Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf never set out to be a winemaker. Or a retailer. But on Oct. 2, Picayune Cellars celebrated its 10th anniversary in Calistoga with a glamorous party for 100 featuring French berets, a lobster dinner, live music, and of course, Picayune wine.
At the celebration, Weinkauf expressed her gratitude to the people of Calistoga for their ongoing support, especially over the last, difficult 18 months. Yet despite the challenges of the pandemic lockdown that included Picayune’s tasting room closing, then opening, then closing again, along with having to move all wine sales online temporarily in 2020, the tasting room and mercantile are once again open and hosting Friday evenings on the patio with wine and music as well as other local events.
“It was tough,” says Weinkauf, “but I am an optimistic person with a fabulous staff, and our team figured out a way to make things work.”
A native of Auvergne, France, Weinkauf studied in Chile and Argentina and then returned to France before making her way to the U.S. As an enthusiastic wine drinker, she worked a harvest in France and subsequently met Paul Hobbs of Paul Hobbs Winery, who invited her to come work with him in California. Later, she met and married Spottswoode winemaker Aron Weinkauf; together they have two children, Hugo, 7, and Celeste, 3.
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When she got to the states, Weinkauf was shocked by how expensive wine was, even what she terms “everyday wine.” She started consulting for different local wineries before embarking on a journey to bottle her own wine with a close friend, Jennifer Roberts. Starting with a 1,000-gallon barrel of Sauvignon Blanc in 2011, the two sold their wine wholesale and to restaurants.
Today, Picayune has grown into a full-blown shop on Lincoln Avenue as well as a tasting room, and Weinkauf does everything from harvesting and bottling her own wine, shopping for French-made and inspired items for her shop, and also organizing special events and leading annual wine-tasting barge trips in France.
“I started with the Sancerre region,” she said, “and then Champagne. We had to cancel this summer’s trip to Burgundy, but we plan to go next year.”
“I’m everywhere,” Weinkauf said with a laugh. “I feel a deep personal connection to my wine, and I make what I like. I’m not trying to make the ‘special’ stuff that you only bring out for occasions. I want people to enjoy my wine as part of their daily lives, a glass they might sip before dinner or even just while reading a book.”
Weinkauf added, “Calistoga is my village, and I am forever grateful to its wonderful people.”
Cheers to another successful decade for Picayune!