So You Want to Own a Vineyard: An
Interview with Bob Brower of Chateau Julien in California
Bob Brower used to be
in the oil business in New Jersey, but for the past 23 years
he’s been involved
in another liquid guzzling enterprise—the wine trade.
He is the blissful owner of Chateau Julien, which has a 246-acre
vineyard on the Monterrey penninsula in Northern California,
15 miles from the ocean, 90 miles south of his chateau in Carmel,
where he has another acre vineyard.
How he got from oil
in New Jersey to wine in California and what, as a successful
vineyard owner, he would advise any would-be winemakers were
the chief questions of our recent coast to coast telephone
interview with this high spirited wine maker, who, when not
tending his vines, can be seen at auto races hobnobbing with
the likes of Paul Newman and Mario Andretti. “Everyone has an interest in wine!” he
says. And if you visit his main winery and you get talking,
this sociable guy might just wind up inviting you to dinner.
But of course we wanted to chat with him first
about his award winning Merlot, which was written up by the
Beverage Tasting Institute as one of the best tasting wines
in America. It helped him to earn the Rookie of the Year Award
when he was just starting out, as well as countless awards
and blue ribbons since then. Education Update’s Publisher
and Editor, Dr. Pola Rosen, who had the pleasure of sampling
Chateau Julien’s Merlot at a recent wine tasting, enthusiastically
agrees that it is an excellent wine. But when Brower started
out he had no guarantee that he would be able to produce a
winning wine, he said, or even which of the varieties he planted
might turn out to be successful. This is because wine is a
living thing depending on many uncontrollable variables. In
addition to its fabulous Merlot, Chateau Julien, also produces
a very good Cabernet, Syrah and Chardonnay, all in the $10
to $40 price range, and an excellent higher priced Reserve
you have to have a lot of capital to start a wine business
and to make it a success? What else do you need to be successful?
the saying goes, the way to have a small fortune in the wine
business is to start with a large one. You need a lot of
money to buy a vineyard and start a wine business. An acre
of vacant land in Lockwood Valley, for example, costs $8,000
to $12,000. Plants for one acre cost $10,000. To get from
start up to success takes a very long time. No one can believe
you can lose money for so many years and still stay in business.
The first crop takes three years. You harvest the fourth
year. White wine you can sell the following year, but red
wine takes a few more years.
You have to have a business sense, absolutely
have to be schooled in business, understand the financing,
not just the art of wine making. It is a very capital-intensive
industry. Getting started is very difficult, if you have one
acre or ten. It takes years before you can make a profit.
You also have to know
how to market your product throughout the United States and
the world. Almost every country and state makes wines. It’s extremely competitive. Just
because you start a winery doesn’t mean someone will
want to buy your wine.
did you go to school for your business training?
A. I went
to Hofstra, on Long Island, and Fairleigh Dickinson University
in Madison, New Jersey. I majored in Business and Psychology.
did you make the switch from the oil business to the wine
the petroleum business I traveled a fair amount. A very good
friend of mine who is a lawyer traveled with me and taught
me a lot about wine. Over time my wife and I became interested.
On vacations we would go to Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
We would buy wines there we couldn’t find in New Jersey.
When someone wanted to buy the oil company from us we found
ourselves in a position to buy a vineyard and we thought
that would be a great thing to do. We have no regrets. This
is the life style we wanted. You enter the wine business
for the life style. Your whole business involves food and
wine, enjoying the finer things in life. That’s pretty
advice would you give to young people who would like to get
into the wine business?
a labor of love. If you want a nine to five job don’t
do this. But if you want a career in something you can love
and work at 24 hours a day and you really want to be involved
in almost every facet of the business, this is a great field.
would you tell a young person who doesn’t have much
get a degree in Oenology, which teaches you about the chemistry
of making wine. These are two-year graduate programs after
you have your Bachelor’s degree. The University of
California in Davis and Fresno State, for example, teach
these courses. Then start working for a winery. You can start
buying grapes and making wine for yourself on the side and
after a while make a few barrels and start selling some.
Some new companies are starting out this way.
do you think about French wines in comparison to U. S. wines?
French had a head start, but as early as the mid-70s, U.
S. wines were winning major worldwide competitions against
the French. Now the French make a lot of wines to the American
taste. Americans like crystal clear wine. They like wines
true to the character of the grape, whereas a Bordeaux wine
can have a lot of different grapes in it.
there any recent developments in the field?
corking of wine is changing. With natural cork, bacteria
affect one to five percent of the corks and spoil the wine.
You can’t tell this ahead of time and there is nothing
you can do about it. We are now experimenting with synthetic
corks and so far our experience is very favorable. We are
not considering screw tops because most people believe pulling
a cork out of a bottle helps create the romance of wine.
And that’s very important.
are you proudest of in your wine career?
the wine business you can get closer to Maslow’s self actualization than in any
other business I can think of. Self-actualization is the pinnacle,
and this is the business you can do that in. I wake up every
morning excited about what I’m doing. If you can get
that excitement there’s nothing better!#