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To the Lighthouse: September 2005

Scott Doughty of Point Reyes Vineyards says that Marin winemaking is in its infancy compared to its brothers and sisters Napa and Sonoma. Certainly before Prohibition there was a fair amount, but Prohibition changed many fortunes. Meanwhile almost three million people visit Point Reyes National Seashore every year, making it one of the most popular natural attractions in California. A lucky few of these many visitors also learn of Marin’s winemaking renaissance through the hospitality of a little winery on Highway One.

The story begins with Scott’s stepmother, Sharon Mendoza Doughty. As a third generation dairy person she has owned and operated ranches north of Point Reyes Station and out on the road to the famous lighthouse. When her first husband passed away, she decided to make a go of it. “I idolize her,” Scott says, “She does the work, knows the numbers and is a lady.”

She went to business college, married Scott’s father Steve Doughty and purchased their inland ranch of 800 acres after the sale of the lighthouse property to the federal government. The new ranch included the building where Firelight Candles was started which they have since turned into a Bed & Breakfast.

They decided to plant grapes, first and foremost to raise the value of the land. There was at one time talk of the government buying more land in the area, and Steve figured the land would have a higher value planted to grapes than as grazing pasture. “Dad wanted to diversify and has also loved wine,” Scott says. They decided on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to fit the cool and foggy climate, and Steve planted two acres back in 1990.

A little space was carved out to make a small tasting room that has since expanded. “Lots of folks are into agritourism,” Scott explains. We take them on tours of the dairy, through the vineyards and winery. Some just enjoy sitting on the porch overlooking the foggy wetlands, watching the egrets and other waterfowl, and enjoying a breakfast of local products.

Scott started helping his father in the vineyard; he had always loved gardening as a kid. One day his father was watching him in the vineyard, and asked, “What are you so happy about?” Scott knew he had the wine bug. Everyone agreed and Scott’s wife encouraged him too, saying “you’re not happy in your work; construction just pays the bills.”

So Scott enrolled in the Viticulture Program at the Santa Rosa Junior College, taking 20 units each semester so he could finish the two-year Certificate in one year. He credits Rich Thomas with helping him to streamline the process. Scott said that he wasn’t a good student in high school, yet at the Junior College he made the Dean’s List. The practical aspects of the program on the Shone Farm really “set the hook,” as Scott says.

Rich hooked him up with Fred Peterson who was a Vineyard Manager with Hambrecht Vineyards at that time. They were making small batches of wine to show the quality of their fruit. Fred told Scott, “I have nothing for you. You can be temporary, seasonal fruit sampler.” Yet Scott hung in there and got more and more jobs and tasks in the cellar. “It was a valuable experience,” he says, “I learned that you can do it on a shoestring since ‘less is more’ in winemaking. I can make it in the bathtub!”

Eventually Scott was managing the vineyards for Bradford Mountain, working with Richard Mansfield. On the weekends he would help his Dad make wine at Point Reyes.

In his wine business classes at the Junior College Scott learned about brand building and put that to use in the family business. “People know Point Reyes,” he told me, “and they know the lighthouse. We etched that logo into their minds,” speaking of the lighthouse on their label. Scott’s father said that even if we sold a bottle to every 1000th visitor, we couldn’t keep up.

Four years ago, in 2001 he took the plunge and the pay cut to work fulltime on the family business. It allowed his father to transition from much of the physical work to more of the schmoozing in the tasting room, which Scott says he does so well. “He loves to talk to the people and tell the story,” Scott says proudly.

There’s a good synergy between the Bed & Breakfast and the winery; the Inn’s customers buy wine and customers in the tasting room get to peak into the B&B when it’s not full. Most of their marketing is word of mouth.

Production is still quite small at 1000-1500 cases of sparkling. In some years they make still wine from a portion of the Pinot Noir. In 2000 it was just one barrel. In 2002, he and his dad agreed to “roll the bones” and go for a still Pinot again, putting up the bird netting. His stepmother prefers to stick by the sparkling production that is more of a sure thing as the grapes are harvested early. Their gamble was rewarded however and the grapes got ripe enough to pick on November 11.

They have a wine club where members get first crack at the new releases. 90% of their sales are made in the tasting room. Scott says they can’t afford the big cuts from the three-tier system. Though lots of restaurants want to sell their sparkling, Point Reyes limits their discounts to 15% off retail for the restaurants that resell their wine. Their strategy has worked, preserving their profitability and developing close relationships with a few key restaurants, mostly in the Point Reyes area.

They have only five acres planted on their estate. Yields are merely one ton per acre. He says they couldn’t make it as growers and benefit by converting their crop to something with added value.

Scott doesn’t want to grow over three to five thousand cases per year. He prefers not to get any bigger than what they can do themselves. Friends and family help with the bottling. “My kids actually know what their daddy does,” Scott says proudly. It’s a tight-knit operation, where his father, stepmother, wife and children all play a part.

Since 1996 they have also made Cabernet from a 35-year-old vineyard in a hot spot in Terre Linda, called Quail Hill.

Their 1992 North Coast Late Disgorged Sparkling Brut, $40 won Gold Best of Class at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Scott says, “I was living in a dream for months after that. We were beaming the whole day at the tasting at Fort Mason.” Scott and I tasted this bubbly and it truly is spectacular, with fresh apple flavors and good acidity. The ten years en triage developed biscuit notes and a creamy mouthfeel.

Scott also makes a show-stopping dessert Viognier. The 2001 Late Harvest Viognier, $17 for a 375ml bottle, is brimming with ripe peaches and dried apricots. You get a sense of caramel and sweetness without being cloying. Very fresh! Scott calls it the “sweet tooth satisfier.”

Point Reyes Vineyards is located just a few miles up Highway 1 from Point Reyes Station. They’re typically open Friday through Monday, and just on the weekends in the winter, as well as some holidays. Stop by to enjoy the wine and the hospitality on your next trip to the lighthouse.


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