John Ramseyer's wine interest and education started at home, in Seattle. His father was a home winemaker with deep connections in the Washington wine industry; he was good friends with Peter Dow, who opened one of the Seattle-area's most beloved restaurants, Cafe Juanita, and had a successful importing and distributing company. Together, Dow and John's father planted Washington's first Nebbiolo in Red Willow Vineyard, in 1985. John utilized this connection, becoming the manager and wine buyer for Cafe Juanita, where he learned, among other things, that the restaurant world was not for him.
His wine education continued after he finished college (in Oregon) and moved to San Francisco. John's day job in the insurance business found him hanging out after-hours at California Wine Merchants in the Ferry Building. He hung out enough that he worked his way into a second job, though they'd pay him in wine only. During those four years, 1988-1991, he developed a love for and appreciation of California wines, especially Napa Cabernets.
Fast forward more than a decade: John is back in Seattle, ready to follow in his father's footsteps as a home winemaker. He knew he always wanted to do it. In 2004, he bought 1/4 ton of fruit from Dick Boushey and made wine in the garage. Ramseyer was born.
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Those who've been bit by the wine bug know that it can bite hard. John went out to Yakima in search of property to buy for an estate vineyard. During a visit in Zillah with winegrower Pat Dineen, John asked if Pat knew of any land for sale. When Pat said "yes, right across the street," John set about buying the 70 acre apple orchard and converting it to grapes. There was never any question about which varietal would dominate in the vineyard: Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ramseyer started getting to know his other neighbor, Sheridan owner/winemaker Scott Greer. Not unlike his San Francisco days, John started hanging and helping out at Sheridan. "Scott and I became good friends and are a lot alike," says John, mentioning specifically their shared drive for quality. That's not the only thing they share - Ramseyer crushes and ferments fruit at Sheridan, taking advantage of shared equipment, then transfers production to their own barrel room (the former apple cold storage facility), just one hundred yards away.
A recent talk with John found him out in the vineyard, marveling at the special corner of Yakima he's in. His neighbors (the Dineens, Greers, and Andrew Will owner/winemaker Chris Camarda, to name a few), the view of Mount Adams, the ideal climate for growing Cab. It's not the only grape planted on the estate, but it's his unabashed favorite. Munching on grapes, John said, "the Cab is the least ripe, but it still tastes the best." The flavor and structure makes it easy.
Parallel to Ramseyer's focus on one varietal is his focus on one wine. "From the very beginning, it's been about keeping it small, keeping it to one wine," said John. "That hasn't changed - it's actually gotten stronger. I just racked my whole 2012 vintage in one day, finishing at 9:30 at night. It was such a good feeling to be able to do everything myself. I want to be able to touch everything I make. I could make more wine, but I don't want to. I want to know my grapes, farm them myself. When you think of Ramseyer it's not 'have you tried their Viognier or Rose?' You think of one wine. The only variable is the year."
Through all this, John has kept his day job in Seattle managing a group of investment advisors. He's thankful for his very flexible schedule. "If grapes are ripe on Tuesday, I'm there on Tuesday. It's good to have a business-focused job and to balance that with hopping on a tractor. The kids also get a great balance between living in the city and coming out to the vineyard to play in the dirt. We can all unplug."
Ramseyer is one of the most exclusive wines in Washington. It is available from only two retailers in the country, Avalon and Compass Wines, and one restaurant in Mercer Island.