By Heather Cassell
Greg Bjornstad, owner and winemaker of Bjornstad Cellars. Photo courtesy of Bjornstad Cellars.
Coaxing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir’s natural beauty and personal charm out into the open is Greg Bjornstad’s talent.
“Single vineyard wines are very much personality driven,” said Bjornstad, owner and winemaker of Bjornstad Cellars, an artesian winery located in Sebastopol in Sonoma County.
Wine connoisseurs interested in tasting Bjornstad Cellars’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, can make an appointment at his cellar, or look for him at events, such as upcoming Out in the Vineyard’s Big Gay Wine Train (where he is regularly featured) in March; Sonoma Pride, and other LGBT events.
Pensively and carefully selecting his words, he described the process as “character” the “thing that goes a little deeper is the variation that we see going from vintage to vintage” reflecting nature.
“Nature expresses itself in a wine,” Bjornstad said.
Every year is different, yet the “personality of the wine are essentially the same,” noted Bjornstad, discussing the vintages terroir, the French concept for how vineyards capture a moment in time like a snapshot through the climate, geology and geography that is reflected in the fruit.
In another sense, Bjornstad compared the process to how people age.
“It’s not unlike individuals,” Bjornstad said. “As we age a year older we go through different stuff and we kind of become like different people and yet are the same person deep down inside the whole time.
“That is the part that is interesting to me,” he continued, admiring the journey and the memories created. “When [I taste] wine, I remember back to the vintage and what kind of conditions we are going through. It really shows, it really varies from year to year and that for me is really the captivating part of the winemaking.”
The Bordeaux style leads to “more personality than pretty,” Bjornstad believes.
A Rocky Mountain man, Bjornstad, a 52-year old gay man, was more familiar with Coors than Cabernet. His mother worked for the iconic American beer company.
His world wasn’t absent of wine, growing up he was exposed to Andre Cold Duck, Lancers, and Mateus wines, but it wasn’t until he began working in restaurants that his interest in wine took hold.
“It was a whole new world for me to see the difference between Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. I became intrigued by it,” explained Bjornstad, who began taking wine selling workshops and eventually enrolled at the University of California, Davis’s viticulture and enology graduate program.
It was a natural fit for Bjornstad, who held a degree in agronomy, the study of field management and production. He completed his wine studies as the first intern to study at Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux and another internship in Montpellier, France.
“It was very exciting. What a great way to get started and it was very instrumental in my professional development,” said Bjornstad, who carries on his French training through the cultivation of his own wines and consulting for other vineyards through his consulting agency.
“I learned that people in Europe were making great wines because they were growing great grapes from great vineyards,” explained Bjornstad, who traveled around Europe visiting friends he made while studying at U.C. Davis.
Beyond his professional life, Bjornstad was also seduced into the wine lifestyle, discussing varietals of grapes from planting to harvesting and tasting wines from dawn to sunset during his time in France.
Enraptured, living in France changed his life, he noted.
“It left a strong impression on me,” said Bjornstad, who is always sampling wines made by friends when he isn’t drinking his own wines.
One of the key things he looks for when tasting wine is the personality of the wine, ultimately the vineyard to the winemaker, to find the story.
“If you are paying attention and looking at their wines you know it’s a story,” said Bjornstad, who savors the social aspects that comes naturally to wine.
“I enjoy wine these days always over food. That’s a great social thing for me to do to have people over and if they are in the wine industry they will bring a bunch of bottles of wines. We will pop corks and we will try them over dishes, so we’ve got more stories, flavors and combinations to experience … eating simply, drinking well and enjoying each other’s company.”
Bjornstad has worked with some of Napa and Sonoma counties most respected wineries. He immediately went to work for Joseph Phelps Vineyards after his return from France. He then moved onto work for Newton Vineyard, Flowers Vineyard and Winery, where he fell in love with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
After nearly a decade in the wine industry, in 1999 Bjornstad struck out on his own. He launched a vineyard consultancy agency where he guided grape growers and winemakers through the process from seed to bottle. In 2001, he had a crush facility and launched independent wine label, Tandem, with a partner. In 2005, he left that venture to fully venture out with his own wine label, Bjornstad Cellars, in conjunction with his consultancy agency. He hasn’t looked back since.
In his first year he produced 400 cases. Today, Bjornstad produces an estimated 800 cases of about seven or eight different labels a year, he says.
“My bias is toward the vineyard and toward its personality and its characteristics, so the hope is to let that vineyard’s personality shine through into the wine,” said Bjornstad, who works with vineyards located on the Sonoma coast and in the Russian River Valley.
Bjornstad also doesn’t filter or refine his wines or use too much oak during the fermentation process, he simply lets them allows them to be what they are, he says about the Bordeaux style he learned in France.
It appears that people appreciate the Bordeaux style.
“People are very kind appreciative of the style,” said Bjornstad, who works closely with sommeliers in restaurants looking to pair wines with foods.
“My wines will never over power the meal, but will be a good complement,” he noted.
His wines are also on select restaurants wine lists, wine merchant shops and wine bars around the Bay Area and wine country, he said.
Get a taste of Bjornstad Cellars at www.bjornstadcellars.com.