Long before he became a winemaker, Dan Goldfield was a cyclist. He bought his first bicycle in 10th grade and first visited California on a cycling trip with American Youth Hostels in 1973. A year later he cycled through the Sonoma Coast and thought it was one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen.
While starting a career in research chemistry—with plenty of time set aside for cycling, hiking, and skiing—Goldfield was introduced to 1969 Burgundies by his brother. He quickly changed tracks and enrolled in UC Davis, earning an MS in Enology in 1986. He worked at Robert Mondavi and Schramsberg, spent two years making wine in Portugal, and began his focus on Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at La Crema and then at Hartford Court. In 1998 he collaborated with winegrower Steve Dutton to create Dutton-Goldfield Winery, where he makes wines that display the structure, complexity, and elegance that are possible in a cool-climate California regions.
An avid cyclist to this day, Dan Goldfield is responsible for winemaking operations at Dutton-Goldfield. One of the major tenets of winemaking is that great wine starts in the vineyard. Both making wine and riding a bicycle are best suited to areas with rolling hills and moderate temperatures such as the Russian River Valley, where Dutton-Goldfield is located.
Speaking about his major passion (other than making wine), Goldfield told us, “One thing about biking that sets it apart is you feel micro differences in climate and topography more than any other sport. When you’re in these intricate places in the world, biking lets you feel the roles of the earth very well.” The same could also be said about growing grapes and making wine—they make you “feel micro differences in climate and topography” more than any other type of farming. Goldfield’s love of the outdoors extends to his search for vineyard sites that best match his intentions in the winery.
Preferring lengthy rides of two to five hours, Dan considers the hours he rides “by the time it takes to need three beers for hydration after.” Driven by the feeling of the earth and being outdoors, almost every epiphany for Dan’s personal and professional vision derives from outdoor physical activity.
In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Dutton-Goldfield also produces Zinfandel, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Syrah. Dutton-Goldfield doesn’t own any vineyards; fruit is purchased on long term contracts from a great array of vineyards. The majority of its grapes comes from partner Steve Dutton’s Dutton Ranch sites in Russian River Valley. Longtime relationships with other growers from Marin to Mendocino make up the balance of D-G’s single-vineyard bottlings.
The winery produces about 180,000 bottles of wine per year; half of that is Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The remainder of its 20 small lot single-vineyard wines are produced in quantities of 2,400 to 6,000 each. These bottlings express individual vineyard sites from nine appellations: Marin County, Petaluma Gap, Green Valley, Russian River Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, Mendocino County, and Anderson Valley. Besides its Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Dutton-Goldfield produces 11 additional Pinot Noirs and three more Chardonnays, all from single vineyards. Asked whether he may include more bottlings in future vintages, Dan replied, “We’re not actively looking to expand, but you never know where bike rides and connections might lead next.”
The flagship Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch wines are widely distributed across the United States, and in select international markets, via traditional wholesale distribution, available for sale in wine shops and restaurants. The majority of the single-vineyard wines are sold either exclusively or primarily direct to consumer from the winery.
We recently took the opportunity to speak with Dan Goldfield about cycling, winemaking, and the intersection of the two.
World Wine Guys: What are some of the vineyards you have discovered while cycling, and what are the wines that come from them?
Dan Goldfield: One of our old time mountain rides, with a bit of trespassing, goes into some wonderful trails in the Bohemian Grove, deep in Redwood country by the Russian River: through the bible camp, through Bud’s place, jump a little fence, then swoopy single tracks through the redwoods and oak lands One day after harvest of 1994 we decided to keep climbing on an overgrown track, and ended up on a dirt road at the top of the ridge. We followed it along the ridge, quietly past a few houses and came upon an old, dry farmed Zinfandel vineyard; that clearly had not been picked in many years. Just after the vineyard we popped out on Morelli Lane and swooped back down to where we started.
When I later inquired about that vineyard to Steve Dutton, it turned out that the Dutton family had just obtained a lease on that piece of property, owned by the Morelli family. Vic Morelli was in his 90s, and there were a few acres still left of a pre-prohibition vineyard planted by Vic’s dad before the turn of the 20thcentury. The Duttons were planning on ripping out the old vines, but we got them to keep just under 2 acres for Hartford Court. In 1999 we started using this fruit for Dutton-Goldfield’s Morelli Lane Zinfandel.
Many beautiful road bike loops in the area wind up Harrison Grade, which climbs from Green Valley to its western edge (and the Russian River Valley appellation’s western edge), Stoetz Ridge). It’s a beautiful, winding climb; redwood covered hills on one side, serpentine soil with pygmy type growth on the other. The road bends left and flattens at the top on the ridge, with views into Green Valley, across the Santa Rosa Plain to the Mayacamas Mountains and Mt. St. Helena. On this ridge was a sloping meadow that for years I’d pass and think “great place for a vineyard.” My wife Loie was a surgeon at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, and one day in 2000 a man came in with appendicitis: Somehow, while chatting on his (sedated) way to the OR she figured out he was the owner of this property, and told him if he ever wanted to plant a vineyard he should call me. Six months later he called, and Steve planted Fox Den Pinot in 2002.
WWG: Why do you think that winemaking regions are such wonderful places to ride a bicycle?
DG: Many great viticultural areas encompass intricate topographies, and rural roads and paths with great visual and sensual unfolding in small amounts of distance. Such is the same for great riding areas.
On a bike, the transitions between microclimates, slopes, colors, smells, soils are impactfully felt and absorbed. The array of vineyards we’ve chosen comes from the same emotional place that loves riding and the natural world.
Western Sonoma County probably has as much or more climatological and visual diversity than any other viticultural area on earth. This is so well felt and absorbed through the effort, pace, immersion required to ride through it.
WWG: What parallels can you draw between the relatively slow pace of riding a bicycle and the cycle of winemaking from harvest (or even planting vineyards) to bottle?
DG: The temporal pace of riding, farming, and winemaking should not be confounded with the efforts (both internal and external), concentration, and equanimity needed to be successful at these endeavors.
They all require (at best) great levels of patience, and attention without ego to be able to affect where you can and process the myriad external influences that one cannot control. Slow temporal pace is in no way related to difficulty, effort, and focus. A big part of success in all three comes from knowing when big external efforts are useful, and even more, when it is best to watch, think, and flow without intervention in the existing momentum.
Often, the more difficult the riding, the slower because that’s the steep hill, but the focus and effort are the most. Making Pinot is a frenetic endeavor, even though the cycle of the year seems like a long time. There is always something to do.
WWG: How has Covid-19 impacted your winemaking and sales? How were you affected by the recent wildfires?
DG: Our production facility is large and open, so it lends itself to good airflow and social distancing for safety. Winemaking is naturally a sanitation-intensive operation, and we amped up our protocols for cleaning and sanitizing the shared equipment and work and rest spaces, and of course wearing masks. We are very specific about our safety protocols in all things, and don’t vary; so, it is part of a routine, not something to be rethought.
The Covid impact on sales has been huge. Small restaurants are our natural partners, and of course they have been closed and so severely and sadly impacted. We have been fortunate to build with our off-premise friends a bit, and that has been very helpful. We truly appreciate every account who chooses to include our wines in their offerings and become an ambassador for Dutton-Goldfield.
Direct sales are very important for us. Our tasting room was closed for 3 months and is now open only outdoors. We have given more attention to phone and internet sales and have become proficient at Zoom tastings. Our loyal customers have been wonderfully central in getting us through this difficult time.
The fires never directly threatened us physically, but much of the Pinot in Sonoma County has been affected by smoke, and a great portion will not be picked this year. The whites seem to be greatly less affected. The state of understanding of smoke taint is terribly incomplete, and many of us are working together to further it. No wine we don’t love will be put in a bottle.
Some of our best winery friends were evacuated from their facilities in the initial blaze, and we fermented wine for them in ours. The camaraderie, friendship, support and sharing between loved colleagues has been a huge bright spot in this terribly challenging time.
WWG: The name of your winery is Dutton-Goldfield. Do people tend to confuse your winemaking operation with Dutton Ranch, and if so, how do you gently correct them?
DG: Dutton-Goldfield is 50-50 partnership between Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield. Dutton Ranch has no ownership in DG and vice versa. Like in Burgundy, there are many partnerships between families. DG chooses our long-term contracts from our favorite vineyards, primarily from the Duttons, but also others. We are proud to be a partnership between a caring winemaking and an exceptional vineyard owner. Dutton Ranch are farmers and grape growers. Their job is tending the vineyards, and their job ends the day the fruit is harvested and brought into the winery. Dutton-Goldfield takes it from there, bringing it from grape to bottle and beyond.
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