Sierra Foothills, California
David was a great host and had some of the best wine I had tasted in the Sierra Foothills. Quite close to Amador’s wine growing region, this estate is just a click over the hill and has an experience that is unique and genuine. If anywhere close to the Foothills it is ‘must’ to drop on by.
We drove through the Sierra foothills to meet with David Webster, General Manager of Four Winds Cellars. We met in the tasting room located in a historic 1800s farm house in the middle of Gerber Vineyards, the largest vineyard in Calaveras County, and enjoyed the spectacular views of the rolling hills and hundred-year-old trees while we learned more about Four Winds’ wines and philosophy.
When we met David Webster it was obvious by his British accent that he wasn’t from California, so we asked how ended up in a tasting room in the Sierra Foothills. Turns out he had met his wife, Helen in London where he was from and working as a financial analyst “in a pinstripe suit.” He told us that “she kidnapped me and brought me back here, forced me into the wine industry as well.” He explained how he felt about his mid-life career change saying, “it has been a hell of a ride,” and that “it’s great learning a new industry, a very different industry.” He started in sales, working alongside his wife, noting that it was “initiation by fire” at first – but he too soon found himself passionate about wine.
David and Helen, along with winemaker John Gibson and his wife, Anne, established Four Winds Cellars in 2010. But how did they come to the name of their winery? David shared the story. “Helen came to me in the middle of the night – she said, ‘I’ve got a good name for the winery.’ She had just sung our son James a song to soothe him. And the song was something that her mother sang in this little country western barn when she met Helen’s father. The name of the song he kept requesting was Four Strong Winds – and we thought it was a great name because there are four of us here running the winery.”
While Webster is the manager, he credits winemaker John Gibson as being the talent of the operation. Formerly of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and with over thirty years of experience under his belt in Napa, Gibson has earned wine respect for his skills as winemaker using Calaveras fruit. With a focus on intensity and expression of the microclimates of Gerber Vineyards, John produces nine reds and two whites for Four Winds Cellars.
Webster spoke of Gibson’s style saying “he’s a very Old World style guy. For him, he looks for a Bordelaise structure. We use only French oak. He’s quite adamant about it.” The results are red wines with depth and richness of fruit and crisp, fruit-forward whites – a Chardonnay and Viognier. For reds, Four Winds produces a wide variety including California standards like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the like, but also, interestingly, Sangiovese which grows well in the warmer pockets of the vineyard.
Intrigued, we asked David what food he likes to pair with the Four Winds Sangiovese. He told us it’s a great food wine because of the acid and recommended trying it with any tomato-sauce based dishes, telling us the story of how he learned to pair food with wine: “Back in England when I first started tasting wine, I would always pass the wine menu to Helen since she’s the wine expert and it was such a completely different experience. When you get the right ingredients together, the fireworks just go off. What produces those fireworks?”
Another Four Winds specialty is their estate grown Cabernet Franc produced from only two vineyard rows from which the winery produces only 70 cases a year. This 100% varietal is viewed as a “precious commodity” around Four Winds, made with special care by Gibson who deftly keeps it balanced even at 15.5% alcohol.
Their flagship product Tempest, is also their largest production wine, blended by Gibson from six different varietals and designed to be an easy drinking red that goes with anything. Webster told us that Tempest “allows John to be creative and it gives him a blank canvas” to express himself through his winemaking.
Because the Calaveras fruit is grown in the Sierra Foothills, but the wine is produced in Napa Valley, all grapes are night harvest so that they can arrive at the production facility before the break of day. It is sorted both at the Gerber Vineyard and again when it hits Napa to ensure only top-quality fruit is used to produce Four Winds’ wines.
Because of the focus on quality fruit and winemaking, Four Winds Cellars only produces 1800 cases per year. Their mission is to create extraordinary wines that people love to drink. And, as Webster so aptly told us: “Try it. You won’t regret it.” We at Javí Cellars agree!