Nominated for: BEST Napa Winery
I’m Ray Coursen, winemaker and owner at Elyse Winery in Napa Valley, California. My wife Nancy and I run the winery and these are our children, Elyse and Jake. Before you look around the website and see what we’re up to now, I’d like to tell you how we have gotten this far. In 1983, when Nancy and I were both working in Cape Cod restaurants, I asked Nancy when she’d be ready to move to California. I had a dream of learning to make wine. “Tomorrow,” she said. I worked the harvest that year at Mount Eden Vineyards in Saratoga, starting at the bottom, picking grapes and digging ditches. After the harvest, we moved to Napa Valley and worked at a B&B. Nancy ran the place and I tended the gardens and planted a vineyard. I then worked at Tonella Vineyard Management, where the owner taught me why you need to prune, trellis, train, and generally coddle grapevines, and the vineyard workers gave me on-the-job-training. Next I worked at Whitehall Lane Winery. Though I started in the tasting room, the winemaker, Art Finkelstein, took me under his wing, put me in the cellar, and eventually promoted me to winemaker. Art taught me that the secret of great wines is in the blend. In 1987, we started Elyse Wines with 286 cases of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, which is still one of our primary fruit sources. For a decade we were nomads, buying grapes and crushing at various custom crush facilities, and then in1997, we finally bought a small winery on Hoffman Lane. What will you find in a bottle of Elyse or Jacob Franklin wine? I make wines that I want to sit down and enjoy – juicy, rich, voluptuous wines. I like a little oak, but I don’t want it to be overpowering – I want to taste the fruit. I love wines that pair well with food. A meal without wine is eating; a meal with wine is dining – it’s a conversation, an event. It’s what wine is about. When I make a wine, my tastes and techniques will influence the process, but what’s most important is the fruit. The fruit dictates what the wine will be. We’re fortunate to work with an amazing group of growers and vineyards, whose fruit keeps taking us to wonderful places. We started out making Zinfandel, then expanded into Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. No doubt those will continue to be the focus of our winemaking, but now we’ve made a tiny quantity of Chardonnay, and soon we’ll be releasing our first Pinot Noir. What wines we make after that will depend on the fruit that’s available, because I just can’t say no to wonderful fruit.