Retiring after 54 years, wine legend Richard Arrowood details Sonoma County's rise to global excellence
With over a half-century of North Coast winemaking, Richard Arrowood has seen the region mature from its roots as an agricultural suburb of California to a world-renowned producer of fine wine and destination for millions of consumers annually.
On Thursday, Arrowood announced that he and his wife, Alis, sold Amapola Creek Vineyards and Winery to a neighbor vintner in Sonoma Valley, as the couple plans to relocate to a retirement home.
Richard Arrowood’s wine career spans 54 years, during which he helped Sonoma County build a reputation for fine wines internationally.
Trained as an organic chemist, he started in the business with sparkling wine producer Korbel in 1965 and went on to work with Rodney Strong’s Sonoma Vineyards, become founding winemaker at Chateau St. Jean in 1974, launch Arrowood Vineyards in 1985. The Arrowoods started Amapola just after their eponymous winery was sold to Robert Mondavi Corp. in 2000, and Richard Arrowood stayed on with the brand until 2010, after it passed to its third subsequent owner, Jackson Family Wines.
The Business Journal talked with Arrowood about how starting and marketing a wine business has changed over his career, how he crafted single-vineyard and late-harvest wines to compete with the best in the world, and why Sonoma County cabernet sauvignon wines are different than Napa Valley’s. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How have you seen the North Coast wine business change over your career, such as what it takes to start a winery, plant vineyards, make wine and selling wine?I think the biggest difficulty today is dealing with the bureaucracy that has been set up. Sometimes, you get the feeling that, gee whiz, the powers that be that handle all the regulations and permits and everything else, they're just they're just busy to help you out.
Yet we're big taxpayers here. You would think that they'd want to keep the business activities going —unfortunately.
In this case (of the acquisition by B. Wise Vineyards), we were selling the winery to our neighbor. He's got the same philosophy, if not even greater than we do. And so I know it's going to continue in a positive direction.
Brian Wise of B. Wise Vineyards has got his own winery just right next door to us, so it's a perfect fit. Plus, he's building another winery in Napa. He has the passion for success, and he's been very successful in all the business ventures that he has touched, so it was a real honor to be able to put this thing together with him.
I’m a little disappointed. It's nice that we can get a chance to retire, but I'm gonna miss a lot of my friends in the industry and around here. But we'll come back down and visit.
I'll miss winemaking, I'm sure, but we won't miss some of the business and in dealing with all the regulation and stuff. Today, it seems a lot of it I have to tell you is absolutely superfluous, because it's done by people who, some of which, really don't understand our business. That is a shame, because you try to teach people. After 54 vintages I've dealt with, I've learned a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, and made a lot of successes.