Home sweet Homewood
Down-home David makes a mean cab franc just past the auto-body shop
and then hopefully find a lot of people to agree with us.”
David Homewood is as unlikely to mince his words as he is his wine.
Tall as an ear of field corn, shrug-shouldered, soft-spoken with strangers, he sifts through the contents of his personal history with a wry smile.
“I was just another guy with a garage,” he deflects with an aw-shucks laugh, when asked how he got into wine. It’s been 25 years since his first vintage, 20 since he renounced the daily grind as an insurance adjuster and staked his bread and butter squarely on grapes.
We sit opposite each other at a large picnic table—on this day, one of the winery's few stationary features, moored in a dry sea of surfaces punched flat by Carneros wind.
“Give this 10 minutes and see what it does,” he says, pouring me a glass of his 2006 Albini Vineyard Cab Franc. “It's a younger wine and it comes up nicely.”
I taste, and it buzzes like a radiator on the tongue, a herbaceous siren of spice and black cherry with enough pomegranate on the finish to lure Persephone into the underworld for good.
Carneros isn’t the underworld, of course. It’s hitched instead to the blinding chariot of California sun and the briny tentacles of San Pablo air. Perhaps it’s these relentless winds that cut the fat off time spent in Homewood’s pocket of Carneros, where the curved roads of Wine Country get blown straight, offering people what they need and no more. You come to wolf down a burger at Babe’s. You come to buy farm and feed supplies or paint. Or you come to drink wine at Homewood, which is not Wine Country so much as great wine in the country.
You’ll find it just past an auto body repair shop lined with rusting Chevys and a breeze-ruffled pond with drifting geese.
Homewood Winery is composed of one acre. On that acre sits a modest production facility with tall redwood doors, a few scant vine rows rippling with rye grasses, some picnic tables bordered by daisy-filled whiskey barrels, a friendly little tasting room, a stand of tough pine trees and a sturdy covered outdoor lounge built like a bulwark to fend off the fiercer elements
and invite the nicer ones in.
Named “Da Redda Da Bedda” Lounge after David's proclivity for red wine (his truck’s license plate bears the same title), the lounge is, of course, comprised entirely of redwood.
Homewood Winery owns no grapes.
The ones demarcating the property’s border are simply grown “so I don't sound like a blathering idiot.”
Leveraging long-term contracts with growers who are trustworthy friends, it is here that David makes about 3,000 cases
a year of great, unmanipulated wine, denuded of the mannerism and embellishment accompanying many
Homewood is a small operation. David himself constitutes “the entire production department,” and he oversees a staff of three, plus a husky yellow lab named Oliver.
We continue to drink the cabernet franc, a joyful, upfront wine the color of garnet. Not only is this an atypical wine in that it’s 100 percent cab franc, “This is not your typical cab franc either,” David says. “The grapes should grow much further up-Valley.”
Instead, David buys from a high-quality anomaly, a vineyard “over by Moose Lodge” owned by John Albini.
Even though David “never picks overly ripe” and all his wines are under 14 percent alcohol, this cab franc always needs to linger on the vine, perhaps because it flourishes in a cooler climate than it’s designed for.
In this selection, and in fact, all his wines, “fruit is the main player.”
“My wines are not overly oaked, and they’ve got layers of complexity, with lots of fruit playing across the tongue.”
But David is a man who would rather drink wine than describe it. He leaves the adjectives to tasting room staff.
The ideal way Dave drinks his cab franc?
Simple. “With a steak, a rib eye. I’ve got this love for barbecue,” he grins.
Dave grew up in the Midwest with a carpenter father, although that trade didn’t take. He confesses, “I’m a nail-bender.”
His passion for grapes didn’t reveal itself until he moved to California and fell under the tutelage, and wing, of a man named Paul Obester, of Obester Winery in Half Moon Bay. Even then, his entry to the world of wine wasn’t exactly an epiphanous plunge. It was, says Dave, “something more like a cold sweat.”
Where the fates smiled on him, however, was in his connections to great vines.
In the beginning he made chardonnay from Durell Vineyard and cabernet sauvignon from Hoot Owl Creek in Alexander Valley. These were back in the days when Carneros laid claim to just seven wineries, before the land was overlaid with tasting rooms and limo tours.
Adding little by little to his oenological oeuvre, Dave dabbled in every type of varietal, from zin to merlot to petite sirah and pinot noir. Without the burden of vine tending, he had more freedom to “play” with small batches based on whim, curiosity or personal preference.
“Winemakers are selfish in that they usually make what they like, and then hopefully find a lot of people to agree with us,” he laughs.
It wasn’t always this way. For a spell he straddled the fence between vineyard manager and winemaker, when he grew grapes on the slopes of his Mt. Veeder property—55 acres that he’s since sold to an L.A. Raider, about which he chuckles with a twinge of fatalistic irony.
Balancing both jobs was simply exhausting. Some winery owners boast the bromide that good wines make themselves. Not true, says Dave.
“It's still farming. Wine grapes are a glorified crop, although it sure beats corn and soy.”
By now it’s been 20 years of good friends and good winemaking and all the vicissitudes of time and weather and life. Oh yeah, and the big electrical fire that burned his production facility to the ground. And still, David Homewood’s right at home in what he does, his face bearing the ruddy almanac of two decades out here on what one might call the San Pablo prairie.
We walk out to a patch of grass that hasn’t been mowed yet. Like a ship captain strolling the deck in a storm, Dave seems to absorb the Carneros elements without so much as a squint.
“These hills are my favorite view,” he says, gesturing toward the horizon.
He bends down to look at the wild-flowers he’s planted, their frail blossoms bowed to the drumbeat of wind.
Homewood Winery is located at 23120 Burndale Road in Sonoma, and online at www.homewoodwinery.com. The phone number is 707.996.6353
From the Summer 2008 issue of SONOMA