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 a consulting winemaker named Kent Humphrey. 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 17 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 in rural Texas, and knows how to run tractors and swing hay bales. 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 is in charge of sales and marketing for the winery—not just direct-to-consumer, but also wholesale. In between face-to-face meetings with sommeliers and restaurateurs or late at night, Erin also tackles compliance, accounts payable, accounts received, and just about every other back-end function you can imagine. As she likes to describe it, Todd is the visionary behind the brand, and Erin is the executor. The winery simply wouldn’t function without either of them.
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.
After a former life as a copywriter, a passion for pinot noir led Kent to start making wine in 2002. Since then, he has developed an expertise for Burgundian, colder-climate varietals, making wines for Ernest and his own label, Eric Kent. Naturally, when he met Todd and Erin just before the 2012 harvest, the three hit it off. Today, Kent strives to elicit delicacy and nuance from every vintage, focusing on lower-alcohol wines with light to medium body. He adds that he admires Ernest’s model of sourcing grapes from a variety of different places because of the diversity it presents. “The model allows me to tell a new story with each wine,” he says. “My motivation is to help capture that elusive moment where each story can be told to its fullest.”
Hanna’s first love in the wine business was pinot noir from Oregon. After learning the ropes on an internship in the Willamette Valley during harvest of 2011, she went to Australia for more experience that winter. She came back to the California the following harvest for a gig with Ernest Vineyards, and has been with Kent and Todd and Erin ever since. Hanna says she learns something new every vintage, and loves focusing on the specifics of each site. “Cabernet is big and boisterous and tannic,” she says. “Pinot is complicated and sexy.” When she’s not in the vineyard or lab, Hanna likely is tickling the ivories—she is a classically trained pianist and still gleans some of her best inspiration while playing.
On paper, Cory is tasked with the role of grower relations. In practice, this means he spends most of his time out and about, walking the rows of the 12 different vineyards that grow grapes for Ernest, interacting with the vineyard workers, and connecting with the grape-growers who own the land. “A key word for what I do is, ‘presence,’” says Cory. “If they don’t know who I am, I’m doing something wrong.” This means Cory is involved in the growing process every step of the way. It also means he’s able to inform Kent and Hanna when a particular block is ripening unexpectedly. Cory certainly knows his way around a plot of land; before this job he worked in vineyard management for a number of companies.
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.”
President, Punchdown Cellars
Building a winery is a capital-intensive process. That’s why when Todd and Erin set out in 2012 to make the wines of their dreams, they chose to use a facility that already was built. That facility, Punchdown Cellars in Santa Rosa, specializes in custom crush, making wines for 40 different small-production wineries every year. 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. “What I love about Todd and Erin is that they demand perfection,” he says. “These are the type of people we want here.” Before opening Punchdown, 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.
Manager, Enterprise Vineyards
There are organic vineyards, and then there are organic vineyards under the care of Enterprise. The company, founded by Phil Coturri, is considered one of the best organic vineyard management firms in the business, and Lauren is the one who oversees the day-to-day. Specifically, Lauren manages the Romanini and Steel Plow vineyards, two vineyards from which Ernest sources grapes (all the fruit from Romanini actually goes into the Ernest program). High-touch and hands-on describe the Enterprise approach at these sites, with the minimum number of tractor and fruit passes. “Our philosophy with these vineyards—and all vineyards, really—is [aligned with] the concept of ‘less is more,’” she says. “We track development religiously, but we only act when we absolutely must.”
President, Bacchus Vineyards
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 Bacchus 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 Bacchus 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 is in the process of building one of the most sophisticated production facilities in Wine Country today. Located in northern Sonoma County, this winery will represent the next phase for crush facilities—a building with space enough for Ernest and a number of like-minded small producers. We expect it to be online by Summer 2017. We’ll call it Grand Cru.
Think of our Grand Cru facility like a cooperative; each of the brands we bring in will 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 will be about 700 tons, which means we’ll be able to work with five or six other brands. We’ll select these brands carefully; to qualify for consideration, wineries must make a minimum of 100 tons per year and must come with their own winemakers. Stay tuned for more information about Grand Cru as the facility nears completion.