Terre Rouge & Easton Wines Shenandoah Valley, California
Bill Easton and Jane O'Riordan didn't just start a winery in the mid-'80s, they helped start a whole new trend, introducing Rhône varietals to California. "The whole Rhône idea was way out in another galaxy at that time," remembers Bill, who planted the French grapes southeast of Sacramento in the Sierra Foothills, where Zinfandel was king.
Today their Terre Rouge is a top producer of California Rhônes, including Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier, while their Easton label turns out Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. And Bill and Jane are living the life they knew from an early age they always wanted.
"Wine was my passion as a kid," says Bill, whose "hipster" parents were into jazz and good wine and prepared him well for the wine life. "In high school, while the other kids were bringing Boone's Farm to parties, I always had a good bottle of Zinfandel." At one such party in college he met Jane, who took one look at his long ponytail and bushy beard and thought he might be for her.
Both creative types, Jane tried her hand at carpentry, architecture school, and art museums, while Bill went straight to work for a winery in Sonoma. He eventually opened an innovative retail shop called Solano Cellars Fine Wine Merchants in the Bay Area, where he imported wines from around the world. In 1987, they opened a bistro (where Jane honed her chef skills), leased some land, and began making wine. On a buying trip to the Rhône, "the light bulb went on," says Bill. The soil and climate were very similar to the Shenandoah Valley, so why not grow Rhône varietals there?
Nowadays, Bill is the chief winemaker, but also spends a lot of time on the road maintaining a wide net of distribution for the 20,000 cases the vineyards produce annually. Jane is the CFO of the 150-acre winery and full-time mother of their 14-year-old son. "It's the best of both worlds," she says. "We live in a rural town that's a good place to raise a family. And we get our road fix and food fix when we travel for the business."
They make a good living, too, but that's not their prime focus. "We're not in it to make a lot of money," says Bill. "We're just in it to have a good time."