David Ramey’s storied career as a winemaker began in 1979 after he graduated from the enology program at UC Davis. Fresh-faced and eager to dive into the biz, David landed the internship of a lifetime at Château Petrus in Bordeaux. He was there only during the ‘79 harvest, but the time was pivotal for him — he would make enduring connections and learn a tremendous amount about Merlot and Cabernet. In 1980, David returned to the U.S. to work for Zelma Long at Simi Winery in Healdsburg — at the time, it was one of the top spots in California to learn the craft. After four years as assistant winemaker there, he moved on to become head winemaker at Matanzas Creek in Santa Rosa.
In 1989 David traveled back to Bordeaux, this time with his fiancee, Carla. The two got married there, and David worked another harvest for Petrus that summer. The newlyweds returned to California in 1990 and David took a position as winemaker at Chalk Hill Winery, a post he would maintain until 1996. That year, David and Carla founded Ramey Wine Cellars. David wouldn’t dive in head first however, he spent two years as executive vice president and winemaker at Dominus Estate in Yountville, and another two years as winemaker at Rudd Cellars in Oakville before focusing on his own winery.
Since then, Ramey Wine Cellars has grown and prospered. David’s vast experience has given him a unique perspective on the California wine business, as well as access to some of the best vineyard sites in Napa and Sonoma. Over the years he has consistently worked with many of the the same vineyards, keeping the focus on terroir and blending old-world respect for the land with new-world freedom to create. Today, Ramey produces about 40,000 cases of wine annually. In some ways, this fact seems to have created an impression among consumers that it’s more of a “commercial” winery. In the search for the next cult classic, many have overlooked Ramey — don’t make this mistake. While it is certainly no “hobby”-sized winery, Ramey is no bigger than the average Bordeaux estate in terms of its production.
The wines here are superbly well-crafted, undeniable in their California roots but possessing a sense of restraint and balance, perhaps gleaned from David’s experiences in Europe. At the top end, the single-vineyard bottlings rival their culty counterparts. The larger production, “appellation wines” (such as the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Chardonnays, and the Napa Valley Cabernet), are superb as well. Another thing worth noting: other than some of the very small production cuvées, these wines are fairly easy to find in the marketplace.