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.
Ernest Gottula, Todd’s Grandfather
Todd & Erin
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.
Both Erin and Todd hail from agricultural families, and they believe in relationships with small farmers. Ernest works with 15 different farmers overall—winegrowers who represent 17 different sites across Sonoma County. Our wines tell their stories as much as they tell ours. We consider these farmers part of our extended family.
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.
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.
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.
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; once they wed, 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.
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.
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.”
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.
President, Grand Cru Custom Crush
Building a winery from scratch takes a village of experts. That’s why when Todd and Erin set out in 2015 to create a facility of their dreams with state-of-the-art production equipment and beautiful hospitality space, they chose Robert as their partner. Grand Cru Custom Crush in Windsor, which opened in 2017, is a shared facility and host to several different small-production wineries plus their daily visitors. Robert and his team work with every one of those wineries directly, which means they get to know each and every one of their clients, of which Ernest is one. Before opening Grand Cru, Robert had a career as an engineer for HP/Agilent. Now he’s engineering different kinds of projects—those to enjoy one sip at a time.
North Coast RM, Atlas Vineyard Management
The Bugica family knows Sonoma County vineyards. Tony and his brother (Dino, who is a chef) represent the fourth generation of an Italian family that has been working the land for more than 60 years. In that time, Tony himself has learned a valuable lesson: Sometimes the best farming techniques are to let Mother Nature do her thing. That’s not to say Atlas is hands-off; on the contrary, Tony and his teams touch every vine by hand multiple times a week during growing season. “So much effort is involved on our part to get the grapes into wine for your table,” he says. This vigilance is a philosophy Todd and Erin embrace. It’s precisely why they tapped Atlas to manage vineyards from the very beginning.
Owner, Cleary Ranch
Tucked away (next to Joseph Phelps) in the Freestone Valley, Cleary Ranch offers arguably the perfect growing conditions for pinot noir: it’s cooler than surrounding spots, the fog dissipates in the morning and returns at night, and the soil is full of nutrients. With this in mind, it’s no wonder John grows some of Todd and Erin’s favorite grapes—small and intense clusters that pack a punch. “There’s just something with this valley,” says John. “You can always tell pinot that comes from here.” John’s family has farmed the area for more than 70 years, but only recently started working with Ernest. It’s a partnership that both sides are eager to expand in the years ahead.
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.