> Solune
> Vision
> Background

> Milestones:

   - Pre 1995

   - 1995 - 1998

   - 1998 - 2001

   - 2001 - 2004

   - 2004 - Today  

> Responsible Tasting

Milestones

Pre 1995:  The Canada Years

For Jacques, the wine adventure all started a couple of decades ago in Ottawa, with one of these 2-hr tasting seminars, attended more to please some friends than by real interest.  Wine had always been in the fabric of his French Canadian family background as he was growing up, but for him it was just part of the landscape, nothing more.  That tasting seminar, besides demonstrating how much better premium wines could be, intrigued him about why some wines taste so much better than others.  The first thing the wine instructor said to people attending was that they were taking this seminar at their own risk because the increased discrimination they were about to gain would mean was that their wine bill would most likely increase appreciably, and he was right.   
The curiosity spark was struck and he signed up for a full-fledged 200 hrs wine sommelier diploma program to explore all facets of wine tasting.  A few years later, after graduation, he started consulting on the side (still had to hold on to this day job - higher wine bills to pay!) with restaurants, to put their wine list together.  Curiosity eventually got the best of him again and he bought a winemaking  kit (carboy, siphon, concentrate, yeast, etc.), combining his knowledge for the finished product and his technical background to peel off another layer of wine understanding.  

Despite the fact that the wine (a Riesling concentrate kit) oxidized with disconcerting speed (no mention of sulfite in the instructions!), he was hooked, started to read about this subject voraciously and eventually joined three winemaking clubs (Canada, and Ontario in particular, has a thriving non-commercial winemaking community), indulged his natural penchant for experimentation, and started to submit wines to local regional, national and international competitions, with increasing success.

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1995-1998:  The Texas Years

This drive culminated in a "Best-of-Show" award and a handful of gold and silver medals at the prestigious American Wine Society Annual Competition in 1995, shortly after Jacques moved to Texas to follow a day-job career opportunity.  That accomplishment was really the turning point where the idea of winemaking as a second career started to develop.  In parallel, to gain further sensory analytical skills, he entered and eventually graduated from the well-regarded 3-year wine judge program given by the American Wine Society.

While in Texas, Jacques got to know some grape growers and continued to make wine.  The growing conditions in Texas can be quite challenging (vines shut down in temperatures above 100°F, thereby slowing down ripening).  So, like many Texas winemakers, he had to step up his winemaking technique to compensate.

Since he missed the winemaking clubs from Ottawa, he started one in the DFW area called the WineNose (still active to this day).  He also judged at the Lone Star Wine competitions and started to give talks on sensory wine appraisal to the amateur and commercial winemaking community.  In addition, he was one of the founders of the Wine Society of Texas, now a thriving wine organization with eight chapters across the state.

Summarizing Jacques' Texas experience is very simple:  Wonderfully friendly, gregarious and hospitable people!  And, in particular, a certain Andrea, who he met not too long before he had to move to California, landing in Silicon Valley, to follow another day-job career opportunity (and getting closer to major wine regions). 

The thread linking Jacques and Andrea's paths was unbelievably wispy.  They each had a part Akita mixed breed dog and decided to attend the same dog show to see in person what pure bred Akita were like and there they met !  Andrea eventually joined him in California not too long after Jacques moved, taking up a position with one of the big accounting firms. And yes, the dogs are still with them.

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1998-2001:  The Early California Years

The first thing Jacques did in California was to establish the wine judging credentials required to judge in California's major wine competitions, eventually judging at many county fairs as well as the CA State Fair.  He also kept on honing his winemaking skills, taking full advantage of the proximity of many top notch grape sources, a complete novelty for him. And again, not finding any winemaking clubs in the area (surprising for California, considering that in Ottawa alone there was a dozen of them) he started one called the BAWA (Bay Area Wine Association) and which is still very active today.

During the first few years in California, Andrea and Jacques roamed the numerous mountain hiking trails, ski centers, sailing and scuba diving areas, and wine regions.  Their quest gradually changed from finding good wines to finding an area to eventually purchase a property to start a winery and which would be weekend driving distance from Silicon Valley (that day job again!).

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2001-2004:  The Early Sierra Foothills Years

After a few years of looking around, on their way back from a ski trip in the Lake Tahoe area, they decided to swing by Nevada City and Grass Valley to see first hand what the fuss about this area was, having heard so many time "it's just beautiful up there!".  Immediately it felt like home and before long they had contacted an agent to find a winery-compatible property.  After looking at various small properties, they chanced onto a gorgeous 15 acre property not yet on the market which had a great house, a nice barn and... a small 3 acre vineyard, with another 7 acres plantable.

Owning and operating a vineyard had not been in the plan up to then but the property was so perfect!  Since grapes are required to make wine anyway, it was in line with the general direction they were taking.  Hamercier Vineyards was born.  They then took just about every vineyard-related courses offered by nearby UC Davis and hired a vineyard consultant to guide them in the right direction.  First major decision was to rip out the existing vines (own-rooted Chardonnay) to replace them, in 2002, with phylloxera-resistant rooted vines.  Rather than just plant what everybody else was planting, many varieties and clones were planted to find out first hand which ones grew best in their particular vineyard

From the time this property was acquired, it was a pretty natural decision for Andrea to take charge of the vineyard operations and for Jacques to assume winemaking responsibilities. A couple years of weekend commuting between the south Bay Area and Grass Valley then followed.

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2004-TodayThe Solune Years

Eventually, it became apparent that full time residency was needed to get over the start-up hump if Solune was ever going to get off the ground.  So Jacques left his day-job in 2004 and moved to Grass Valley to dedicate himself fully to this project while Andrea accepted a position with one of the main accounting firms in the area. 

This move also allowed Jacques to expand his judging to international wine competitions (Spain, France, Switzerland, Argentina, Canada, etc.), giving him unique and intimate exposure to top foreign wines but also to share notes/secrets with leading winemakers and wine experts from many countries also judging at these competitions, often culminating with in-depth visits to their wine facilities. Overall, the judging experience has been providing him with a great opportunity to develop not only an excellent Californian, but a world-wide resource network and has been invaluable in developing a unique winemaking philosophy and wine style for Solune.

Solune's first off-site crush was in 2003, using a nearby bonded custom crush facility.  After outfitting the barn for winemaking, the first on-site bonded crush was in 2004, using top quality grapes from some of the best growers in the foothills and some grapes from their own maturing vineyard, totaling 12 tons and involving 9 grape varieties.  In 2005, the crush size increased to 22 tons.  Eventually the plan is to crush about 50 tons, half being estate grapes from Solune's expanding Hamercier vineyard and the other half coming from purchased grapes, resulting in a production of about 3000 cases.  This 50-50 mix will provide the flexibility required to deal with fluctuations in their vineyard's crop size, at the mercy of Mother Nature (mostly late spring frost dangers), while providing the opportunity to experiment with (and adopt) varieties not grown in their own vineyard.

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