Deovlet Wines: Meet the Winemaker

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“Either give me wine or leave me alone.” That’s the Rumi quote that most wine lovers are familiar with, but let me acquaint you with another: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”

For Ryan Deovlet, that pull was toward winemaking—but it took him a while to feel it. Born and raised in California, Ryan had no aspirations to work in the wine industry. It took a shoulder injury, a cup of coffee, and a chance encounter to set him on his path toward wine.

Ryan’s first passion was baseball. A strong first baseman with a serious swing, Ryan was actively being scouted for the major leagues when his shoulder gave out. Poof, there went his dream and life plan. A less resilient person would have floundered, despairing over what might have been, but Ryan coped by finding another way to stay close to the game he loved. [Cue Cuba Gooding Jr. shouting “Show me the money”] Ryan made a plan to study law and become a sports agent.

But fate doesn’t like plans, and while in college, Ryan found himself in a wanderlust state of mind.  He took a trip to visit his cousin, who was living on a coffee plantation in Kona, Hawaii. The two spent days deep-sea fishing and after a particularly long one, looking for a pick me up, Ryan had a cup of coffee. Grown and roasted on the very property where Ryan stood, that was the best cup of coffee he had ever had and it opened his eyes to what a farm-to-table beverage could be.

The experience stuck with him, and back at school for his final year, Ryan couldn't shake the feeling that he wasn’t quite ready to jump into law school—that he wasn't done traveling yet. So when he met a girl at his campus pub who told him about a program called “Willing Workers on Organic Farms,” he couldn’t sign up fast enough.

The WWOOF program connects individuals with organic farms where, in exchange for 6 hours of work a day, they get room and board, and the freedom to explore.

Ryan’s new acquaintance left him with a book listing all participating farms in Australia and, with newfound appreciation for farm-to-table beverages, he noted all the vineyard (there were no coffee plantations) and booked a one way plane ticket.

Shortly after his graduation, Ryan started working at a winery in Australia’s Hunter Valley. He describes his first two weeks as “absolutely brutal.” He was in the vineyard everyday doing the hard manual labor that gets left out of romanticized winemaking montages. But Ryan loved it. Both in the vineyard and the winery, he sponged up knowledge from those around him. No detail was too small, he wanted to know everything about winegrowing and winemaking. When he had learned all he could from one job he bounced to the next.

Ryan went from Hunter Valley to Yarra Valley, and then the Mornington Peninsula to work harvest. After Australia, he spent the winter pruning vineyards in New Zealand’s Central Otago and Hawkes Bay. Less than a year in, Ryan knew that winemaking was what he loved—and its pull was strong.

He returned to California in 2005 and spent the next three years working with legendary winemakers, starting with Stephen Dooley, owner and winemaker of Stephen Ross Wine Cellars. Next, he worked with David Ramey, then consulting winemaker at Red Car Wine Company.  Finally, he briefly returned to the Southern hemisphere to work with renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs on his Villa Cobos project in Mendoza, Argentina.

With every harvest, Ryan honed his skills and people began to take notice. When he returned to California yet again, he had multiple offers for winemaker positions. He moved forward with several of the projects and, in 2008, founded Deovlet Wines making just 100 cases of wine. Now, pushing 2,000 cases a year, Deovlet has established a reputation for making exceptional wines from some of the most coveted vineyards on California’s central coast.

“I love to be a foot in the Old World and a foot in the New World. I like wines that have great acidity and are more food wines. I prefer nuance and restraint to power and concentration—and yet, at the same time, I want to make sure I’m giving a kiss of sunshine to the fruit because this is Santa Barbara County after all.”
- Ryan Deovlet