were undersized berries, many without seeds, and the skins were thick. This meant an unusual skin to juice ratio favoring skins. Not only did the ’15 crop look unique in the vineyard, but you’ll also see it in the glass as well – deeply colored, tannin-rich Pinot Noir. The phenolic fingerprint in these Pinots was unusually high, and yet they’ve become velvety tannins in the bottle, with great structure and weight on the palate.
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