Wells Guthrie of Copain Wines samples the fruit of his labor. Photos by Alanna Hale
All you need is one sip from a bottle of Copain Wines to know that Wells Guthrie loves what he does. The proof is in the taste.
Billy met Wells two years ago, at Music To Your Mouth, a food and wine festival in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina. There was an immediate kinship between them, a mutual admiration. Two weeks later, back in Florence, a case of wine arrived from Healdsburg for Billy. And with that, his admiration for Wells turned into full-fledged love.
Wells’ reputation is built on his expansive understanding of European wine production, knowledge gleaned during the two years he spent as an apprentice in age-old vineyards in France’s Northern Rhone Valley. Located in Healdsburg, a town in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, Copain Wines has been making quality wines since 1999, the year after Wells returned from his two-year sojourn.
Earlier in the year, Bay Area photographer Alanna Hale made a special trip to Healdsburg to visit Copain, located on a grape vine-covered hill overlooking the lovely Russian River Valley. The images she captured of Wells at work and at home – including those taken at an intimate dinner Wells hosted at his nearby home that evening – were so affecting that we decided to run this story in two parts.
Today, for part one, we talk to Wells about his craft, including his introduction to the world of wine, his apprenticeship in the vineyards of France, and what it takes to build a world-class American winery.
Journal: People speak about wine-making as an art, but it’s really more of a science. Was that your best subject when you were a kid?
Wells: It’s more about intuition. I was good at chemistry, though. I mean, there’s some science to what I do, but once you get comfortable it’s not rocket science by any means. If I can do this anybody can do it. I mean, you take any grapes and mash ‘em up and they’ll turn into wine. There’s not anything more to it. The art if you will, is in choosing vineyard sites, developing those sites, deciding on the work in the vineyards that affects the vintage, and ultimately that precise moment where you as the winemaker think the fruit has reached its optimum development for what you are trying to achieve. Once you pick the fruit there is no going back!