Catching Up with Richard Arrowood of Amapola Creek

Richard Arrowood was born in San Francisco and raised in the heart of what would become Sonoma County’s wine country. He started at Korbel in 1965 while pursuing his degree in organic chemistry and later a graduate study of enology.

In 1974 Richard was hired by Château St Jean as their first winemaker. His star quickly rose as his wines earned critical acclaim and he gained curious attention for his practice of bottling single vineyard wines.

1985 was a pivotal year for Arrowood as he married Alis, now his wife of more than 25 years, and he began planning what would become Arrowood Vineyards & Winery. In 1990 Arrowood Winery required his full attention and Richard went on to produce more award-winning wines and built a prestigious brand.

In 2000, Arrowood winery was sold to the Robert Mondavi Corp. Arrowood Winery was bought and sold three more times in the decade with each new entity keeping the services of Richard and Alis. It became clear that Richard Arrowood was about to join the small and distinguished club of winemakers who have severed ties with the winery that bears their name. (How strange must that be?)

In 2008 Richard and Alis released a modest 400 cases of 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from the organically farmed vineyards that surround their home on the Mayacamas range. Amapola Creek was born and the story of Richard Arrowood, winemaker continues on his own terms.

Recently I was able to have a couple of great conversations with Richard Arrowood. Here  are a few exerts of these talks.

BEVX: You have certainly made your mark on the world of wine, why create another brand when you could have easily ridden off into the sunset?

ARROWOOD: My wife asked the same question only with more feeling and a few choice words as well. In truth I was afraid I would just die of boredom once it was clear that continuing with Arrowood Vineyards was no longer an option. Working in the premium category with Amapola Creek is the only area of interest for me. It’s in my blood. Wine making is one of those things that you have a passion for or you don’t. Robert Mondavi taught me this many years ago. You will always be successful if you stick with the passion aspect.

BEVX: You have created Amapola Creek to be a small winery being restricted to just 3,000 cases annually. Why did you determine to keep your new brand so small?

ARROWOOD: Quality. The more you make the less time for have for hands-on production. We can focus on the 20 acres of vineyards planted and the neighboring Monte Rosso Vineyard where we get our Zinfandel. Everyone talks the quality talk but it’s very difficult to do it when production gets large. I’m just here to make a few diamonds; that’s all I’m trying to do. Besides, it gives me time to pursue other hobbies like sporting clays, bird hunting, and fly fish – outdoors activities with my wife.

BEVX: At Amapola Creek you farm your Cabernet organically. Why have you made the choice to farm organically and how does this practice help you grow the best fruit possible?

ARROWOOD: The best wines are made with best fruit from healthy vines with “alive” soils. The organic techniques we employ allow the vines to be their strongest. The plants just seem to be healthier. Also, we drink the wines too and so do our kids. In the future growing wines from organic grapes will be required otherwise people won’t buy the product. The consumers will demand it. The jury is still out if the old way is better or not but it works for us.

BEVX: Is there a wine that you have previously produced that you hold as the benchmark for your winemaking? (A wine where everything aligned perfectly and you thought, “wow, this is what I have been striving to create.”)

ARROWOOD: (After a moment of thought) The first wine that comes to mind is the 1994 Arrowood “Réserve Spéciale” Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a really solid and it has held together extremely well. It was bottled at 13.9% alcohol by volume and the grapes were picked at under 24 brix (sugar content). It was not overripe or over in anyway rather very balanced and well structured. I have opened one recently and it’s still got it.

BEVX: You have been making wines in Sonoma since the 1970s. What are some of the most remarkable changes that you have witnessed in the region and in the business as a whole?

ARROWOOD: The proliferation of small, family owned wineries is a newer and positive trend. California now has thousands of wineries producing less than 10,000 cases of wine annually. This is very normal in Europe but now it is becoming commonplace in USA. On the flip-side, a lot of consolidation and acquisition is going on as well. I have personal experience with that. Another growing trend is that there is more homework being done on matching grapes to soils and temperatures, which is a good development. It is now infrequent that we see Pinot being planted in hot zones and Cabernet being grown in areas that are too cool. The marketplace has changed for the better but it is still a business, and there is still a lot of work to be done.

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