Sabrine Rodems had had enough. For 10 years she had worked through the night, standing for hours on end; lifting, hauling, building, dismantling; listening for cues, and accounting for every person, every moment, every note. Wearing all black, with a tool belt slung round her hips and a headset cued into the technical director, the theater grad from UCLA had devoted her nights, her focus and her energy to her crucial role as a stage hand for the San Francisco Opera.
Maybe it was the night she survived a five-hour Wagnerian opera with acute appendicitis. Or maybe it was just time to move on. She considered med school, but her sister, already a doctor, said, “We don’t need another doctor in the family; we need an enologist.”
Attracted to the tradition of sitting down with family and friends to a good meal and a great glass of wine, Rodems was intrigued by the idea of making wine; of pairing art and science in a way that helps people gather, connect, create memories. So she enrolled in the graduate program in viticulture and enology at UC Davis. In 2004, she graduated with her Master’s degree and a job waiting for her as winemaker for Wrath Wines.
“I loved being a science student and a couple of professors tried to talk me into getting my PhD,” says Rodems, “but I wanted to go out and make wine. UC Davis has a listing for jobs, where I found Wrath Winery in Soledad was looking for an assistant winemaker. Monterey or the Central Coast was where I was looking. I didn’t want to fight the fight in Napa and Sonoma, where you have to wait for someone to die to get a good job. It’s not my cup of tea.”
Established as San Saba in 1975, when the California wine industry was gathering momentum, Wrath Wines was purchased by the Thomas family in 2007. Wine Director Michael Thomas, who co-owns the winery and works closely with his mother Barbara, has worked for the past seven years to significantly improve the estate’s wine and viticulture.
A graduate of Duke University, Michael later received a Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Texas at Austin. He has lived in Rome and has excavated in Italy for nearly 20 years. He runs two archeological digs in Italy: a Roman site near Pompeii and an Etruscan site northeast of Florence. This summer he’s on a three-month excavation in Italy.
“Michael Thomas and I have the same style and agree on almost everything,” says Rodems. “He gives me a lot of autonomy and lets me do my own thing, which is important because we do a lot of experimentation here. That’s key. We still have a pretty young vineyard, and we’re always reassessing our own assumptions about everything, particularly as we’re still developing. It’s fun to see if we’re right.”
Every year the winery picks five experiments and three or four make it. By waiting to see what things look like in the vineyard, without prejudging varietals or clones, but recognizing they can’t keep treating them the same, year after year, the winery continues to grow, along with the vineyard.
“At UC Davis, Emeritus Professor of Enology Dr. Vernon Singleton used to show up at our seminars,” says Rodems. “We’d tell him how much we appreciated that he’d come and he’d say, ‘I want to make sure I was right.’ We never debunked anything he’d figured out. That’s how I feel about the vineyard. I want to make sure, year after year, that I’m still right in my assumptions.”
Wrath Wines produces primarily Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc from their estate vineyard and other respected properties in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
When first developing the winery, Wrath opened a tasting room on River Road in the Salinas Valley to give guests the experience of tasting wines close to where the grapes are grown. Believing some people might not have the time to drive 45 minutes out into the valley, two years ago, they opened a second tasting room at the Carmel Plaza in Carmel-by-the-Sea to make Wrath Wines more accessible to everyone.
“Actually, after opening the Carmel location, we experienced very little drop in attendance at the River Road tasting room,” says Claire Marlin, managing director of Wrath Wines. “Which tells us we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing to reach our market. With our Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc, we have something for everyone, unless you’re looking for cabernets. So many people come in and say, ‘Give me your biggest Cab.’ Well, we’re in Monterey County, so if you’re looking for flavor, you’ve got to try our Syrah.”
Carmel Plaza Tasting Room: Ocean & Mission, Carmel-by-the-Sea
Mon-Sat 11am to 6pm and Sun 11am to 5pm
River Road Winery and Tasting Room: 35801 Foothill at River Road, Soledad
Fri-Mon 11am to 5pm
A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa is also a free-lance writer, who specializes in the genres of art & architecture, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published various books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.