Making Wines that Taste Like Sacramento

Winemaker Craig Haarmeyer of midtown-based Revolution Wines and his own St. Rey label has put Sacramento wines on the map by bucking industry trends, refusing to compromise on standards and embracing so-called “7 percent” varietals—those less common grapes like albarino, viognier and petit verdot that constitute just 7 percent of the vineyard plantings in Northern California. We caught up with Haarmeyer to discuss Sacramento terroir, the pursuit of creativity, and being named a “winemaker to watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Every winemaker seems to have a philosophy about wine. What’s yours?

I think that the way wine is best expressed—the terroir—is by making wines that don’t utilize too many heavy-handed winemaking techniques, such as adding water or acid or enzymes to get better color. That’s not interesting to me. I’m more interested in letting the vineyard speak, letting the wine be what it wants to be. I’m also philosophically opposed to oak as a wine flavoring. And I only filter wines that I absolutely have to. 

What does Sacramento terroir mean to you?

It’s an idea I came up with when I started making wines at Revolution. I thought it would be interesting to not only make wines in an old-world kind of hands-off, minimalist fashion, but to limit myself to the grapes that grow in the general area. 

We’re nothing without limitations. When you have limitations, you can be very creative.

You make a wide array of wines at Revolution. Do you have complete artistic license?

Pretty much. When I first started, we had to make cabernet; we had to make chardonnay. But within that, I could make them the way I thought they should be made. A lot of wines are mine from conception all the way through to bottle. 

That’s what keeps me going, because it is a tough business. What I’ve found is this whole notion of making XYZ wine because that’s what the customer wants is rubbish. I’m hopeful that the Sacramento palates, once they taste some more obscure varieties, that they’ll really like them. 

Tell me about your St. Rey label wines. 

The wines are made here at Revolution. They basically represent my special projects. It’s my creative sandbox. Chenin blanc is something that I really love. There is a historical tie-in to Clarksburg with that variety. I love zinfandel made responsibly. I’m interested in wines that connect to the history of the region.

Your son, Alex, works closely with you. It must be rather satisfying to pass along your knowledge to him.

It’s very gratifying. I really try to support him instead of showing him the school of hard knocks. I try to include him as much as I can on absolutely everything that we do here, but I never push it on him, either. He’s very serious about what he does. He loves wine and beer and has trained his palate quite well. He’s certainly much further along in the process than I was when I was 25. 

You recently earned high praise from the San Francisco Chronicle. How do you feel about the attention?

It’s gratifying to have somebody outside of Sacramento who is highly regarded in the industry take notice. I never, ever imagined that anything like that would ever happen.

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