The Winemaker Next Door


Stuart Spoto proves that you don’t have to be in the Napa Valley to make great wine.
     Since 2001, the Arden Oaks resident has operated a small but highly regarded boutique winery out of his home garage. He started out as a hobbyist but turned pro in 2004, when his became the first bonded winery in a residential neighborhood in Sacramento County. Today, his wines are sold at a handful of the city’s top restaurants, including Ella, The Kitchen, The Waterboy and Supper Club, as well as on his website,
     We recently sat down with Spoto for a chat.

What wines do you make?
Primarily Bordeaux blends. There are five varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. I make four out of the five every year. The beauty of doing more than just a Cab and a Merlot is it gives me a lot more flexibility in making blends.

Where do you get your grapes from?
Napa Valley, from what is arguably the best subappellation: Oakville. It’s where pretty much all the cult wineries are established. The place where I get my grapes also sells grapes to Opus and Duckhorn. I’m very fortunate to have a long-standing contract with this vineyard.

What’s the name of the vineyard? Can you say?

It’s a pretty competitive thing. People are always vying for contracts and trying to find the best grape source. Winemakers are pretty protective of their sources.

Do you do all the work yourself, or do you bring in people to help?
Well, you’re looking at the crew. (He points to his wife, Christy.)

What kind of barrels do you use?
French oak. I’m trying different coopers. Each one has a subtle difference in how they toast the wood, how they produce the stays, what region of France the oak comes from. Every region grows a different type of oak. Some can be tight grained, some can be loose grained, and they all have a different way of imparting flavor as the wine ages.

Do you consider yourself a garagiste?

I consider myself a boutique winemaker. The garage has nothing to do with it. It’s called a garage but, quite frankly, it’s a winery. When it’s wine season, it doesn’t even look like a garage, other than that it has roll-up doors.

How much do your wines sell for?
My Private Reserve Cab is about $85 a bottle. I make a Merlot-based blend in the $39 range. And I did a Chardonnay a year ago for $29.

What foods pair well with your wine?

A big piece of meat, like a nice piece of lamb or a beef fillet. One of my favorite cheeses to eat with my Cab is Cambozola. It has just that little bit of blue cheese marbled in with the brie that accentuates the flavor of the wine.

What wineries do you admire?

Pride Mountain Vineyards is one of my favorites. They make a very delicious wine in the $60 to $120 range. Of the cult wines, Maya makes a huge, bold Cab with lots of tannins. I try to get my wines to be very similar to that. I’m very close.
     To put it in perspective, I took my wine to Pride Mountain about two years ago, and they compared my 2005, their 2005 and Opus. They told me that the winemaker, the assistant winemaker and the tasting room manager picked my wine over the Opus. My wine is $85 and Opus is $160.

Have you ever been reviewed in Wine Spectator?
A year and a half ago, I was reviewed. It wasn’t a high rating; I got an 87. But in this particular review, the highest rating was a 91 for a Maya. The one right above me was Screaming Eagle, which got an 88. Colgin got an 86. Silver Oak got an 86.

Do you ever think about moving your operation to Napa?
Being in Sacramento is somewhat limiting. Sure, I could probably spend a small fortune, move to Napa and get my wines selling a lot faster. But I’m taking a slow, methodical, grass-roots approach. I’m going to make a good product, and I’m going to do it here. It’ll catch on.