There are few more admirable things in life than a man who puts his passion first and foremost, and will compromise nothing in its pursuit. For Josh Ruiz, Salinas born and raised, that passion is farming. Farming grapes and producing wine from a special piece of dirt in Lodi owned by the Schmiedt family has become the fuel that keeps him stoked. Having a tasting room in Carmel Valley in a former art gallery gave him an appreciation for how much the general public enjoys wine tasting with a story.
Twisted Roots has a good story indeed: one that is 100 years old this year. In 1918, the Schmiedt family first planted wine grapes in the Lodi vineyard that would become a primary source for Twisted Roots wines. Through the agonies of Prohibition, the family sold grapes for altar wine and added other crops. Gust Schmiedt tended the vineyards through the 1960s when his son Ross took over. New plantings of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah were added, but that 4-acre plot of gnarled old Zinfandel vines remained.
The Twisted Roots wine label began with a Petite Sirah in 2005 produced by the late Ross Schmiedt, who happens to be Josh’s wife Julie’s uncle. While they only made a humble 45 cases that first year, the game was on. By 2007, Josh had partnered with Ross and Julie’s dad Mike Hodge and the brand was producing enough wine to sell commercially. By 2009, Ruiz was selling wine out of the back of his car, while working a day job as production manager with Tanimura & Antle. By 2014, they had a tasting room inside the Lyonshead Gallery in Carmel Valley.
Fast forward to 2017, their biggest year yet: they released 1,000 cases of four varietals, including 2013 Petite Sirah, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 Chardonnay and their signature “1918” Old Vine Zinfandel. The story suddenly had many chapters.
Ruiz is determined to add another exciting chapter to that story. Last December, they purchased the building where the tasting room had been and began demolition. A whole new open and airy tasting room will come to life as soon as permits are sorted. The remodel will take them from a tiny 100 sq. ft. indoor space to well over 1,700 sq. ft. Along with the 1,400 sq. ft. outdoor patio space, they will now have a proper setup to accommodate the kind of traffic they experience when they hold their club releases and concerts.
Plus—and it’s a great big plus—they will have a private room in the back complete with a fully operational commercial kitchen. They plan to hold offer their club special tastings there and will make what he calls the “1918 Room” available for other events as well.
Says Ruiz, “We have lots of car clubs and the like that want to do seated tastings. Now we can offer that.”
The overall vision for the new space is to make people feel like they are indoors and outdoors at the same time. Ruiz says he told the designer he wanted a place that felt casual enough that he and any other farmers would feel at home walking in wearing jeans and boots.
The tasting room floor will be wide planks of wood, while the floor in the private room, which will have as its focal point a table made of recycled barn wood, will remain painted concrete. A 14-foot tasting bar will have a wood top and tile base, and big glass bulbs will provide illumination to augment the natural light cascading from the 10 skylights they uncovered during demolition. They also discovered a beautiful wall made of river rock that had been hidden by art.
Behind the tasting bar, a wall of hydraulically operated windows will allow servers at the tasting bar to wait on customers out on the patio as easily as they can those on the inside.
Ruiz is sourcing much of the wood from a partner’s cattle ranch in Chualar where there are many old barns. Old grapevines from the original 1918 planting will adorn the walls and one is being transformed into a chandelier for the front tasting room. A more formal chandelier will be acquired for the private room.
If all goes well, the plan is to open in March. Several events are in the works to mark the 100th anniversary of the vineyard, culminating in an October 5 grand finale. Ruiz made special Jeroboams of the Old Vine Zin and magnums of sparkling as well to toast 100 years of perseverance and the tenacity of twisted roots.
Twisted Roots • 12 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley • 831.594.8282
Open noon – 5pm • Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.