Guthrie Family Wines: Nature, Science, Creativity

Blair giving a tour of the Farina Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain where his sources his Chardonnay.

Blair giving a tour of the Farina Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain where his sources his Chardonnay.

Blair Guthrie is an artist at heart, but before wine was his canvas—before he even learned the difference between Pinot and Petite Sirah—he was a graphic designer. He had grown up surrounded by vineyards on New Zealand’s South Island, but had no real connection to it (back then he was ‘a beer and gin guy’). But like so many artists, Blair gets bored easily, and so after a few years behind a desk doing graphic design, he was looking for a new creative outlet. It was his mother who suggested he take a winemaking course and, thankfully, he listened.

A month in, Blair knew that he loved it, “It’s science, it’s nature, it’s creativity—it’s this whole awesome mix. It was just perfect for me.” He also realized that he had a naturally good nose and palate. While others might struggle to articulate what color fruit they’re smelling, Blair could easily sift through the layers of flavors and identify exactly what he was picking up in a wine. Through tasting, he began to appreciate the nuances of wine and how much effort goes into each and every bottle.

Blair finished his course at the top of his class and, like many new winemakers, planned to hop from one harvest to the next, to gain as much experience as possible. He started with an internship in Australia and followed it immediately with a stint in Sebastapol, Sonoma where he met and began to fall in love with Caroline Stewart, a fellow intern.

Their romance outlasted both harvest and term of Blair’s US work visa, so Blair had to head back to Australia. Fortunately, however, their separation didn’t last long. An intern at Blair’s winery suddenly dropped out and they found themselves short staffed. Caroline was on a plane to Australia less than a week later, and for the next few years, the pair bounced back and forth between hemispheres until they found a more permanent solution to the visa issues and settled in Sonoma.

After a few more years of making wine alongside industry veterans at well known wineries, Blair and Caroline established their own label in 2013: Guthrie Family Wines. For the project, they source fruit both from a Napa vineyard that they farm themselves, and a carefully selected site in the Farina Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.

Handpicked, foot stomped, and fermented by native yeasts, Blair makes his wines in a traditional, relatively non-interventionist style. Counter to the industry’s trend towards increasingly formulaic winemaking (and resulting bulk-produced, homogenized wines), Blair prefers to constantly taste his wines as they develop and let them tell him what they need. “It’s all about expressing that vineyard, and expressing the year that I made it. I don’t want my wines to ever be the same,” he explained. And, so far, this semi-improvisational method of winemaking is producing excellent results—wines with layers of flavors, that are soft on the palate with pleasing acidity.

Shannon Westfall