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A 'nobody' no more

Steve Doughty, co-owner of Point Reyes Vineyards near Point Reyes Station, samples some wine from one of his oak barrels this month. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)

Couple helps put Point Reyes wines on the map

Mark Prado
Marin Independent Journal

In an area not known for its wine, Point Reyes Vineyards is doing pretty well in keeping up with the big boys in Napa and Sonoma.

When people visit the winery's tasting room just north of Point Reyes Station on Highway 1, and sample a pinot noir, chardonnay or sparkling wine, the comment is universal, owner Steve Doughty said.

"They say, 'all your wines are good.' That makes me grin," said Doughty, who runs the winery with wife Sharon on the family ranch.

Known as a ranching family, the Doughtys have made an impact in the world of wine.

"Here we are, nobodies out here, doing things that we shouldn't be doing. Compared to Napa and Sonoma, our quality is right along there with them."

And that's more than hyperbole from the affable Doughty.

The winery's 1992 Brut Cuvee sparking wine, which was aged 10 years, won a best in class gold award in the San Francisco Wine Competition in 2005, and its Marin County Sparkling Wine Blanc de Noir won California State Fair silver medals in 2002 and 2003. Its Marin County Sparkling Wine Blanc de Blanc won a 2003 California State Fair bronze medal.

The winery's 2000 Grist Vine Zinfandel won a Sonoma Harvest Fair bronze medal in 2004, as did its 2000 Dry Creek Valley Red Table Wine.

The Doughtys got into the wine business in a bid to boost the value of their land. In the late 1980s, the National Park Service was looking to buy the Doughty pastureland to keep it as open space.

"The Park Service is notorious for not wanting to give you what your land is worth," Doughty said, as he walked a vineyard that once was a horse paddock. "I thought the land would be worth more if we put grapes on it, instead of having it as marginal pasture land. So the grapes went in and in my mind was counting the money up and I saw us in a beach in Kauai."

But then the park service decided it didn't want the land - and the Doughtys had a ton of grapes on their hands.

"So what do you do with a bunch of lemons, you make lemonade. In this case it was grapes," Doughty said.

The first project was a champagne for their daughter's wedding, where it was well received by guests, some of whom included people in the wine industry. Since then, the business has flourished.

"It has been a lot of hard work from a lot people and we are proud of the fruits of our labor," said Sharon Doughty. "The girls in the tasting room have been there from the beginning and the people in the wine industry have really helped us along."

Earlier this month, Doughty was named "Woman of the Year" by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, for his Sixth Assembly District. He noted her work as a third-generation dairywoman in Point Reyes, as well as her vineyard and her efforts with the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and other groups.

"The contribution she has made both agriculturally and politically makes this award well deserved," Huffman said.

For the last 12 years, the winery has been producing a variety of wines from vineyards in Point Reyes as well as Terra Linda.

"That is an 11-acre vineyard right behind the Villa Marin that produces grapes for cabernet," Doughty said.

Each year, the winery produces about 24,000 bottles of wine that range in price from $12.50, for a light zinfandel, up to a $50 bottle of red table wine that is made from four grape varieties pulled from imported 75- to 100-year-old vines.

"The largest percentage of our sales is sparking wine," Steve Doughty said, noting most of the sales are retail, although some wine is sent to local restaurants, such as the Olema Inn and Station House Cafe. "On weekends people are coming and going constantly."

And many stumble onto the vineyard by accident as they travel in West Marin.

"People have never heard of us, but they will see a sign downtown or our water tank and you can see people drive past us, then turn around," he said. "People are not expecting to see a winery here."

Three dollars will get you a taste of six wines in the tasting room, which includes a piano that once belonged to rocker Jesse Colin Young. If you buy a bottle, the $3 tasting fee goes toward the purchase.

"We usually get people leaving with at least one bottle," Doughty says with a smile.

Others discover the wine at local eateries.

"It's always wonderful to offer a locally-produced product when it is so high quality," said Sheryl Cahill, owner of the Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station. "Our customers are usually looking for something local and their feedback has been very positive for the wine. Their cabernet is wonderful and the sparkling wine goes great with the local shellfish we have here."

Doughty's production area is a converted barn filled with oak barrels and the aroma of sweet smell of aging wine. Toward the back of the facility is a door, which opens to a more traditional barn and accompanying odors from a herd of cows.

"I like this smell much better," he said, laughing, pointing back toward the oak barrels.

While the couple hires seasonal pickers and pruners, Steve and Sharon do most of the work. Grapes are crushed at the barn and a mobile bottler comes in. Labels are applied on the premises.

The last dozen years have been a learning experience.

"I knew nothing about wine before all this. I didn't even like wine," Steve Doughty said.

"But my taste buds have matured and can appreciate a good wine."

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com

For more information

The Point Reyes Vineyards tasting room is open weekends and holidays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments maybe made during the week by calling 662-1011. The tasting room is open Friday through Monday in the summer.

To get to the winery, take Highway 1 and drive 2 miles north of Point Reyes Station. The winery is on the right.