A lot of wine lovers visiting California's Napa Valley have daydreamed about starting their own winery, imagining that using their own good taste they could come up with an award-winning vintage.
Paola Sordoni, a stay-at-home Darien mother with one toddler and now another on the way, hasn't just daydreamed about it: She's done it.
She and her wine-loving husband, who together moved to Darien from New York City in October 2010, enjoyed playing with blending wine at home to get different tastes.
"That was the fascinating part for me," she said. "How can we take a group—even one that wasn't so great to begin with—and make something beautiful with it?"
Winemaking from a distance
Her business, JuneRay Wines, just started selling to customers late last year. The wines are made in Napa Valley from vines she herself selects, and a process she controls. She has help from a winemaker-consultant on the scene, Kian Tavakoli, who works for Crushpad, a Sonoma, CA company that helps individuals make wine by providing the winery, labor and advice.
Sordoni outsources the physical winemaking in Napa Valley, where batches of 600 or 1,200 bottles a year are produced for her business. Last fall she started selling June Ray's first product: a 2008 vintage cabernet sauvignon blend (89 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot, and 3 percent cabernet franc) called "Ashlow."
Not everything should be outsourced, though, Sordoni said. Twice a year, she and her husband visit Napa Valley. In one of the trips, at harvest time (anytime from late September to November), they personally chose grapes on the vine.
"We pick the best grapes—grapes that have a certain level of sugar, acidity," she said. "We have to be there to make sure that the grapes are the good ones that we want and that will go well with food, and also age well."
The grapes for a recent batch of wine came from two different vineyards in the valley, and the product of each vineyard gave different characteristics to the wine, she said.
The next trip is in December or January, when they blend wine made from the grapes of different vineyards. The blend stays in barrels until July, when it's bottled. The 2010 vintage is expected to be bottled in July or August this year.
Ashlow was a hit with well-known wine critic James Suckling, formerly with Wine Spectator magazine, who pronounced it "Generous and fruity yet subtle and refined with berry and mineral character, with a silky finish. Very nice indeed," according to the JuneRay website.
In January, the 2008 Ashlow ranked high in the "Cabernet Shootout," a competition among about 300 brands held in San Francisco. That competition separated male and female judges (because men and women tend to prefer different aspects of wine). When the smoke cleared, JuneRay's wine appealed to both groups.
Since October, when the initial vintage started to be sold, about half has been purchased, Sordoni said. Many of JuneRay's customers come from Darien and the New York metropolitan region. in Stamford also serves the wine.
"Our wine goes well with rich, heavy sauces, because it's a full-bodied wine—for that, it's a great match," she said.
Sordoni grew up in Curitiba, a small town in southern Brazil, and came to America to attend college at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. She became a bartender while in college and found that her favorite alcoholic beverage was wine.
After moving to New York, marrying and arriving in Darien, she became a mother and is now five months pregnant with her second child—so for the time being, she isn't drinking the product.