Our Journey to Au Revoir

My husband Steve and I started visiting wineries in the Napa Valley in 1981. Back then, when you visited a winery, there was a good chance that you would be greeted by the winemaker or vineyard owner in the “tasting room.” The tasting room was usually just big enough to handle a few people at a time, often standing at a small, cramped bar. We loved those adventures. You were close to the people who knew their wine and were enthusiastic about sharing it with you. We still have some of the wine glasses given away as mementos of those visits. Napa Valley was just coming into its own.

For years, we were weekend visitors, falling in love with the land, the people, and the wine. As our interest in wine grew, we took trips abroad to major wine regions where you are still greeted by the winery owner. We walked vineyards, tasted wines, and ate local food. We enjoyed the company of people whose lives are intrinsically tied to their land and town or village, and whose wines are an expression of place, people, and culture—shared with family and friends alongside daily meals.

I wanted those experiences to be my life, not just in brief episodes, but always. Now, it is. We live on a vineyard in a canyon outside Calistoga, surrounded by vines, wildlife, and rugged terrain. I have come to love it beyond belief. It is intense in many ways. Will it rain this year? Maybe too much, maybe not enough. Will there be a freeze at exactly the wrong time? Thankfully, we haven’t experienced that…yet. Will there be a heat spike just before harvest? Ditto. Will turkeys decide that our fruit tastes delicious just before harvest? Will a hungry bear sneak into the vineyard? Experienced that too. I know there will be more to come, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

Living among vines means that I live viticulture. I’ve watched the seasons come and go and the vines change with them. I’ve learned what it means to farm grapes for amazing winemakers, who have generously shared their knowledge with me. I’ve joined early morning harvests, plucked MOG—material other than grapes—from bins, made breakfast for the crew, followed our grapes to the wineries, and watched as they were crushed, fermented, and made into wine. 

Our vineyard manager, Jim Munk, has been an exceptional tutor. He believes in the power of place—that you learn about a vineyard by carefully observing the vines, spending early mornings or late afternoons walking the rows, sensing the weather, gauging the response of the vines to changing conditions. He is generous with his time. Lacking a formal education in viticulture, I’ve had to learn the science myself. I spend my evenings poring over books, articles and websites–about agriculture, wine, and the wine business. I’ve attended classes at both UC Davis and Santa Rosa Junior College. I’ve joined professional organizations like the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, the Mount Veeder Appellation Council, attended seminars, met and worked with extraordinary wine professionals as a member of the Board of the Calistoga Winegrowers, and shared information with my colleagues in the vitwomen’s listserv, a network with well over 150 women in the wine and viticulture professions. With an active research scientist, Jennifer Rohrs, on our team as viticulturist, I now get informed by cutting edge research in grapevine physiology. All this keeps me very busy—and makes me happy.

Several years into our new life, the inevitable happened—Steve and I decided that we would make our own batch of Cabernet Sauvignon from a block or two of newly planted vines. With a small amount of fruit too young to sell, what else could we do? Through that experience, we learned about the highs and lows of winemaking. I can’t tell you how many times, certain that something went wrong, I wanted to let the wine flow out of the barrel and into the creek. But with the encouragement of experienced winemaker friends, I held back and gave the wine time. A red wine can take years to develop. Its ups and downs are amazing. But what fun it is now to drink! Like the old winemakers we met in Europe, we love our own “local” wine and enjoy sharing it with friends at meals. We didn’t make much, but enough to convince us that winemaking would be our next adventure.  We didn’t know exactly when that would happen, just that it would.

Several years went by, we loved living here but we began to see an acceleration to a trend in the Valley. Large corporations and investment groups were moving in and taking over iconic winery properties and old family vineyards. My concern about this trend led me to try, on a small scale, to reverse a small bit of it. I began to look for a small vineyard that would complement our Palisades Vineyard. But this new (for us) vineyard would have to be different—not on the valley floor, but rather in a mountainous cool region of the valley. So, several years after buying our first vineyard in Calistoga, we purchased a beautiful old hillside vineyard on rugged Mount Veeder. We named our new vineyard “Veeder Ridge” and our first wines are made from the old vines we found there.

So now, here we are. It is our turn to share the generosity and knowledge so many have shared with us. Enjoy our Au Revoir Wines and join us on this new journey

— Felicia Woytak, Proprietor, Au Revoir Wines

Why “Au Revoir”?

While we use “au revoir” to say “goodbye,” it literally means “until we meet again”—a salutation ripe with the expectancy of the pleasure of our next encounter. As we flirted with many names for our new brand, we kept coming back to Au Revoir. In our logo, we emphasize “Revoir”—French for “see again.” It captures something we have come to appreciate in our new world of wine—the many occasions when we say farewell with the promise of a new meeting and a new beginning.

We started our Au Revoir project as a way to pay homage to the old hillside vines planted by George Rubissow on the southern flank of Napa Valley’s rugged Mount Veeder. As we replant and steward this inspirational vineyard to its next chapter, Au Revoir is a heartfelt “goodbye” to the old vines and a toast to the future Mount Veeder wines we will share with you when we “meet again.” We are launching our brand with wines made from these Mount Veeder grapes.

Our tribute above is one “au revoir.” When we pour the last glass from a bottle of an exquisite wine comforted by the knowledge that we have another put away in the cellar to enjoy on another night, we might whisper, “Au revoir.”

Living on our vineyard we have come to enjoy yet another “au revoir.” Surrounded by our vines, we watch the annual growth cycle of these amazing plants. In early spring, the first drop of sap glistens at the end of a pruned cane in the morning sun, our signal that the new season is upon us. As spring moves forward, we mark our calendars noting bud break—the “official” end of winter dormancy in the viticultural year—then bloom and fruit set. By summer, veraison is upon us—the moment grapes turn from green to the color of mature fruit. The berries begin to plump up and become sweet. We look forward with hope that the summer will be gentle to our grapes as they mature and develop.

While we are confident in our vines, the health of our soil, our farming practices, and the skill of the workers that manage and care for our vineyard, we know that each vintage is a result of factors that we cannot control—wind, rainfall, temperature, birds, bugs, and, in recent years, fire, smoke and drought—as much as it is to factors that we can. Each vintage has a distinct personality, driven by conditions impacting our vineyards in any given year. By the end of summer, we have come to know the season’s crop and feel fully vested in its well-being.

The excitement of harvest marks the end of the vineyard cycle. As we watch the fruit-laden bins head for the winery after a morning pick, we bid “au revoir” to our grapes, in the true meaning of those words: “goodbye” to our much loved fruit, proud of the result of our efforts and relieved that another season is over; and also best wishes “until we meet again,” months or years later in the glass.

— Felicia Woytak and Steven Rasmussen