Old World in Sonoma: A Live Chat with David Ramey

California Chardonnay star David Ramey talks about his wine epiphany, his Burgundian approach to California winemaking, and struggling to adapt during the pandemic

Old World in Sonoma: A Live Chat with David Ramey
David Ramey's winemaking philosophies lean heavily on his training in Bordeaux. (Courtesy of Ramey Wine Cellars)
Jul 28, 2020

California vintner David Ramey was driving through central Mexico in his 1971 Toyota Hilux when he had his "aha" moment. He had recently graduated from U.C. Santa Cruz with a degree in American literature, and that was the moment he decided to enroll at U.C. Davis' enology program to become a winemaker.

Nearly four decades later, Ramey is a California Chardonnay star, which he credits to his Old World training in Bordeaux. Last year, his 2016 Ramey Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros Hyde Vineyard was named the No. 7 wine of Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2019. In the July 23 episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, senior editor Bruce Sanderson spoke with Ramey over a glass of the winemaker’s 2017 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and discussed the vintner's Burgundian approach, how Chardonnay is evolving, and where he says the pandemic is hitting the wine industry hardest.

After graduating from U.C. Davis in 1979, Ramey headed to Bordeaux’s Right Bank, where he worked under Christian Moueix (Moueix also studied enology at U.C. Davis, in the late 1960s). Ramey returned to California the following year and began applying his Old World training at Simi.

Ramey then worked at Matanzas Creek and Chalk Hill before rejoining Moueix in Bordeaux and at Moueix’s Napa estate, Dominus, followed by a winemaking position at Rudd before finally starting his own label, Ramey Wine Cellars, in 1996.

Ramey, now recognized as one of the state’s elite winemakers for Chardonnay, credits the grape’s success in California with "the triumph of the Burgundian method and what I call the march to the coast." Ramey explained that Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are best-suited to cool climates, and California’s success with the two varieties is a direct result of grapegrowers looking to the state’s cooler coastal regions.

Despite nearly two decades of success, Ramey's label has not escaped the COVID-19 pandemic. His tasting room recently closed again after California recently reimposed strict safety measure in response to the state’s surge in coronavirus cases. Ramey’s wine sales have been greatly impacted as well. Of the 35,000 cases he makes annually, 70 percent of production is earmarked for restaurants. "When all the restaurants closed, that impacted our business," he said. "We were down about 50 percent, but now we’re starting to see sales pick up."

Watch the full episode with Ramey on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET.

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