Since we know you’re wondering: Yes, there was a man named Ernest. He was an entrepreneur, a risk-taker and a role model for his grandson, Todd Gottula, who founded our winery with his wife, Erin Brooks, back in 2012. Today, the “Ernest” in our name stands for more than one man. It’s about integrity in the fruit we use and the people we know. It’s about restraint, about how ego drives nothing we do.
Todd and Erin are not only co-founders and co-owners of the winery; they touch every single aspect of the business. They connect with growers. They interact with distributors. They respond to customers. They deliver wines. They tackle paperwork. Just about the only thing the couple doesn’t do is make the wine—they leave that to Ernest’s winemaker, Joseph Ryan. A byproduct of all this hands-on leadership is an acute personal connection to the people behind the brand. Neither Todd nor Erin plans to change that anytime soon.
Todd’s grandmother was a professional artist and is the source of the original “Ernest” portrait that currently hangs in Todd and Erin’s house. We drew inspiration from her work and have crafted the following portraits of our own, which is the best way to experience the people and places behind our wines.
Erin Brooks Proprietor
Co-founder Erin Brooks always has considered herself somewhat of a country girl. Sure, she’s had jobs in the software and communications industries, but she grew up on a farm in rural Texas, and knows how to run tractors and swing hay bales. She even speaks with a little twang.
Naturally, then, in 1999, after she moved to San Francisco, the first time Erin drove up to Sonoma County, she spotted rolling hills lined like corduroy with vines, and thought to herself, “You’re home.” From that point forward, getting involved with a winery was only a matter of time.
Today Erin oversees day-to-day sales and operations of Ernest and masterminds plans for all the label’s big adventures. She also spearheads storytelling for the Sonoma Coast region, painting a picture of where our grapes are grown and sharing that information with the world.
Todd Gottula Proprietor
Our co-founder, Todd Gottula, credits Grandpa Ern (a.k.a., Ernest) with introducing him to every aspect of good food, good service, and good wine. Over these shared meals, Todd developed a love for fine wine; as soon as he was in a position to afford to buy it on his own, he did. As Todd embarked on a career in the technology industry, he found himself spending more and more of his free time expanding his palate. In 2007, Todd bought a four-acre vineyard and planted pinot. The wine-lover and collector had become a grape-grower. A new career was born.
That first wine was an early label; before Todd met co-founder (and wife) Erin Brooks. One of the things that brought the two together was a shared passion for wine. They devised a plan to get serious about a label of their own—a label named after the man who sparked Todd’s inspiration in the first place. Today Todd and Erin pride themselves on making Burgundian-style wines with bright acid, low alcohol, and balanced flavor; quality wines that their families can afford, even without the family discount. Ernest Vineyards has built its reputation on integrity, restraint, and beauty. Grandpa Ern would be proud.
Joseph Ryan Winemaker & Vineyard Manager
Ernest winemaker and vineyard manager Joseph Ryan always has had an understanding of the agrarian lifestyle. He grew up on a farm in Iowa. He knew about land stewardship before he learned algebra. With this experience came the awareness that great product begins with careful, conscious work in the soil. This is the foundation for Joe’s approach to vineyard management.
Joseph carries this perspective into the winery, where he applies minimal intervention to his winemaking. Over the last decade he refined these techniques as assistant winegrower at Porter Creek, a family-run estate in the Russian River Valley. He also worked as director of grower relations for Flowers Winery. This experience on both sides of the bottle gives Joe the mentality of a European vigneron.
The road to wine was circuitous for Joseph. He went to a theater conservatory in New York and discovered wine while working in restaurants during that time. Looking back, Joseph credits a handful of sommeliers with opening his eyes to his true passion in life. We’re glad they did.
Mark Malpiede President
Mark brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and strategic forethought to the Ernest team. He was living in Boston when he first visited California wine country in 1991 and quickly fell in love with the area and, especially, the wine. A short six months later he moved to the Bay Area and joined a small direct marketing agency working with companies as diverse as Starbucks, Warner Brothers and Microsoft. He continued to feel the lure of wine however, and ultimately realized he needed hands-on experience to make a career move.
After working at a large wine company in Napa for a year, he joined the famed Williams Selyem Winery, acting as a guiding hand for the brand’s phenomenal growth: managing strategy and planning, marketing, hospitality, and all domestic and international sales. In his rare spare time, Mark’s inspirational leadership is an integral part of the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Vintners and he is currently serving as President of the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation.
In the Fall of 2022 Mark and Erin met for a casual coffee, which turned into a serious conversation about joining Ernest Vineyards. Moved by the Ernest story and Erin’s passion, and discussing the future plans for the winery, he was convinced that joining the team would be a great next chapter in the growth of Ernest and his storied career. We’re honored to have him as a part of the team.
Eugenio Jardim Brand Ambassador
In many ways, Eugenio (pronounced you-JEN-yo) has played a critical role in the development of Ernest Vineyards. As wine director at Eos, a popular Wine Bar in the Cole Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, Eugenio introduced Todd to American pinot noir—a discovery that changed Todd’s life. Years later, the duo reconnected randomly at Jardiniere, where Eugenio was running the wine program; that time, Eugenio opened Todd’s mind to big, Burgundian reds.
Finally, in 2013, Todd and Erin convinced Eugenio to join them at the winery of their dreams, and he’s been brand ambassador ever since. On a day-to-day basis, that means Eugenio is the face of the brand, meeting with customers to answer questions and selling wine directly to restaurants. The native of Brazil wouldn’t have it any other way. “Todd and Erin are examples of people who don’t stop until they achieve something special, and I’ve been taken by their commitment to excellence,” he says. “In that case, we all win.”
Naomi McLeod Creative Director
Simplicity. Intention. Quality. Grace. All of these are touchstones for the Ernest brand, which means they all are ideals for which Creative Director Naomi McLeod will strive.
Naomi’s role is broad and wide; some of her everyday responsibilities include marketing, direct-to-consumer sales, tasting, fulfillment, and event creation and execution. She oversees our website and labels—the “look and feel” of the Ernest brand in every form. Naomi also is in charge of developing partnerships with other wineries to further engage the community.
The New Mexico native certainly has the chops to do great things; some of her previous gigs include sales director for a lighting company, event coordinator at several restaurants (including the now-shuttered SHED), and wine marketer. She also is an artist, and displays her work on a regular basis.
Caitlin O’Connell Experience Engineer
Nothing sounds better than traveling the world while eating good food and drinking great wine to our native East Coaster, Caitlin. After a few years in the restaurant business in New York and Boston, she spent 10 months traveling to the top wine destinations like Bordeaux, France and Stellanbosch, South Africa, learning everything she could about winemaking from the experts.
Earning certification as a sommelier and a WSET Level 3 then opened a multitude of doors in the world of US wine: a high-end cabernet house in Napa Valley, the premier sparkling wine chateau of Domaine Carneros, and now managing the entire guest experience for Ernest where she elevates all aspects of customer interaction.
When not working in wine she is passionate about interior design, camping and hiking, and spending time with her family and pup Tucker. She’s joyfully put down roots in Napa and Sonoma counties over the past 8 years, perhaps leaving the East Coast forever behind.
Kirk Tomiser Business Development Manager
Kirk kicked off his love of wine at a small shop in the Midwest while working his way through school at the University of Missouri. As many do, he began with sweeter wines but quickly graduated to learning about and selling first-growth Bordeaux futures. That educational retail experience nurtured Kirk’s love of both the product and the industry.
Relocating from hometown of St. Louis to California in early 2005 positioned Kirk closer to the heart of wine country. A handful of stops as either regional or national sales manager all had one thing in common – each company was family-owned and on the smaller side of the spectrum, which meant that Kirk’s everyday sales development efforts contributed immediately to the company’s bottom line.
As Business Development Manager, Kirk manages the ever-important Trade relationships at Ernest. His responsibilities include both domestic and export sales which allows for enthusiasts and the curious to engage with Ernest in their local markets.
We have built Ernest Vineyards on a number of key concepts. Beyond our commitment to integrity, restraint, and beauty, we are most passionately committed to sourcing our varietals from carefully selected vineyards around Sonoma County. Picking and choosing our vineyard sites allows us to hold out for the very best grapes we can find. We then use those grapes to make the wine we want to make.
All told, we work with 12 different sites, representing about 24 acres of land. More than half of these vineyards sit in colder climates; we have learned that lower air temperatures during growing season create great tension in the wine. Our site-specific wines often reflect this diversity of climate and terroir.
But the Ernest approach is as much about style as it is about climate and terroir. We love the Burgundian style, so we strive to find sites with grapes that enable us to make those types of wines. Once we find them, we use them to craft wine that is high-acid and low alcohol. We also minimize the influence of oak. These three characteristics work in perfect balance—a much subtler approach to the overtly-ripe style that dominates the wine industry today. This means our wines lacks the rough edges others might have. Some call this elegance. We prefer the words, balanced and smooth.
Another one of our ideals: Value. We believe great wines should be something everyone can enjoy. Our mission is to provide you with the best possible bottle of wine that we can for what we would consider a fair price wherever you may be enjoying it. We also make sure our wines are accessible in the marketplace. We sell our wine through restaurants, both by the bottle and by the glass. We also sell direct to consumers, guaranteeing a certain allocation of bottles to our list members throughout every year.
Ernest Vineyards has partnered to build one of the most sophisticated production facilities in Wine Country today. Located in northern Sonoma County, this winery represents the next phase for crush facilities—a facility for like-minded small producers to have access to the absolute best in production equipment combined with tasting rooms and event space for our guests. Opened in 2017, we call it Grand Cru.
Think of our Grand Cru like a cooperative; each of the brands have access to private barrel rooms, on-site hospitality, state-of-the-art technology, and a shared facility for hosting club events. Capacity for the facility is about 700 tons, which means we work with a select handful other brands. We selected these brands carefully; to qualify for consideration, wineries must make a minimum of 100 tons per year and must come with their own winemakers.