PETER WORK – WINEMAKER, AMPELOS CELLARS
Some dream of spending the rest of their lives on golf courses and cruise ships, but with a taste for business and a love of Santa Barbara wine country, we chose a different retirement plan.
In 1999 we purchased 82 acres in what would later become the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, and named it “Ampelos”, which is the Greek word for vine. The name has a two-fold purpose. First, we believe that all great wines start in the vineyard.
Secondly, we have close-ties with Greece; we were married there and own a small bed and breakfast, called Ampelos Resort, on the island of Folegandros. We bought the land with dreams of someday watching the nightly sunset over the hills and our dogs running through the vines.
At the time we were still working long hours in corporate America, and delegated our son Don (now winemaker at Sea Smoke) to get the vineyard started. Our vineyard consultant assured us that the land could produce a great vineyard with patience and care, but we had little time to focus on the vineyard with non-stop business travel, meetings and conferences.
In 2001, the first 15 acres were planted in the Ampelos vineyard. That same year, we landed in Newark on the morning of September 11th. Peter had a meeting in the first tower of the World Trade Center, and interrupted his plan to board Path 1 of the New York Subway when his meeting was canceled. If he had gotten on the train, 8:45 am would have found him under the towers as the first plane hit.
When we finally got out of the city five days later, we went straight to our safe place—the Ampelos vineyard. That is when we made the life-changing decision to quit our corporate jobs and focus all our effort into pursuing our dream of full-time viticulture. “Someday” was no longer part of our vocabulary.
We moved to the Santa Ynez Valley in January of 2002. We began to learn to nurture the soil and prune the vines to prepare for the first harvest, and purchased one ton of Pinot Noir and two tons of Syrah in order to learn winemaking as we waited for the vines to mature. We toiled under the tutelage of our son Don and several expert consultants.
2004 marked the inaugural Ampelos vineyard harvest. The first harvest yielded 15 tons of Pinot Noir and 6 tons of Syrah. In 2005, we planted 10 acres on top of the original 15, totaling 25 acres. Pinot Noir and Syrah remain our primary varietals, with a line of Viognier and just under two acres of Grenache—the unsung hero of the Sta. Rita Hills. We persist in experimenting with different grapes and winemaking styles, as we are major believers in the journey being the destination.
With the efforts of family and friends, wise guides, and a twist of fate, we have come to create our small, sustainable vineyard and winery. We have gone from expanding big businesses to focusing on creating a limited release of high-quality product that people can afford to share with friends and loved ones. For us, sharing those gifts is what makes it all worthwhile.
You can depend on Ampelos wine to present the essence of each varietal in its purest form. Our winemaking processes are minimalist, meaning no added yeast, no artificial tannins, no artificial malolactic bacteria, and no artificial coloring. Every sip evokes cool ocean breezes and sunny afternoons wondering at the beauty of the rolling Sta. Rita Hills.
We experiment with both old and new winemaking processes, with eyes always fixed on eco-friendly, natural winemaking. With respect to longstanding winemaking traditions coupled with flexibility, we believe our results will be improvements to the cellar resulting in intriguing and complex wines.
ERIC STIEFELING – NATIONAL SALES DIRECTOR, ARIL WINES
The history of Aril wines is a love story. A love story about a beautiful little vineyard perched above the Napa Valley. And a love story about a wine that changed their lives.
Joanne and Harmon met in Telluride, Colorado, where he was running a popular restaurant, and she was heavily involved in the Telluride Foundation. They began to talk of food and wine, and then of many other things. What started as a romance grew into a strong partnership and a dream. Harmon had run a winery in Napa, and Joanne had always loved the classic Syrahs of the Rhone Valley and Provence…wines enjoyed by connoisseurs and French Kings.
The dream grew into reality via a small property in the hills above the Napa Valley with just a tiny block of the finest Syrah vines. As a symbol for the winery, Joanne selected the pomegranate tree that they planted there in the garden. Aril is the deeply red cover of the seeds of the pomegranate, a color that Joanne finds in the heart of their Syrahs.
The wines are not products, but journeys from the vine to the bottle, and each journey is a unique experience to be enjoyed with friends and loved ones. Aril is our passion, and we are pleased to share it with the world.
Eric Stiefeling is the Managing Director for Aril wines. Born in New York City, he developed a love for wine after moving to California in the mid-1980s. He is a past president of the Golden Gate Wine Society, and the wine director for the Pine Creek Sporting Club in Okeechobee, Florida. Making frequent trips to Napa Valley, Eric soon became a fixture at commercial wine tastings.
Prior to his pursuits in the wine industry, Eric worked in the securities industry at Chapdelaine and Company, a municipal bond brokerage firm in New York, before joining Rauscher, Pierce, Refsnes Inc. in San Francisco. At the age of 26, Eric’s entrepreneurial spirit gave him his first taste of the food and drink world when he purchased The Attic. He turned that small restaurant in New York into a thriving business.
In addition to his work at Aril, Eric remains active in the Napa Valley’s wine culture. He served as Chairman of the Beverage Committee for Auction Napa Valley in 2010 and co-chaired the organization’s Barrel Auction for Auction in 2014.