I started Edmunds St. John in 1985 with my wife, CorneliaSt. John, in an effort to explore the possibility of producing world-class, European-style wines in California, using Rhône varietal grapes: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Viognier, etc. (I had spent the previous 12 years in the retail wine business in the Bay Area, working primarily in the position of wine buyer for a number of different stores in the East Bay and Marin county.) We have been self-financed since the beginning, and our budget was not large, so we rented a small old industrial warehouse in west Berkeley — it had housed Fretter Wine Cellars from 1977 through 1984 — and purchased a few tons of grapes, mostly from old vineyards.
Our first vintage produced approximately 675 cases of wine, consisting of a red wine made from Syrah grapes from Paso Robles that were picked too early (so the wine was sold as a good cheaplight red), a Chateauneuf-du-Pape inspired blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, and a varietal Mourvèdre. I had been lucky to find a good, fairly old Grenache vineyard, and a great, old Mourvèdre vineyard in the months I’d spent prior to the ’85 harvest searching high and lowin the Cabernet/Chardonnay dominated landscape. In 1986 I got lucky again and found a new source of Syrah fruit, the Durell Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. The Mourvèdre and Syrah wines we made in 1986 caught the attention of Robert Parker in early 1988, and we experienced a tremendous increase in interest in our wines, from the public and from distributors around the U.S.
In 1989 we purchased a large space in a warehouse complex in Emeryville, and produced all our wine there for eight years. Currently our production takes place at the Audubon Cellars facility in Berkeley. We do not have any public facilities.
We’ve continued purchasing grapes, and trying to develop new sources. It’s only in the last few years that growers have begun to be willing to consider planting anything other than Cabernet or Merlot in California’s prime winegrowing regions, so it’s been difficult to find a way to expand our production significantly without compomising our high quality standards by purchasing lower quality fruit. So we’ve stayed quite small, currently producing between 3,000 and 4,000 cases per year. We’ve developed a group of very high quality grape sources, a network of very market-savvy distributors and importers who sell our wines and build our brand, a following of loyal customers who love to drink our wines, and a reputation for integrity and dedication to quality. There are still many people who have not heard of us, but if someone has heard of us what they will most likely say about us is “they make great wines.” We have also continued to get very enthusiastic and laudatory reviews from the wine press, including Parker and Steve Tanzer. If we’ve been successful, it’s because our focus has really never changed. Our side label sums it up:
In 1987 a wine grower from a venerable domaine in Southern France visited our cellar, and tasted a number of wines from the harvest justpast. When he came to the one from my favorite vineyard his response was dramatic: he raised his nose from the glass, slowly rolling his eyes upward in reverie, he sighed, and whispered, “la terre parle” (the earth speaks). If I have done my job well, when you taste this wine you may be similarly affected; this is a voice one longs to hear. As a winemaker, for me there is no other voice.