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Burford & Brown: August 2005

Peter Burford has built his winemaking career on both sides of the equator. In Australia he studied at Roseworthy Agricultural College, part of the University of Adelaide and worked at industry icon d’Arenberg in the McLaren Vale. From there he went north to California, joining the winemaking teams at Alexander Valley Vineyards and Renwood in the Sierra Foothills. After that he returned south to become General Manager/Winemaker at one of Asia's largest wineries, the Chateau de Loei in North Eastern Thailand. Today he makes his home and livelihood right here in Sonoma County.

With a good friend he established Burford & Brown, which has been building in size and success over the last three years. He’s since bought out his partner leaving only the Burford in Burford & Brown.

Over the past year I’ve tasted some stunning wines from Burford & Brown, including a Barbera and opulently fruity Zinfandel. The 2004 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $12-$14, will soon be released. It has 10% Sauvignon Blanc to punch up the tropical fruit flavors. Peter is a master at working the alcohol levels in a given wine, always searching for what he calls ‘the sweet spot’. After a number of trials, he found it at 14.6% and reduced the alcohol from 15.4%. With a pH of 3.2, the wine is crisp and refreshing. This wine will have a proprietary label, called Lady Grace after Peter’s mother.

There’s a soon to be released Cabernet-Shiraz blend and twenty tons of Amador Zinfandel are on order for this harvest. The fruit is from a young vineyard that was established with cuttings from the famous Grand Pere vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley.

With Sauvignon Blanc, Peter is planning to grow to 5000 cases made from North Coast appellation grapes, blending fruit in the 2005 vintage from Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma’s Dry Creek. From a business perspective, Peter calls Sauvignon Blanc a cash cow in the portfolio. The upcoming harvest should be bottled by the end of November.

He’s also planning to make a few hundred cases of the Portuguese grape Verdelho sourced from Lodi. He utilizes fruit from many vineyards, working with growers throughout northern California. He has to remain flexible as the market and supplies change. For example, he says that “after Sideways, bulk Pinot from the Napa Valley went from $1.50 per gallon to $10 per gallon.”
While developing his brand in his spare time, he’s been working full-time at Vinovation for the last 5 years. He’s incredibly loyal to the company and describes his time there as great, allowing him marketing access and the opportunity to build his brand while working on the many projects that Vinovation does for its wine industry clients.

“More and more people are doing RO, ”Peter says, speaking of reverse osmosis. Vinovation’s website describes reverse osmosis as:

…A type of filtration. Depending on what the winemaker desires to accomplish…the result may be a wine with the same volume and constituents except that a specific element has been reduced, enhancing the perception of desirable flavors. All R.O. applications seek to remove ‘surgically’ a low-molecular-weight constituent of the wine with as little change in the rest of the wine's composition as possible. Current commercial uses include volatile acidity reduction, alcohol adjustment, and juice concentration for rainwater removal.

Peter says, “the process can produce a wine that is complete, adding that up in the 15% alcohol range, you can lose some things, like aging time and compatibility with food. The idea is to hit the sweet spot; nailing it makes the wine better”. Even if the practice is still relatively secret in the wider world of wine consumption, many feel it’s a good secret and the public gets better wines.

“The process provides a tool,” Peter says, adding that it’s a tool that more wineries are using, especially those producing high-priced, prestigious wines, and those scoring over 90 points in the Wine Spectator.” Peter says that at least 80% of the wineries in California have spoken with the staff at Vinovation to explore their services adding, “more people are letting their fruit hang longer, so there’s more of a need to decrease alcohol and Vinovation is well-placed to serve that need.”

Besides services to the wine industry, Vinovation also crushes about 50 tons of grapes each year, between co-owner Clark Smith’s wines, Peter’s and some other brands.

Peter has tagged along with Clark Smith’s Cheap Skate brand on the East Coast. Grape Craft Wine Marketing, owned by Clark’s wife, has been selling these local brands and others in the New York area, building their identity.

Peter has also seen great success with wine clubs, like Geerlings & Wade started by Guy Davis of Davis Family Vineyards. The International Wine Club of the Month is another amongst about thirty such clubs out there. Sometimes they are booked out six to seven months. He send samples, first the current wines available and then the new releases. “It’s a great outlet and they’re reliable to pay,” says Peter.

Peter is also involved in other custom projects, such as working with a San Francisco brewery and restaurant to produce a private label for them to serve and sell. Peter has proven that it’s not necessary to build the winery first. Like many other successful entrepreneurs in the wine business, he has painstakingly built a brand through hard work and key relationships. You can visit Burford & Brown online at www.burfordandbrown.com.


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