Mike Calhoun with Landmark Vineyards
How many wines are Landmark Vineyards making right now?
We make only 3 different varietals, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, and with those grapes we are making 8-9 wines.
Day to day, what is your involvement in the winery?
I am the General Manager, the ubiquitous General Manager! The guy who just makes sure everyone is clicking on all cylinders, and if that’s happening then I just stay out of the way. But do I win a trip to the market-place every now and then, absolutely! It’s my bonus! I get to go to places like Jacksonville, Florida…
You’re a lucky guy!
Indeed I am! I get to travel all round the Country, and a little outside the Country. We have some reach with our little winery, which is nice!
How did you get involved in the wine business?
Well I’ll tell you, I didn’t ever plan on getting involved in the wine business. It was a dream my mother had, and she was one of the partners way back in ‘74 and that winery went the way of the old highway, you know, it had to be sold. She took her money from that venture and refounded a new winery, and she wanted me to be involved in it because she needed some help.
One of the reason she got involved in the business was because her roots were based in agriculture, tied in with John Deere, the inventor of the steel plow. Before we ever had gas engines, it was a horse drawn steel plow that opened up the Mid-West to farming, and I think it was that concept that got her interested in wine.
Your wines are highly acclaimed with Wine Spectator scores etc. How important do you consider that to the success of Landmark Vineyards?
It helps a lot if you’re a small winery, lets put it that way! We’re not a huge winery, we’re not able to throw a lot of money around in marketing and stuff like that, so print media whether it’s Parker or Spectator is always beneficial. How we get our word out is vital but we focus more on Public Relations than we do advertising. The wine magazines are going to do to you pretty much what they want, but we’ve been very fortunate, you’re correct.
Whilst we are on the subject, let’s talk a little about Social Media. It’s used to be MySpace, now it’s Facebook and Twitter and whatever the next big thing will be. What do you consider the role of Social Media in terms of wineries?
I personally consider it very important, and we are certainly marketing to the Millenials, Gen X, Y and Z for that matter! I’m a Boomer, and a lot of wineries have done well with that generation, and we want to continue doing well. But the fact is that my daughter and my son are drinking wine. I didn’t drink wine when I was in my 20’s! It’s a very important market segment that you have to get to if a winery is going to survive, especially in this economy.
You mentioned a few things over lunch that I thought were interesting. The ways that as a winery you reach out to the general public, you mentioned that you have a Festival every March?
Well yeah, every March we have the Heart of the Sonoma Valley Wine Festival. What it is it’s a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, it’s been going for about 20 years, it’s a really well-known event. We sell tickets for $60 a piece, 2,600 tickets I believe, so over those few days we have close to 3,000 people coming by the winery, sampling wine out of the barrel .
So it’s kind of a “Winestock”?
Yeah! Woodstock revisited!
We planted a few rows in our vineyards, to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style. Wines that I’m very familiar with, wines that I happen to adore and our climate in our area is perfect for this kind of setup. We have planted Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise and a little Viognier. 18,000 vines on 11 acres, we have an estate wine that basically just caters to people that own rows in our vineyard. We’re selling the rights to rows, the rights to the wine, the wine will not be sold elsewhere in retail or restaurants.
So nobody else can get it?
Nobody else can get it. It’s called Espirit du Rhone, and nobody can buy it even if they try!
How many rows do you have left?
We have 20 rows left. What we do is each row member gets a quarter barrel of wine, which is 5 cases and they also get to put their name on that row. Whenever they come to the winery, they are treated like owners, they get to go out back and taste wine out of the barrel, they get to discuss wine with the winemakers. It’s as much educational and being involved, as it is experiential.
How much does a row run?
Yeah! And you don’t even have to get dirty, we do all the work!
So moving on, your favorite food and wine pairing?
Corn and Lobster and Chardonnay! I have some real preferences for Corn and Lobster, it could be mixed together, it could be separate, it could be corn on the cob for all I care!
And if you aren’t drinking Landmark wines, what are you drinking?
It depends on the season. I love Scotch, I love Bourbon. Gin in the Summer-time. And honestly, when it comes to wine…all wines for the most part.
Ok, well that pretty much concludes the questions, I don’t suppose you have anything else to add?
Yeah, I do! If you’re in Sonoma, come to Landmark, we wanna make your day! We call it Slow-noma, you need to come out, you’ll have an awesome time!