The clich is that family wineries are nestled in rugged foothills above bucolic valleys. But for Revolution Wines, the term shoehornedâ€¯is more a. Squeezed ipnto a former auto shop at P and 21st streetsâ€¯in midtown, it’s a working microwinery right here in River City.
There’s something reminiscent of a speak-easy about the operation.â€¯You pass through a nondescript metal gate and walk along a littleâ€¯pathway to get to the winery at 2116 P St. As you step into the tiny tasting area, you are likely to beâ€¯greeted by the winemaker himself. It’s hard to call a man withâ€¯freckles and a soul patch a veteran winemaker, but Jason Fernandez,â€¯34, has crushed with the best of them at Chalone, Bonny Doon and R.H.â€¯Phillips. For his own venture, he teamed up with his brother-in-law,â€¯Joe Genshlea Jr., a former product supervisor in the mortgageâ€¯industry who now manages the winery full time; Joe’s wife, Gina; andâ€¯a web of investors that includes local attorney Joe Genshlea Sr. andâ€¯lobbyist Phil Serna, son of the late Mayor Joe Serna.
Fernandez and the junior Genshlea, 42, are a visual contrast.â€¯Fernandez moves quickly and smiles boyishly, with
dark eyes thatâ€¯flash serious intent. Genshlea is tall, relaxed, softer around theâ€¯edges, with fair skin and hair and tentative blue eyes. After two years of making Revolution Wines in space rented from other wineries,â€¯they opened their P Street tasting room to the
public on July 13, 2007.
In their own way, these local sons are just as guilty of buying intoâ€¯the romance of winemaking as previous generations who went back toâ€¯the land (or the chÃ¢teau). In this case, however, they’ve chosen hipâ€¯midtown as their wine country.
Part of my vision for being in the city is that I want to see wine more integrated in people’s everyday lives, says Fernandez. Peopleâ€¯who eat well know where their food comes from. I put wine in thatâ€¯category as well.
For a winery, there are advantages to being in the city. Power, waterâ€¯and transportation of case goods are cheaper. Labor is moreâ€¯plentiful, especially when you have a lot of friends&emdash;or can make themâ€¯quickly by throwing good parties. Licensing and permits went throughâ€¯within 90 days, rather than the typical six months for ruralâ€¯wineries. Most importantly, the proximity to customers gives a winery a leg up, marketing-wise: Small wineries survive by sellingâ€¯directly to a loyal fan base, rather than duking it out with the bigâ€¯guys on grocery store shelves.
At Revolution, there’s a whiff of rebellion in the strong smell ofâ€¯wine and barrels. While the label’s logo suggests the revolution ofâ€¯the sun around the Earth, the more volatile meaning of the word is noâ€¯accident.
I don’t want to make wine like everyone else or do things justâ€¯because that’s the way we’ve always done it, says Fernandez. He usesâ€¯French oak for aging Zinfandel, for example, and he doesn’t go by theâ€¯book with fermentation temperatures, either. The fact that Genshlea is not from the wine industry helps, too, say the partners, since heâ€¯often asks, Now, why do it this way?
They buy grapes from a patchwork of small vineyards from Napa to the Sierraâ€¯Foothills and beyond. Some of the growers are longtime contacts ofâ€¯Fernandez, including his viticulturist uncle, Tony Fernandez Jr.,â€¯vineyard manager of Napa’s Atlas Peak. At harvest time, the grapesâ€¯are delivered by truck to the winery’s driveway, where they areâ€¯crushed. The rest of the process&emdash;fermentation, pressing and aging&emdash;happens in these close quarters.
Last harvest, Revolution Wines made enough wine to fill 3,000 cases,â€¯twice the production of 2006. Varietals and blends are evolving basedâ€¯on the grapes available. This year, the partners were tempted intoâ€¯buying more grapes, says Fernandez. We couldn’t pass up someâ€¯Grenache from Mendocino and some Washington state Riesling.
The vibe at Revolution Wines is similar to that at tech or mediaâ€¯start-ups: long hours, fashionable denim, creative facial hair andâ€¯tattoos, the scent of entrepreneurship and evangelism. But these areâ€¯not young singles with nothing to lose: Fernandez and Genshlea eachâ€¯have three children at home.
Large wineries have their own bottling lines:â€¯a room full of snaking, shiny assembly lines that fill, cork, labelâ€¯and foil the bottles. Small wineries call
in mobile bottling lines,â€¯in which the same tangle of equipment is mounted on a truck, whichâ€¯parks on the winery’s crush pad and hooks up to the tanks.
Neither method is employed here. There’s no way to get one of thoseâ€¯trucks down the alley, much less build an in-house line. Soâ€¯Fernandez, who has sent out hundreds of thousands of cases of big-name labels, now has a humble setup familiar to scores of home winemakers. A hand filler. A squeeze bottle for topping off. Two handâ€¯corkers, one of them needing a lot of patience. Labels and foilâ€¯capsules are applied by hand. We really do it all here, Fernandez says proudly.
While the focus is on growing tasting room sales and a direct-mailâ€¯list of customers, Revolution Wines have earned strategic placementsâ€¯at area restaurants and wine shops, including Paragary’s, Taylor’sâ€¯Market, Discover California, Beyond Napa and the Sacramento Naturalâ€¯Foods Co-op. Prices range from $14 for the Pinot Grigio to $22 forâ€¯the Syrah.
The press has been kind, most notably in several mentions in Mikeâ€¯Dunne’s food and wine blog for The Sacramento Bee. A State Fair goldâ€¯medal for the 2005 Amador County Zinfandel has backed up the buzzâ€¯generated by the novelty of a winery in the city. Friends who bringâ€¯friends account for most of the traffic through the door. Some people may say they saw us in the Bee or in Sunset magazine,â€¯but most of our business is word of mouth, says Genshlea.
Instead of cultivating grapes, Fernandez and Genshlea are bent onâ€¯growing a local culture around their business. Although getting theâ€¯wine made and in bottles is the main focus these days, says Genshlea,â€¯the partners plan to market amenities not always found in rural wineries,â€¯such as space for private parties and personal wine storage. Theyâ€¯also want to start a do-it-yourself program, called Vintageâ€¯Experience, where customers can direct the making of their own barrelâ€¯of wine and be as hands-on as they wish. A similar concept, the Bay Area’s Crushpad, has been very successful, drawing amateurâ€¯winemakers, including several from Sacramento, to make their own wineâ€¯with the help and equipment of the pros.
But this little team is already rocking midtown with their revolutionary winery. Starting a small business is something else, Fernandez says
withâ€¯understatement. But I’m really happy with how we’ve done together.