Spend any time around Matt Stornetta, one of the partners in Sonoma Wine Growers and you’ll know quickly this is not your average wine making operation.
Stornetta and his business partner Ned Hill are both farmers and for years have been in the vineyard management business through Hill’s business La Prenda. Hill and his wife Erika – both Sonoma County people, started the company and Stornetta, another Sonoma product, came to work for the company after graduating from Cal Poly and spending a year abroad.
As the grape market changed and costs began to climb, many of the wineries were not able to meet the expenses La Prenda were facing. The solution – enter into the wine game from the production side and put out their own wine.
The plan was to work with their clients and use the grapes they farmed, combining the various vineyards for the base of their wines. They were able to provide a fair price for their clients’ grapes and produce a value-priced bottle of wine.
“We were just farmers trying to bypass the middle man,” said Stornetta when it comes to wine making.
They have done just that and District 3 wine has been a thing for the last 18 months or so.
The name “District 3” has nothing to do with The Hunger Games, but rather refers to Sonoma and Marin Counties combined as one of 17 different grape growing districts in California.
“We want it to be our story,” said Stornetta. “District 3 is us – it’s where the grapes are grown. We are able to know when everything happens.”
Being the farmers, the group is uniquely qualified to produce wine as they literally work with the grapes from the ground, into the bottle. They work with wine maker Alex Beloz to produce a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Red Blend.
The wine is enjoyable and the kicker – the price point. The Chardonnay and the Red Blend are $16.99 and the Pinot Noir is $18.99. Slap Sonoma Valley on a bottle and you can add another $10 at a minimum to the purchase price.
All three wines are solid, all drinking as well as higher priced wines from the region. The Pinot was my top choice, while others in the group liked either the Chardonnay or the Red Blend.
“It’s all about a value,” said Stornetta. “We are trying to avoid a higher-end price point.”
The biggest issue obviously was/is getting the word out. Setting up a tasting room did not really seem like an option – remember, they are farmers and spend their days in the field. Additionally, they’ve spent time in different tasting rooms and well – “We’re not tasting room kind of guys,” said Stornetta with a laugh.
But spend some time sitting down, drinking some wine outside around their offices and the experience is much better than most tasting rooms. The atmosphere combined with a make you feel at home attitude was memorable.
Right now they are producing 5,200 cases a year and are starting to gain a foothold in the retail world. Whole Foods is one big retailer that is carrying the wine, with the rest coming in smaller markets like Paradise Markets, Oliver’s Markets, Nugget Markets, as well as the Sonoma Market, and Broadway Market.
“We’re just trying to get into markets, stay relevant and get noticed,” said Stornetta.
Stornetta did have one plan for a tasting experience that would be really cool and would play to their strength – real, hard-working and appreciative people.
“I’d love to load up a bus with people, wine and cheese, drive out into the vineyards and up to the top of a hill and taste up there,” said Stornetta. “Now that I can do.”