Full Bodied Series: 1 on 1 with John Wilson, Winemaker – Round Pond Estates

Hello Wine Family! August is half over, September is almost here, and it is Harvest Time in California Wine Country. For those not familiar with “Harvest,” it is the time of year when vineyards start to pick the grapes at their peak ripeness. During this time winemakers and vineyard staff are incredibly busy so I’m thankful to have spent time with John Wilson, Winemaker for Round Pond Estate, in Rutherford, CA.

In early August John and I met in the tasting area where they set me up for an Artisan Tasting . I’m so used to shaking hands I feel the need to apologize for not being able to, to which John responded, “Forearm bump instead?” I could tell John had been out in the vineyard working and it was already 90 degrees.  I immediately thanked him for stopping by to meet me as it is his “busy time” with Harvest. 

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So, John, tell me a little about yourself.  How long have you been with Round Pond?

I’m married with three kids and have been living in Napa for the last few years. I’ve worked in the wine regions of Argentina, Oregon, and Northern California – getting my start as a Harvest Intern and working my way up to my previous position as Winemaker for Vine Cliff. About year and a half ago I joined Round Pound. It was a great opportunity to continue my growth as a winemaker and produce wines that showcase my love for varietal character and the vineyard. 

Before I jump into more questions about wine, you mentioned three kids. How are you managing with COVID?

I’m fortunate that my wife is at home full-time with our kids but when we are done with this pandemic, I’m sending her on long vacation.

So, in other words you will call her girlfriends, hand over the credit card, and tell her to have a good time and see her when she gets back?

((Laughs)) Yeah, pretty much.

To shift back…when I speak with individuals in the wine industry about the origin of their passion for wine it usually falls within a few categories: the chemistry, the taste, the satisfaction from growing things, and the parallels to life. I recently had a Tasting Room Manager tell me she loved hearing the clank of a bottle when it hit the glass by accident and the “sound of the pour” as a kid. Where does your passion come from?

Growing up my family had a vegetable garden. Seeing all these different looking vegetables grow and thrive, what influenced them, and how no two vegetables growing side by side were the same was fascinating to me. It took consistent attention, patience, and care to maintain this garden. So, I guess I fall into the “growing things” category.  I really appreciate watching things grow.

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At this point in the interview we were talking for about 15-20 minutes and I assumed John had to get back to work. He asked if I would like a tour of the vineyard so we could continue talking. I wasn’t about to say no.

We started our Vineyard Tour at a Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon Vine. Clearly the vineyard was “home” for John.  His face lit up like Christmas morning talking about what kind of “fingers” and “holes” a leaf has, pointing out the size of the bunch, explaining to me what veraison means and so on.  Please understand I have the wine knowledge of an 8-year-old, so some (a lot) of it was going over my head. As John started talking two thoughts entered my head: 1) I can’t wait to get started on my WSET certification so I can stop nodding and smiling so much because “you know nothing Jon Snow”, 2) Even though I’m not perfectly following John’s skill and passion was pouring through (pardon the pun).

John, you’ve worked in and have been around a lot of wineries.  How would you describe Round Pond and what sets it apart?

“Approachable Luxury” is how I describe Round Pond. Open and accessible to the causal wine drinker, while also providing unique offerings to the more experienced connoisseur. In my opinion Round Pound has a little of everything – Olive Oils, Whites, Reds, Single Vineyard, Pairings, but most importantly authentic human experiences. I also love that we have multiple price points with bottles starting around $28 up to our more expensive Reserve selections.

I love that, John. It sounds like Round Pond is inclusive with their offerings and from looking around I see a great deal of diversity on the staff.

Yes! I’m on the production side, so on my immediate team we have a significant amount of LatinX and female workers. Also, we are diverse in the sales, marketing, and tasting room teams. 

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John drove me back to the tasting room via golf cart (I asked to drive it but I think I was a little too eager – and it didn’t help that I almost bit it in the vineyard) I thanked him for spending a considerable amount of his time with me but I had to ask one last question…

Dork in a golf cart

What wine should I ask to try that may or may not be on the list when I get back to the tasting room?

Reserve Right Bank Cab for sure!

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Takeaways

I love connecting with someone who is passionate about what they do. My grandfather used to tell me that regardless of the work you do, try to find some meaning in it if you can. But if you’re really lucky you won’t have to find meaning; it will already be a passion of yours. After speaking with John, I’m reminded of my grandfather’s words by how infectious John’s passion for the vineyard and wine. 

On the ride back to the tasting room John mentioned that they have excellent peaches on site that he and members of his staff take home. I had one of those moments where my inner monologue became outer so I said out loud, “I haven’t had peaches in a while.” I didn’t think much of it and John didn’t respond. During my tasting John came back and handed me a bag of not only peaches but also zucchini and onions to take home. I think I said in my last post how one of the ways I judge people is when they do a kindness when there is little or nothing to gain. I’m really starting to get spoiled with all these great people. Thank you again, John! You are great winemaker, better person!

Thank you for checking out my post in the Full Bodied Blog Series. It is much appreciated! If you are interested in sharing your passion for wine and how it brings people together please reach out to me via email (wineoxperience@gmail.com) or IG: wine_o_xperience

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