Maura and Charley Johnson of March Wines are part of a new wave of young and talented winemakers emerging within Napa Valley who are reimagining what it means to be a vintner in this iconic region.
Maura and Charley Johnson of March Wines are part of a new wave of young and talented winemakers emerging within Napa Valley who are reimagining what it means to be a vintner in this iconic region. These visionaries are opting not to produce yet another full-bodied Cabernet but instead are making lighter bodied wines from less common varieties ranging from St. Laurent t0 Riesling.
After instantly hitting it off at the Duckhorn harvest party in 2012, Charley and Maura started dating. Four years later, March Wines was created with the idea of making their favorite wine and introducing their friends and family to the most unique varietal, Riesling. Since then, they have expanded the March Wines portfolio to include St. Laurent – a perfect complement to their Riesling with its bright fresh fruit flavors, low alcohol content and high acidity.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Maura and Charley to learn more about what motivated them to create their own label and their hopes for the future of March Wines.
To learn more, read our full interview below.
Know your winemaker, know your wine
The Vintner Project (TVP): What motivated you to create March Wines?
Maura & Charley (M&C): I think every young winemaker graduating from college with a degree in Viticulture and Enology has a dream to have their own label one day. Take that dream and multiply it by two and you get March Wines. Charley graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and myself from UC Davis, so after 5 years of being in the wine industry it was something we had to stop talking about and actually do. It took about a year of planning, permitting, saving money, and trademarking. We knew we wanted to start the brand producing Riesling, and then we were put in contact with this amazing vineyard owner down near the Santa Cruz Mountains who had Riesling planted in 1971 and we hit the ground running.
TVP: @Maura – What would you say is the most important thing you learned while working abroad in Australia, Germany and New Zealand?
Maura: I learned that every winery has different goals, different styles, and different people, and to learn as much as you could from what each winery had to offer. In Australia I worked alone on the night shift in the lab at a winery that produced 13,000 tons. They had rotary tanks, barrel fermentation, submerged cap fermentations, pressurized tanks, fortified wines and made wines from $5 to $200 a bottle. Being able to work with so many different technologies was special. The winery in Germany was significantly smaller and a lot more traditional, producing 90% Riesling, and was all native fermentation, gravity flow, biodynamic and had the traditional German work ethic which I loved. Similarly in New Zealand, we only produced 60 tons, native, everything organic, and also biodynamic practices in the vineyard. Early on in my career I was able to see so much and apply it to my own winemaking style.
TVP: @Charley – Which wine was your “a-ha!” wine – the one that made you love wine or inspired you to get into the industry?
Charley: This question is a hard one because growing up, my dad’s best friend Holly was an avid wine collector and he always shared wine with me. We had lots of amazing bottles and real conversations about wine. He is the main reason I got into the wine industry. During my time at Cal Poly, I brought back some wine and the first bottle that I ever treated him to was a Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel and that was definitely a wow moment. Seeing that you could take Zinfandel and make a style so different than traditional Zinfandels really sparked my interest. When Holly passed away a few months later, he gifted my Dad his incredible wine collection, so I am constantly re-inspired.
TVP: What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of establishing March Wines?
M&C: Time. We both have full time jobs at wineries in Napa, so not only are we working 40 hours a week off season, we are working a full harvest and finding a way to fit in the harvest of March Wines as well. If we had more time, we would be able to do more pouring, meet more restaurants, and grow the brand. Right now that is our main limitation, but we have been able to build relationships with a few shops and restaurants and really nurture them.
TVP: What was the last wine you two enjoyed together?
M&C: Raventos i Blanc Cava. We went to Spain on our honeymoon last year and loved all the Cava and were able to find this special bottle at a local restaurant in Napa.
TVP: What inspired you to work with St. Laurent?
M&C There is only one vineyard of St. Laurent in California with only 6 acres planted, grown by the talented Dale Ricci. When the opportunity arose, we jumped on it. The varietal was the perfect addition to our Riesling being bright, fresh, low alcohol and a perfect food wine. It is such a fun varietal to work with because it truly is a winemaker’s wine. We get to play with stems and whole cluster fermentations and even made a little bit into a Rose. We are lucky to have gotten our hands on it and are excited to work with it this next year.
TVP: Can you share one or two things on the horizon that you’re excited about?
M&C: The 2019 harvest- harvest is always such a rush! It will be the fourth year working with the Riesling and this year we are making more Rose. We made a very small amount last year since we had never made (or tried) a St. Laurent Rose, and it turned out perfect! We’re so excited about it that we are going to double production, and have more experiments with the St. Laurent red wine. We are really happy with how our wines turned out in 2018, but we are always trying to better ourselves and our wines.
TVP: What are your hopes for the future of March Wines?
M&C: Currently we are a very small production and our wines are mostly found locally, through our wine club, or sold direct to consumer. We would love to share our wines so more people have the opportunity to try California Riesling and St. Laurent. We haven’t explored distribution yet, but that is something we might be looking into. Having as many people try Riesling and realize it is the most delicious wine ever is truly our goal.
2018 DRY RIESLING – REDWING VINEYARD
Planted in 1971, Redwing Vineyard is a small vineyard on the southern edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains along Hecker Pass, the southern route to Santa Cruz.
This is the third vintage of March Wines Old Vine Riesling coming from Redwing Vineyard. The wine was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and a native ferment in neutral French oak. This wine delivers loads of bright stone and tropical fruit aromas beautifully complimented by delicate baking spice and floral notes. A gorgeous wine. Drink now.
2018 ROSÉ OF ST. LAURENT – RICCI VINEYARD
To make this Provence style Rose, the St. Laurent grapes were sent direct to press to achieve light extraction of color and low phenolics. The wine was fermented cool to enhance aromatics and stirred on lees to enhance mouthfeel.
The ONLY Rosé of St. Laurent in California and just 28 cases produced alone made this wine a real treat to experience! But rarity aside, this wine is delicious. Low alcohol, high acid and bright aromatics made this wine a perfect midday sip that can be enjoyed all year long. A memorable wine worth seeking out.
2018 ST. LAURENT – RICCI VINEYARD
In 2001, Dale Ricci planted the first and only 3 acres of St. Laurent in all of California after traveling to Austria and falling in love with the varietal. Located in the cool Carneros region of Sonoma, Ricci Vineyard is the perfect site for this high acid, high color, and low tannin varietal. It is often described as a mix of Gamay and Syrah, light in style with a punch of fruit and spice.
This St. Laurent light, fruity and utterly delicious. A versatile wine that can be paired with a broad range of dishes from burgers to Thai food. Drink this wine year round but drink it young in order to enjoy its thirst quenching primary fruit flavors.