We are grateful to have been a featured story in the Wine Write. We were lucky enough to be part of an interview with the team at Wine Write who interviewed Winemaker Alex Bowman and Katie Bowman. Below is the following interview from September 25, 2020.
The Wine Write: Alex, tell me about your start in winemaking.
Alex: It goes back to my teenage years. I started making wine with my dad. We have a small patch of Sauvignon Blanc on our property, enough to produce about twenty cases a year. Dad made it to hand out to family and friends. As I got older, that became my yearly project. I started developing a knack for it. I made other varietals, too. I began to enter my wine into our local harvest fairs. They’re pretty competitive, even on the amateur level. I won some gold medals and was having fun with it. In 2013, we won Best of Class in the white wine division. That’s when Katie and I decided to do wine on a professional level. I had always fantasized about making wine as a business. Katie had the drive and ambition to push for it.
The Wine Write: Did you have a sense of how the industry works at that point?
Alex: When I got out of high school, I started in the trades. I became an electrician. I was working for my dad’s company. I spent many a day in various wineries, wiring tasting rooms and getting equipment ready for harvest. I got a real feel for the industry. I thought it was almost romantic in a sense. I liked the idea of getting into the business. I gave up the dream of one day taking over my father’s company when we started Bowman Cellars full steam. 2015 was the first year releasing our label.The Wine Write: Alex, your family is well grounded in farming, right?
Alex: Right. Our farming history goes back to the late 1800s. Five generations ago, Ed Bowman left his family’s Missouri farm on horseback at age seventeen. He came out to California’s Central Valley. He thought the area was God’s Country in terms of farming.
He went back to Missouri for a spell, but returned to California in about 1901. He was married and had a child by then. He started farming in the San Joaquin Valley. He was a pretty shrewd businessman. He wound up with a ten thousand acre ranch. We’re not certain what all he was farming, but we do know he was growing some grapes. Eventually that ranch was sold and some fortunes were squandered. We came full circle when my dad got our family back into farming. We own a ranch in the Sierra Foothills. We grow Zinfandel on that property.
The Wine Write: Is Bowman Wine Cellars a family business?
Katie: Absolutely. I’m behind the design of the labels and the branding and marketing aspect of the business. Alex’s aunt is also involved. She had worked for Frog’s Leap as a national sales director for about twenty years. We also have a relative involved with winemaking in Napa Valley who’s a good resource for us. So we have some good family support. We also have a lot of friends who are farmers in Sonoma County. We source fruit from several of them.
The Wine Write: How did you decide what varietals to make?
Alex: For the most part, we make what we like to drink. We knew Chardonnay would be a staple. We also thought we needed a Pinot Noir, since we’re in the Russian River Valley. Both of those were musts. No pun intended. I made the Cabernet after sourcing fruit from a farmer in Cloverdale. He had thirty-five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and was looking to get rid of some tonnage. I had done an electrical job for him. We swapped out trade work for fruit.
The Wine Write: Alex, did you learn winemaking on the job, or did you take any winemaking courses?
Alex: I did take some courses at Sonoma State University…not for a degree in anything, but just to learn. I’ve also taken some business classes there.
The Wine Write: Did you have any mentors?
Alex: My brother-in-law is a winemaker in Napa. He’s been a big help. I’ve helped him some at harvest. He was able to walk me through the process. That helped me a lot, since the decisions you make doing large production are a lot different than those you make when you’re producing twenty cases. It’s nice to have someone to call if you’re stuck with a problem.
The Wine Write: Where are you sourcing fruit?
Alex: It’s coming from private growers in Sonoma County. Our Chardonnay was a pretty cool deal. I did an electrical job for a French woman here. Initially she was vague about what she did, but I learned that she was once the winemaker at Opus One. She had left that job and bought a fifteen acre farm. She’s now growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. She was a wealth of knowledge. She showed tremendous attention to detail. She was able to walk me through what all the microclimates meant to the taste of her fruit… down to the effect that a tree shading an aspect of one block of the vineyard has on the grapes. Her vineyard has some beautiful south-facing vines right in the heart of the Russian River Valley.
The Wine Write: What’s your vision for Bowman Cellars?
Katie: We’re starting out small. We made about three hundred cases our first vintage. We’re trying to grow organically. We do appointment-only tastings here on the property. Down the line, we’d like to have a tasting room.
The Wine Write: Do you have a winemaking style?
Alex: I want to make an easy to drink wine. I like a Cabernet that you can drink on a summer day. I don’t want the wine to overwhelm you in any one facet or another. I prefer a 100% barrel-fermented Chardonnay. I do a combination of French and American oak, mostly neutral oak. For our Pinot, our aging is done in 100% French oak. In the last two or three months before bottling, I introduce about 25% new American oak. People like the vanilla spice finish that treatment provides.
The Wine Write: How cool was it to get some ink in Wine Spectator recently?
Alex: We were mentioned as a recommendation for California Cabernets. There were about a dozen wineries listed. The writer noted that ours was a very agreeable style…not overly tannic, but with a nice touch of oak. The mention was helpful. It helped move some wine. I think the article legitimized that wine to some people. Sales jumped immensely.
Katie: It was amazing! It was very exciting. We were unaware of the article until someone called and told us. What?! And Alex is right, we are selling more Cab now. We were recently in Nashville doing a private tasting. People there were buying cases of it because they’d seen it written up in Wine Spectator.
The Wine Write: Do you plan to keep the lineup at Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon?
Katie: We may introduce another white, probably a Sauvignon Blanc.
Alex: Yeah, I need to go back to my Sauvignon Blanc roots. The problem we have is that we don’t grow enough of it on our property to produce a commercial wine. I’ve yet to find a farmer who grows it in the same style we do. We like a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc. It gives you more of that classic New Zealand flavor profile. Otherwise, the lineup will stay the same. And we have good relationships with our farmers, so we should be able to maintain some consistency.
The Wine Write: What new and exciting stuff is coming up at Bowman Cellars?
Alex: Our 2016 Chardonnay is just being released. We have about one hundred seventy-five cases of it. It has some oak. It has a creamy texture. Some people might call it buttery. It’s a very rich Chardonnay. We think it will be popular.