Bob Cabral wins Wine Industry Award in winemaking

Bob Cabral

Category: Winemaker

Director of winemaking, Three Sticks Wines

143 W. Spain St., Sonoma, CA 95476


Many credit Bob Cabral, 54, with helping U.S. consumers fall in love with pinot noir and make Sonoma County a known source for the wine.

Growing up around grapes on his family's 70-acre ranch in the Central Valley, the fourth-generation grower went on to graduate from Fresno State University in the mid-1980s then work 11 vintages at various North Coast wineries, as associate winemaker at DeLoach Vineyards, custom-crush winemaker at Kunde Family Estate, winemaker at Alderbrook Vineyards and winemaker at Hartford Court Winery. Then in 1998, he moved to Williams Selyem and guided winemaking there until 2014.

The following year, serial wine industry investor and vintner Bill Price III convinced him to take the helm of a new project, Three Sticks Wines.

What are major achievements you've made in your winemaking career?

BOB CABRAL: I have mentored over 20 assistant and associate winemakers into career advancement to winemaker. I helped to give or auction off more than $5 million worth of charity to help those in need or to just support our local community.

I helped craft protocols for land and water-use stewardship and participated in university trials or research to better our industry,

I shepherded Williams Selyem for 17 years through new ownership, and grew operations and facilities after Burt (Williams) and Ed (Selyem) sold the business. I planted and produced the first 100-point California pinot noir, judged by Wine Enthusiast magazine, from the 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir. I've ranked more than 20 times as Artisan Winery of the Year in the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries list and crafted 100-plus 95- to 100-point wines in my career.

I was selected as 2011 Wine Star Awards Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast and have had my wines appear several times on among top 100 wines of the year in most wine and lifestyle publications.

Most of all, I've had a lot of fun doing this and feel honored to have had such a wonderful career and life.

How many cases a year do you make at Three Sticks?

CABRAL: Approximately 5,000 cases.

What's the varietal mix?

CABRAL: Sixty-five percent pinot noir, 25 percent chardonnay, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent other varietals.

Is the volume and varietal mix changing much?

CABRAL:This has pretty much been the business plan and will continue to be so for the next few years. We may decrease cab over this period.

You were quoted at the time of your shift to Three Sticks that you wanted to spend more time in the cellar and vineyards. How is that going?

This part of the transition is going very well. I spend about 30 percent of my time in vineyards, 50 percent in the cellar racking barrels and crushing grapes — although that usually means a three-Advil night as I am approaching 55 years old — and 20 percent on sales and marketing.

What's been different from running Williams Selyem?

CABRAL: I strictly oversee all phases of production at Three Sticks, and I am used as an adviser when it comes to our strategic business plan. I try to guide coworkers through the process, so that they can successfully execute their daily responsibilities.

At Williams Selyem I was responsible for all day-to-day business operations, budgeting, production, sales and marketing, acquisitions, and strategic planning, reporting directly to (owner) John Dyson in New York.

What's the future of Sonoma County pinot noir, compared with up-and-coming pinot-producers such as Anderson Valley, Central Coast and Willamette Valley?

CABRAL: Sonoma County pinot noir is in a tremendous position to produce the ' old standard' pinots from the new world. Think of Sonoma County pinot noir in the same vane as Napa cabernet. We have extraordinary soils, climates, growers and winemakers that are extremely passionate and dedicated to extracting the best of those diversities and presenting them to the rest of the world.

Will grape and bottle price growth moderate?

CABRAL: That depends on what new restrictions or business obstacles present themselves during the next few years. There is not a whole lot more land out there that can be planted to great pinot noir sites, so a lot of this will depend on the 'push through' on the sales side of the equation.

What does that mean for pinot producers, particularly those based in the North Coast?

CABRAL: It provides an opportunity for those with established great sites to command some of the highest prices in the North Coast and hopefully allow them to stay in business for generation to come. For areas like Anderson Valley, it will allow them to continue to show their amazing sites to new consumers as grapes become more scarce in Sonoma County.

How are the adventurous palates of younger generations and new technology that links consumers more closely with producers changing the role of winemakers and the making of wine?

CABRAL: I think it has been great for the wine industry to better unstained what our consumers are interested in tasting. Experimentation is the most enjoyable part of any growing season or harvest. That's when you really lean something new. I think winemakers as a whole tend to only do those things that have really worked for them in the past. And with good reason: Mistakes can be extremely costly.

Over the years, I have learned so much more with my mistakes than I have with my successes. It's very stimulating to have divergent thinkers working with you on the winemaking staff, and I love that part of my craft!

Has it changed how you approach the vineyard and cellar?

CABRAL: Not at all. I thrive on taking calculated risks in the vineyard as well as in the cellar. But at the end of the day, I have always attempted to craft wines that I personally enjoy drinking. Completing a vision from the soil to the glass is very gratifying!

Bob Cabral

Category: Winemaker

Director of winemaking, Three Sticks Wines

143 W. Spain St., Sonoma, CA 95476


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